In Their Words: Patricia Klindienst (part 2)

The Earth Knows My Name: Food, Culture, and Sustainability in the Gardens of Ethnic America

What question are you never, or rarely, asked in interviews, that you really wish people would ask? How would you answer it?

“How has doing this book changed your idea of America?”

I’d start by talking about how skewed our idea of ourselves as a people has been by official history, then talk about the parallels between the conquests of America and our current global crisis. I’d want to emphasize the hope the interviews aroused in me. We rarely hear about these people; we rarely see their faces; we know so little about their history on the land.

Conversely, what question are you often asked, that you really don’t like to answer? What don’t you like about that question (no, you don’t have to answer it)?

“What was my favorite garden/interview?”
I have no favorite. I grew closer to some of the gardeners than to others, but I feel an abiding respect and affection for all of them, and for the three times as many others whose stories I couldn’t include. The hardest part of creating this book was what I had to leave out.

Who in your life was/is the greatest influence – good or bad – on your writing?

Virginia Woolf. A good influence, tremendous, really, as she was for my generation of American women, but one I had to grow through to find my own voice, to return to American stories.

The fist thing of hers I read was To the Lighthouse in what was called a House Course at Hampshire College up in Amherst, MA. This was in 1971, the beginning of the second wave of feminism, and women writers were just being rediscovered and a whole new language for interpreting literature in the light of history was being invented. It was possible to find first edition hardcover copies of all of Woolf’s novels for a dollar apiece in the socialist bookstore in Northampton. Many were out of print, so that was the only way I could get them. I devoured them all very quickly, once I’d been spellbound by her voice. Finding her was a revelation to me. Her biography, letters, and diaries had not yet been published. Imagine. I lived through the rediscovery of this hugely important writer who’d been neglected, like so many others, because of the male dominance of the academy. Before I graduated, the biography was out and the volumes of her private writings were coming out one, sometimes two volumes a year.

Our teachers, especially our women teachers, were learning along with us; it was very democratic, this life change, this emotional awakening to a sense of injury—how distorted our education had been, how partial the kinds of questions framed in literary studies—and exuberant awe: this legacy was there for us all to reclaim together. It was a tremendously exciting time, filled with a sense of invention, a revolution in thought. Of course we are living through a period of extreme reaction now. But at the time, we all shared a sense of discovering, as she herself says in A Room of One’s Own, that as women, we do, in fact, have a history, one that had yet to be written.

So she’s the huge influence, the reason I learned the art of close reading; I learned to think of literature in relation to politics, to everyday life. From reading her, I learned to hold the architecture of an entire novel in my head, so that I could actually move around inside of it. My gradual detachment from her, my move back toward American voices—Eudora Welty and Raymond Carver, Emily Dickinson, three enormous influences—came after my brother’s death, when I was writing a whole book about The Waves, which Woolf privately dedicated to her older brother, who had died tragically at a young age after a trip to Greece. In my own grief, I saw clearly that my metaphysic was different from hers; I did not respond to death as she had. It freed me. I never published that work; someday I will return to it and finish it.

[back to Biography]
[continue to Interview, Part 2]

In Their Words: Patricia Klindienst


This post marks the first of what I hope will be many author interviews. The questions are generic, and each author may use as much or as little space as he or she likes. I have not edited content, only format.

Most recently published work (as of this posting): The Earth Knows My Name: Food, Culture and Sustainability in the Gardens of Ethnic Americans

Website: (not yet live)

A brief biography:
Patricia Klindienst began her career as an interdisciplinary scholar, publishing the first of her ground-breaking feminist re-interpretations of classical myths and biblical stories, “The Voice of the Shuttle Is Ours,” while still a graduate student in Stanford University’s Program in Modern Thought & Literature. She wrote two companion pieces, “Ritual Work on Human Flesh: Livy’s Lucretia and the Rape of the Body Politic,” and “‘Intolerable Language’: Jesus and the Woman Taken in Adultery” as an award-winning scholar and teacher at Yale University. She then left the profession, putting aside the manuscripts of two scholarly books, one on Virginia Woolf and another a collection of her essays on the iconography of rape, and began to write for a broader audience. Her first book, The Earth Knows My Name tells the stories of fifteen ethnic Americans who transmit their cultural heritage through their gardens. Praised by readers as diverse as Jane Goodall and Barry Lopez, Klindienst’s eloquent and passionate rendering of the voices of ethnic peoples has been called “An original and exemplary kind of cultural study” by Geoffrey Hartman, Sterling Professor Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature and co-founder of the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimony at Yale, who characterizes her book as “… essential reading for anyone seriously interested in the growing reality that an ancient ecological relationship, imaginative and religious in its intensity, is slipping away.”

[photo credit: Kelly Becerra]

[Continue to Interview, Part 1]

Reading Habits

I’ve been tagged by the lovely Gautami to write about the following:

My Reading
I read almost anything, and I read cyclically, finding everything by a particular author, and working through that, and then moving on to the next. I like thick books with good plots, but sometimes I read forumla romances because they’re hilarious, and sometimes I only want horror or mysteries. Most recently, I’ve been only reading novels taking place in France.

Total Number of Books Owned
I haven’t the faintest. Seven six-foot bookshelves, triple stacked?

Last Book Bought
Probably One Dance in Paris or the 2008 Writers Market

Last Book Read
I’m currently re-reading Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell. Does that count?

Five Meaningful Books
Certain Women, by Madeleine L’Engle
Outside Lies Magic, by John Stilgoe
Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, by Kathleen Norris
Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg
Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott

I am tagging:
The first five people to read this?