Every Father's Daughter
Twenty-four Women Writers Remember Their Fathers
Selected and Presented by Margaret McMullan
With an Introduction by Phillip Lopate
302 pages, 6 x 9 hardcover
Publication date: April 9, 2015
“What is it about the relationship between fathers and daughters that provokes so much exquisite tenderness, satisfying communion, longing for more, idealization from both ends, followed often if not inevitably by disappointment, hurt, and the need to understand and forgive, or to finger the guilt of not understanding and loving enough?” writes Phillip Lopate, in his introduction to Every Father's Daughter, a collection of 25 personal essays by women writers writing about their fathers. The editor, Margaret McMullan, is herself a distinguished novelist and educator. About half of these essays were written by invitation for this anthology; others were selected by Ms. McMullan and her associate, Philip Lopate, who provides an introduction. The contributors include many well-known writers—Alice Munro, Jayne Anne Phillips, Alexandra Styron, Ann Hood, Bobbie Ann Mason, Maxine Hong Kingston, among others—as well as writers less well-known but no less cogent, inventive, perceptive, lacerating, questioning, or loving of their fathers.
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A collection of essays on the father-daughter dynamic. Editor and novelist McMullan (Literature and Writing/Univ. of Evansville; Sources of Light, 2010, etc.) presents 24 ways of "knowing" one's father by accomplished, independent daughters, each with a folksy introduction to help situate the relationship in place and time. For many of these authors, the father was a tall, handsome, impossibly romantic character in the family, removed from the quotidian, often remote, and whose approval the daughters tried to maintain. In a twist on this theme, Jane Smiley writes how ultimately relieved she was not to know her father—who perhaps suffered from PTSD and divorced her mother when the author was a toddler—because his absence allowed her the space to grow up "free of preconceptions." Some of the contributors offer reminiscences following their fathers' deaths—e.g., Jill McCorkle in "My Dad." In "My Father's Daughter," Bliss Broyard fills in a deeper portrait of her philandering, brilliant, bookish father by talking to his lively, lifelong best friends in Greenwich Village, concluding ruefully that she should have paid more attention to her father when he was alive. Melora Wolff offers an excellent view of the glamorous world of visiting fathers from the first-person, plural view of young ladies at New York City's Brearley School, while Barbara Shoup describes her father's vanishing into alcoholism in her excruciating essay "Waiting for My Father." Throughout, fathers often represent the world of work, whether in the "special places" like the gambling house that Maxine Hong Kingston describes in "The American Father" or the sacred writing den that was strictly off limits to boisterous children, as depicted in Alexandra Styron's "Reading My Father." Other contributors include Jayne Anne Phillips, Antonya Nelson, Ann Mason and Alice Munro, and Phillip Lopate provides the introduction. Consistently elucidating portraits.
From the Foreword by Margaret McMullan:
“After my father died, I couldn’t read or write, perhaps because, in the end, my father was unable to read or write. I didn’t know it then, but I was looking for a collection of intensely personal essays, written by great women writers telling me about their fathers and how they came to know their fathers, a collection which might help me make some kind of sense of my own very close relationship with my father. I wanted to know from women, replacement sisters, if they had similar relationships with their fathers as I had with mine. Or, if their relationships were altogether different, I wanted to know how exactly these relationships were different. I wanted to know if the fact that my father was southern had anything to do with anything. I suppose, more than anything, I just wanted to know that I wasn’t alone in my love, my loss, my loneliness. I wanted to read this anthology, but it did not exist. Writers write the book they want to read. Editors do the same. This book came out of a need, my own, personal, selfish need.
“Eventually, I contacted the authors I loved and admired—some of them friends, some of them friends of my father’s. I never wanted this to feel like an assignment, but I suppose it was. I simply asked these women to tell me about their fathers. They took it from there. For some authors, the idea of writing about a father just clicked, and they wrote their essays, often within days of the request. We all have stories about our fathers, even if it’s a bad story or a non-story, it’s a story. If you write, you will read these essays and feel the need to write your own.
“I kept my father’s tastes very much in mind during the difficult but joyful process of selecting essays for this book. This collection reflects my father, and, of course, other fathers as well. These essays are a sort of collage or mosaic of fatherhood and all the ways daughters communicate or don’t with their fathers. Of course, there’s a long list of wonderful women writers not included here—this anthology really should extend itself into another volume.”
Margaret McMullan FAQs:
Every Father's Daughter
1. How did you decide which authors to reach out to for this collection?
In the last month of my father’s life, I read to him Alice Munro’s essay, “Working for a Living.” We had one of our last book discussions about that fox farm, the cold work, and the landscape of Canada. She was the first person I contacted. I wrote her a letter and a few months later she called and said yes, of course you can reprint my essay. I was just stunned. The other authors followed. I invited the authors my father loved or had met at some point in his life. He had dinner with Lee Smith once and she was so quick to respond. Lee led me to Jill McCorkle. I also included three former students. In the end, this collection of women writers became one big circle of friends.
2. How did your vision for this collection evolve from the start to end of this project?
At first I saw this as a collection of southern writers, men and women. But then I realized I just wanted to hear from women, daughters. I moved away from regionalizing it when I began thinking of my father’s literary tastes and what kind of man he was. He was southern but he was also very much shaped by Chicago and the Mid-West. Each time I read an essay, I would think, Would Dad like this?
3. What most surprised you about the creation of Every Father's Daughter?
I was surprised how difficult such a great collection was to get published. Jane Smiley had a Pulitzer, Maxine Hong Kingston won the National Book Award, and Alice Munro had just won a Nobel Prize. I felt this book was no-proof. Who wouldn’t want to read these writers on this particularly personal subject? And who wouldn’t want to read about fathers? I’ve always thought this collection was a sure thing, but it was much more difficult to find a publisher than I had imagined. Apparently, anthologies were no longer fashionable in the publishing industry. One editor, who declined the book, has since contacted me to tell me how she genuinely regrets not taking it.
4. In your introduction, you talk about how this book was a way for you to grieve. How did you come to realize this?
This particular work felt meaningful because all along I thought so much about my father. I started soon after my father died. The work – reaching out to other women, asking for their stories, and then reading them was therapeutic because it reminded me that there are other emotions besides grief. After a while, after I organized and put together the book, after I wrote my own essay, my grief transformed. It felt less like sadness and more like love.
I have encountered so many readers who have read the book and want to talk about an essay, and then, inevitably, these readers begin to tell me about their fathers. A conversation starts. This book has a power. We are remembering our fathers, and, in some cases, bringing them back to life.
5. Did you come to realize anything about your relationship with your father as you read through the essays in this collection?
I knew from the start that we were close, and that a good part of that closeness was how we stayed connected through literature. Now, I realize exactly how close we really were.
Margaret McMullan is the author of six award-winning novels including Aftermath Lounge, In My Mother’s House, Sources of Light, How I Found the Strong, and When I Crossed No-Bob. Her stories and essays have appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Ploughshares, Southern Accents, TriQuarterly, Michigan Quarterly Review, and The Sun, among several other journals and anthologies. She has received an NEA Fellowship in literature and a Fulbright award to teach at the University of Pécs in Pécs, Hungary. She currently holds the Melvin M. Peterson Endowed Chair in Literature and Writing at the University of Evansville in Evansville, Indiana.