Today’s Featured Writer is Aine Greaney. Originally from Ireland, she now lives and teaches Creative Nonfiction in New England. Check out our interview below:
Fem: How do you personally define feminism?
Aine Greaney: I define feminism as the need to assume and assert our personal and public power. For the personal, I believe we need to become more alert to those daily gender biases that hold us back, that even the most so-called progressive folks—other women included—ignore, accept or perpetuate. For the public power, I believe that we need to appoint more women to positions of influence over the public policies and laws that govern all of our daily lives.
In terms of finding and showcasing our feminist icons or role models, we need to draw from a much wider and diverse spectrum of social classes, reproductive choices, national and ethnic origins, sexual preferences and educational backgrounds. It’s lovely to “lean in” and all of that, but we need to publicly acknowledge the fact that, for some women, the journey to personal or public power is much longer, with much bigger and more systemic obstacles to overcome along the way. These women are our feminist rock stars.
F: What makes a piece of writing feminist?
AG: To be considered “feminist,” I believe the writing must offer a nuanced and textured view of a woman’s life. Also, the writing must acknowledge or explore the historic, socio-economic and familial systems that have shaped that life. We’ve had many male writers whom I would consider feminist (Thomas Hardy comes to mind), just as we have many female writers who convey very narrow, un-textured versions of the female experience. For the latter, I often wonder what that woman’s fear or agenda (sometimes they’re the same thing) really is.
F: You write a lot about being a woman writer and being born and raised in Ireland. How have these identities shaped your writing?
AG: I went to school and college in the late 1970s and early `80s when higher education and non-traditional career paths were finally opening up to Irish women. But there was a distinct mismatch between what was legally available and what was considered socially acceptable. Like many post-colonial countries, we operated (I see now) from a place of economic and social fear and protectionism. We girls were educated and encouraged to grab on and hold tight to something safe, pensionable and respectable.
During my post-college working years, we had some very high profile news stories that placed Ireland’s labor and reproductive health laws under national and international scrutiny (and earned a D- grade in the process). For me, these inequities were never abstract. I took them personally. I also saw them as a symptom of a deeper national misogynism—often perpetuated against us by other women who believe they spoke for all of us.
I’ve never regretting leaving Ireland. But I regret that I didn’t get (or fight for the opportunity) to have a more deliberately chosen life and career within my own country. I might have failed miserably, but I would have liked the chance.
The therapists tell us that life regrets are counter-productive, but as writers, regrets or mistakes are powerful fodder for the creative process.
F: We noticed that your novel, “Dance Lessons,” was chosen by the Women’s National Book Association for National Reading Group Month. First, congrats! Second, what drove you to write “Dance Lessons?”
AG: Thank you for your kind words. “Dance Lessons” is about three women from three distinct generations. Each woman has had her life dreams derailed by marriage or social constrictions or poverty. It’s also a story about how family abuse and neglect are much more indelible, much more intergenerational than we’d like to think. Finally, the novel is an examination of these women’s lives within the contexts of their respective histories and how at least two of the women get to transcend those restrictions.
F: Do you intentionally tell the stories of women, or do you just find that you naturally gravitate toward these stories?
AG: I’ve written quite a few fictional male characters, and my first novel’s main character is a self-made expatriate named John. But the women get a closer look and get to drive the narrative. My personal essays, naturally, showcase the feminine experience, and I often tackle that topic that we in America love to avoid or circumvent—social class.
F: What are you working on now?
AG: My current book (which is being shopped around to publishers), “What Brought You Here: Leaving My Own Country to Find My Own Life” is a non-fiction work about my emigration from Ireland to the U.S. at age 24. A blend of memoir and social history, it’s an upfront look at what makes some of us pull up stakes and emigrate. It also features those things that we foreigners find endearing or odd about America—including how this country defines its own American-ness. It’s a story about fighting for personal identity, so I consider it to be a very feminist work.
F: You’ve written both short stories and novels and personal essays. Which do you prefer?
AG: I tend to work in whatever genre matches the subject and whatever is going on in the rest of my life. I love the challenge of writing non-fiction—that jigsaw puzzle in which we try and figure out what the heck it is we’re trying to say and why a reader might care. When I began the new nonfiction book—the memoir—I was surprised to find how much the narrative changed once I stepped back and “cast” myself as a “character” in my own story. This was thrilling to me. Writing fiction is more of an indulgence, a bedtime story I tell myself. This is a long way of saying that each genre has its own set of demands and rewards.
F: You’ve been leading creative writing workshops and classes for over 17 years. What do you love the most about these opportunities?
AG: I’m always nervous before each workshop or conference presentation. But then, once I’m actually there and the conversation and debate get rocking, it’s a huge, huge buzz. As a facilitator, it’s important to know when to step out of the conversation and let students learn from and mentor each other. It’s also important to know when to step back in to ensure each participant gets the most from the class or conference session.
For more information on Aine Greaney, visit her website.