Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Open Letter to Curtis Sittenfeld

Dear Curtis,

May I call you Curtis? I hope so. For one thing, we're about the same age. For another, your writing is very personal/confessional in tone, which makes me (the reader) feel like we've got this one-sided connection. And third, I usually don't mind when people call me by my first name, if it's done respectfully, so I'm hoping that you'll feel the same way. "Ms. Sittenfeld" just seems so cold in this context. And "Curtis Sittenfeld" sounds all fangirl, like you're a celebrity who must always go by her full name.

First of all, I'm a fan. I just want to make that clear.

I found you through your essay, "Your Life as a Girl" in Listen Up! Voices of the Next Feminist Generation through a Women's Studies class in college. Several of the women in one of my book clubs are reading American Wife right now. It's my month to pick for my other book club, and we like to read stuff that's not brand-new, so we're reading Prep. But I had everybody read "Your Life as a Girl" first.

Don't worry, I'm not asking you to come to the book club.

But there is something I would like to ask of you, as a fan. See, I live in St. Louis, too, though I'm not from here. Like you, I've adopted this as my home. But it's a great city and I really enjoy living here. I hope that you grow to love it as well. Or, at least, I hope that you don't publicly disparage it.

I respect your desire for privacy, I do. But the way I see it, you opened the door yourself, talking about the fact that you live here now in certain publications, then not in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Consider your interview with Lesley Stahl in WOWOWOW September 3rd.
Curtis: I now live in St. Louis, MO.
Lesley: Really? St. Louis?
Curtis: I know.

You know what? If there's another way to read that than "That hick place? Seriously?" I'd love to hear it.

And then, of course, there's the non-review of American Wife in the Post-Dispatch (which published a real review, as well).
An author in our town is getting a lot of attention. Only I can't tell you that. I can't even tell you she lives here. And I certainly can't tell you her name.

. . . If you read any of several national publications, you'll find her in articles on the book "American Wife," a roman à clef about George and Laura Bush. The book is even No. 3 on this week's best-seller list (see Page 11). The author has been on talk shows, and the la-dee-da New York Times printed her photograph, too, along with the name of the city where she lives: St. Louis.

But I doubt that you saw that piece. It was printed far away in the National Media. Despite what some economists and new media gurus say, the world really isn't all that connected.

I know this because a helpful publicist for the author told me. I mean she told me that the author doesn't want to talk to local media. Because if we plaster her picture on our arts section, her privacy will be ruined.

She wants to maintain her privacy, said the helpful person paid to obtain publicity for an author writing for the public.

But The New York Times printed her picture, photographed in her "home in St. Louis," I had to say, objecting to the obvious snubbing. And her face is plastered on the book jacket.

Well, national media weren't supposed to say where she lives.

I objected again: We're much nicer than national media. You know how rude sports fans are in places with national media? And how bloodthirsty the media are there? Well, in St. Louis, fans are polite. We applaud. I'm sure that's what we'd do for an author, too. We're practically never bloodthirsty.

Well, everyone in St. Louis reads the Post-Dispatch. But hardly anyone reads the Times.

And so forth. It looks . . . very snobbish. Very anti-Midwestern, or at least anti-St. Louisan. Unsurprisingly, there are lots of intelligent, well-read, interesting people here, too, and not everybody spits hayseeds when they talk. (I do, but only when I forget to floss after mucking the stalls.) Of course you don't have to publish your address or give interviews to everyone who asks. But if you could say something nice about your new hometown, now that the news is out, well, that would be nice. Perhaps a little statement on your website or in an interview. Something to mitigate the ugliness suggested by the two interviews I've excerpted above (one with you, one with your publicist).

I'd feel a lot happier about calling myself a fan and recommending your novels to others if I didn't feel like you were insulting me and looking down on me based solely on where I choose to live.

Sincerely,
Sarahlynn

P.S. Do you want to be my local critique partner?

6 comments:

  1. I saw that non-review in the P-D, too, and was similarly annoyed by the whole thing. If the gal really wanted privacy, she could have said, "I live in the midwest" and not allowed anyone to photograph her in her home, and left people to guess at about a 10-state area. Instead, she and her publicist are making derogatory remarks about the place. Not a good way to maintain your privacy, as she just dared locals to out her.

    Anwyay, the whole thing didn't exactly make me want to run out and buy her book.

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  2. According to her publicist, where she lives was originally supposed to be off the record. And that's funny, because in Sittenfeld's first novel a naive character gets burned by telling a reporter too much.

    I'm not sure we can blame Sittenfeld for her publicist's words - especially since a publicist for a New York publishing house might very well be a young woman in her mid-20's who's lived in New York her whole life and really does think that we are all hayseeds out here.

    I'm willing to give Sittenfeld the benefit of the doubt, but I'd really appreciate it if she'd clear this up.

    Or, perhaps, like her character Lee Fiora, Sittenfeld does think that the northeast is somehow better than the rest of the country.

    (Hey, check the map at right. Even Missouri is trending Obama!)

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  3. Great post. I'm originally from St. Louis (left for work), and this kind of stuff makes me crazy. If Sittenfeld thinks the Lou is soooo dreadful, why on earth is she still living there anyway?

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  4. Apparently, she moved here recently because her new husband is a professor at SLU. But I'm still holding out hope that she has just handled all this clumsily and isn't so . . . snobbish about St. Louis. Which is a great community!

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