Gays Reading

PRIDE '24 feat. Jen Silverman, David Levithan, and Emma Copley Eisenberg

June 11, 2024 Jason Blitman, Brett Benner, Jen Silverman, David Levithan, Emma Copley Eisenberg Season 2 Episode 56
PRIDE '24 feat. Jen Silverman, David Levithan, and Emma Copley Eisenberg
Gays Reading
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Gays Reading
PRIDE '24 feat. Jen Silverman, David Levithan, and Emma Copley Eisenberg
Jun 11, 2024 Season 2 Episode 56
Jason Blitman, Brett Benner, Jen Silverman, David Levithan, Emma Copley Eisenberg

Jason and Brett continue PRIDE 2024 with celebrated authors. They’re joined in conversation with Jen Silverman (There’s Going to Be Trouble), David Levithan (Wide Awake Now), and Emma Copley Eisenberg (Housemates) talking about the cyclical nature of history, queer inheritance, intersectionality of arts and queerness, and much more.

Jen Silverman is a New York-based writer, playwright, and screenwriter. Jen is the author of novel We Play Ourselves, which is short-listed for a Lambda Literary Award, the story collection The Island Dwellers, which was longlisted for a PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for debut fiction, and the poetry chapbook Bath, selected by Traci Brimhall for Driftwood Press. Additional work has appeared in Vogue, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, LitHub, The Yale Review, and elsewhere. Jen’s plays have been produced across the United States and internationally. Jen is a three-time MacDowell fellow, a member of New Dramatists, and the recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts grant, a Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Fellowship, the Yale Drama Series Award, and a Playwrights of New York Fellowship. Jen is a 2022 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow for Prose and a 2022 Guggenheim Fellow for Drama. Jen also writes for TV and film.

When not writing during spare hours on weekends, David Levithan is editorial director at Scholastic and the founding editor of the PUSH imprint, which is devoted to finding new voices and new authors in teen literature. His acclaimed novels Boy Meets Boy and The Realm of Possibility started as stories he wrote for his friends for Valentine’s Day (something he’s done for the past 22 years and counting) that turned themselves into teen novels. He’s often asked if the book is a work of fantasy or a work of reality, and the answer is right down the middle—it’s about where we’re going, and where we should be.

Emma Copley Eisenberg is a queer writer of fiction and nonfiction. Her first book, The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia, was named a New York Times Notable Book and was nominated for an Edgar Award, a Lambda Literary Award, and an Anthony Award, among other honors. Her fiction has appeared in Granta, McSweeney’s, VQR, American Short Fiction, and other publications. Raised in New York City, she lives in Philadelphia, where she co-founded Blue Stoop, a community hub for the literary arts.

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**BOOKS!**
Check out the list of books discussed on each episode on our Bookshop page:
https://bookshop.org/shop/gaysreading | By purchasing books through this Bookshop link, you can support both Gays Reading and an independent bookstore of your choice!

Join our Patreon for exclusive bonus content!

Purchase your Gays Reading podcast Merch!

Follow us on Instagram
@gaysreading | @bretts.book.stack | @jasonblitman

What are you reading?
Send us an email or a voice memo at gaysreading@gmail.com

Show Notes Transcript

Jason and Brett continue PRIDE 2024 with celebrated authors. They’re joined in conversation with Jen Silverman (There’s Going to Be Trouble), David Levithan (Wide Awake Now), and Emma Copley Eisenberg (Housemates) talking about the cyclical nature of history, queer inheritance, intersectionality of arts and queerness, and much more.

Jen Silverman is a New York-based writer, playwright, and screenwriter. Jen is the author of novel We Play Ourselves, which is short-listed for a Lambda Literary Award, the story collection The Island Dwellers, which was longlisted for a PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for debut fiction, and the poetry chapbook Bath, selected by Traci Brimhall for Driftwood Press. Additional work has appeared in Vogue, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, LitHub, The Yale Review, and elsewhere. Jen’s plays have been produced across the United States and internationally. Jen is a three-time MacDowell fellow, a member of New Dramatists, and the recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts grant, a Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Fellowship, the Yale Drama Series Award, and a Playwrights of New York Fellowship. Jen is a 2022 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow for Prose and a 2022 Guggenheim Fellow for Drama. Jen also writes for TV and film.

When not writing during spare hours on weekends, David Levithan is editorial director at Scholastic and the founding editor of the PUSH imprint, which is devoted to finding new voices and new authors in teen literature. His acclaimed novels Boy Meets Boy and The Realm of Possibility started as stories he wrote for his friends for Valentine’s Day (something he’s done for the past 22 years and counting) that turned themselves into teen novels. He’s often asked if the book is a work of fantasy or a work of reality, and the answer is right down the middle—it’s about where we’re going, and where we should be.

Emma Copley Eisenberg is a queer writer of fiction and nonfiction. Her first book, The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia, was named a New York Times Notable Book and was nominated for an Edgar Award, a Lambda Literary Award, and an Anthony Award, among other honors. Her fiction has appeared in Granta, McSweeney’s, VQR, American Short Fiction, and other publications. Raised in New York City, she lives in Philadelphia, where she co-founded Blue Stoop, a community hub for the literary arts.

Gays Reading is sponsored by Audible. Get a FREE 30-day trial by visiting audibletrial.com/gaysreading

**BOOKS!**
Check out the list of books discussed on each episode on our Bookshop page:
https://bookshop.org/shop/gaysreading | By purchasing books through this Bookshop link, you can support both Gays Reading and an independent bookstore of your choice!

Join our Patreon for exclusive bonus content!

Purchase your Gays Reading podcast Merch!

Follow us on Instagram
@gaysreading | @bretts.book.stack | @jasonblitman

What are you reading?
Send us an email or a voice memo at gaysreading@gmail.com

Jason Blitman:

it's still prime.

Brett Benner:

It still is. It still

Jason Blitman:

I have the most amazing thing to play for you. Are you ready for this?

Brett Benner:

ready.

I speak words. I speak words. I speak words.

Brett Benner:

Is that your niece?

Jason Blitman:

It's my niece.

Brett Benner:

Oh my God.

Jason Blitman:

She's literally not even two years old yet. Happy Pride.

Brett Benner:

I know when it first started, I was like, it sounded like, um, what's her face from poltergeist. It's going like, welcome children. but then I got it. I was like, happy pride. That's probably where those are first words.

Jason Blitman:

No, no, she's very chatty. She's very chatty Cathy

Brett Benner:

Oh my God. That is so cute.

Jason Blitman:

know. So happy pride from my little niece. is so cute. I can't wait to send her a giant box of gay books, children's books, and be like, Girl, happy pride!

Brett Benner:

right.

Jason Blitman:

I was looking at the books that are coming out today, and like, I want to read all of them, and there's one that I have read that I loved so much and can't wait for other people to read too.

Brett Benner:

Which is that one?

Jason Blitman:

That one is Consent by Jill Simmont.

Brett Benner:

Ah,

Jason Blitman:

And it's a memoir, and it's short I think I read it in one sitting, but it's essentially the story of this woman who had a 30 year marriage with a man significantly older than her, and at the time didn't see any issues with it, and is now reflecting on, he's, he has since died, and is now reflecting on like, what that really meant and how, she might've been taken advantage of and how maybe she wasn't taking it. Like she's just, it's a, it's this really interesting sort of reflective memoir. And she wrote a memoir earlier in her life about her relationship with him. So this is almost like a follow up piece where now that like time has just changed and she's learned more about herself and the world, like she's really thinking a lot about her life. It was so good.

Brett Benner:

That sounds great.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah.

Brett Benner:

I read something this past week that came out today as well. And, it's really fun. It's called, uh, the Stardust Grail by, Yumi Kitase. And I read her first book, The Deep Sky, which was really, really fun as well. And this is kind of like, it's been described as kind of like, um, Indiana Jones goes to space. Cause it's about a, a woman who is on earth, who gets charged to go find this grail, this artifact that can save a species that's in the galaxy. It is very much, uh, gives me, um, very kind of warm retrospective Star Wars crossed with Indiana Jones vibes. but it was totally fun. Very smart. Um, and just a stunning cover. So that came out today. Also how about our, our girl Ru

Jason Blitman:

Rufi Thorpe, who we don't even need to talk about it because she'll be on Gay's Readings very soon.

Brett Benner:

Margo's Got Money Trouble comes out today, so check it out. Speaking of, um, Gays Reading Guests, Leg by Greg Marshall came out in paperback today. So,

Jason Blitman:

love Greg Marshall, we talk about him all the time, and, and Leg was terrific, and the audiobook is terrific, so check out Leg by Greg Marshall.

Brett Benner:

Shadow men, the tangled story of murder, media and privilege that scandalized jazz age America by James Pulchin, which looks really interesting. As does The Sons of El Rey by Alex Espinoza.

Jason Blitman:

I

Brett Benner:

really great cover. It's a timeless epic novel about a family contending with forbidden love, secrets in Mexico City, Los Angeles, and beyond.

Jason Blitman:

Also Jackpot Summer by Alyssa Friedland, and the material by Camille Bordas looks so good too. And all of those books you could buy on our bookshop. org page, which the link to is in our show notes and on our link tree on Instagram, uh, which you should be following us on Instagram at gaze reading, because we have a ton of things like giveaways, which we will be having even more of as we celebrate pride. Um, uh, and, you know, to always be in the know. you should subscribe to us wherever you get your podcast. That way it could just like pop up whenever a new episode comes and you'll just know because who knows when something's just gonna pop up. And if you're, if you are enjoying Kay's reading, share us with your friends, tell them all about us and how they should be listening to and give us a five star review wherever you get your podcast. It's greatly appreciated. And we are continuing to celebrate Pride on today's episode with, again, just legends of the Pride.

Brett Benner:

We're not talking Simba.

Jason Blitman:

In order. In order of release, we are talking to Jen Silverman about their book, There's Going to be Trouble, David Levithan about his book, Wide Awake Now, and Emma Copley Eisenberg and her book, Housemates. All of the books are out now. The three of them are just epic and wonderful in the queer space. And their bios will be in the show notes and on our Instagram, so make sure to check them out there. I think that's it. I think we got it. I'm Jason, and enjoy this part two of Pride here on Gaze

Brett Benner:

reading. Good morning.

Jen Silverman:

Good morning.

Jason Blitman:

Hello.

Jen Silverman:

Oh, how are you both doing?

Jason Blitman:

How are

Brett Benner:

How are you?

Jen Silverman:

Thank you for having me.

Jason Blitman:

Thank you for being here. We're here to talk about your new book, but I have a blurry background on, so you can't see it, but you know what it looks like. So it's fine. There's going to be trouble. We're so excited for you.

Jen Silverman:

Thank

Jason Blitman:

For our listeners who have not Read it yet, can you give us your elevator pitch for the book?

Jen Silverman:

Oh, my favorite thing is an elevator pitch.

Jason Blitman:

Everyone's is. It could be as long or as short of an elevator ride as you want.

Jen Silverman:

Two floors, just two floors. There's Gonna Be Trouble is a novel about protest and how we live with the consequences of our family secrets. And it tells the story of a woman who flees her small American town in the aftermath of a public scandal to Paris in 2018, which is the beginning of the Yellow Vest protests. And she is pulled into a love affair with a radical activist while she's there and the book moves back and forth in time between 2018 and between 1968 in which a man named Keene is also getting involved with the Vietnam protests in Boston. And yeah, and then the, there are connections between these two worlds, which I'm not gonna, no spoilers,

Brett Benner:

No spoilers.

Jen Silverman:

but the book is examining the consequences in some ways of radicalization and also the questions of how radical Are you required to be to change the world that you are planted in?

Jason Blitman:

You are to, there's going to be trouble to the world right now, as Emily St. John Mandel to Station Eleven was to the world. Do you feel that at all?

Jen Silverman:

The convergences have been actually really shocking for me.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah.

Jen Silverman:

Yeah. Like being in New York right now, with the Columbia protest, with all of the stuff that's happening It's been really, it's felt really strange and having been inside these worlds the 1968 protests, having done all that research, the 2018 protests in Paris, having been there for some of it to have spent the past few years in those worlds, thinking about these things, and then to watch it unfold. In a way that is wholly reminiscent of the 60s spill forward has been a mind trip. Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

We're not a political podcast, and nor are we political experts. And I don't mean to imply that you are a political expert, but you have done a lot of research in this space of making change for the book. Were there recurring themes in the past and in the present storylines that you could see playing out? Now, as well, and

Jen Silverman:

I don't think of myself as any kind of, political thinker or I'm not particularly educated and in the ways that a lot of my sort of friends and colleagues are, but in reading just the research that I was reading about the 60s. And reading research for a different project about the 20s and the thing that I keep clocking is simply that we I'm not the first person to say this, but that we are traveling in a circle again and again and again. What I start to wonder is not even if that isn't the point, like there is some, we are a cyclical, I don't know, set of creatures, right? Like our cycles last as long as our memories do, and generational memory is a really

Jason Blitman:

the earth turning the earth going on

Jen Silverman:

Earth threatening,

Jason Blitman:

there, there are like literal circles, metaphorical circles. Yeah. The year is cycling through time in general.

Jen Silverman:

I don't even know that it's bad, I just, My awareness of where we are in the cycle is increasing, and it is, I am struck again and again by the shortness of our collective memory, and by the shortness of By the memory that we have to work to inherit, essentially, right? And what that kind of memory does to our understanding of who we are and where we are, I think, it can feel that we are inventing the wheel, but we're inventing the same wheel again and again, and then we're so surprised that we have it, you know?

Jason Blitman:

which is also a circle.

Jen Silverman:

Which is also sort of

Brett Benner:

Yeah, it makes it does make you wonder if. each generation, are we not required, but to, to, to repeat the mistakes and the history of our ancestors, because we haven't gone through it yet. So it's it is that thing coming back around, which is terribly

Jason Blitman:

an optimism? Because a huge I say optimism because a big theme in the book is believing change is possible. And I think that's a very optimistic view.

Jen Silverman:

Yes I, I'm torn, right? I think on the one hand, Believing change is, I think in some, how do I say it? It's on the one hand, we look at Minnow's father, for example, the character of Christopher, who we meet him. He is. Has decided for reasons that we later find out that the world is a terrible and dangerous place and one that he doesn't want to participate in. And so he's extremely wary of. Most of Minnow's choices, and particularly the choices that involve getting embedded in any kind of group, any kind of framework of belief, right? And that is a character who has stopped believing in any kind of optimism, stopped believing that change is possible. And so we see how that lack of belief, in some ways, is destroying him. And yet also, when I look at the kind of optimism that Charles has, Minow's the, this is a radical activist who brings Minow into, into the community and then becomes her lover. I look at sort of his optimism or I look at the optimism that in some ways Minow ends the book with. Personally, I'm not sure that you can build a world on that optimism. I wonder, I don't know. I wonder. If a character like that manages to keep that optimism and actually affect change or if she ends up losing it like her father I actually, I genuinely don't know the answer to that. And so in some ways, I think optimism is maybe the tool that keeps us mobilized. And so it's necessary. There are days when I feel like it is more unfounded than other days.

Brett Benner:

Sure.

Jason Blitman:

It's so funny. I'm just now realizing I think I am a realist, optimist rising

Brett Benner:

Hick!

Jason Blitman:

but also like perpetually glass half full, which is an interesting, it's interesting for me to live in reality, but try to see the best in a situation that's in front of me.

Jen Silverman:

Yes.

Jason Blitman:

Which is interesting. Thank you.

Jen Silverman:

And I think

Jason Blitman:

working through that with me.

Jen Silverman:

No, I'm trying to work my way toward that. I aspire to that.

Brett Benner:

it. Yeah.

Jen Silverman:

think I'm someone who, and familially and culturally inherited a not even just class half empty, but like the glass is about to shatter. That is, that's where I

Brett Benner:

It's barely being held together at this point.

Jason Blitman:

Okay. So

Jen Silverman:

I'm working toward the glass half

Brett Benner:

I think that's a train I'm on a little bit, trying really hard.

Jason Blitman:

optimism, glass half full, happy things, moving completely away because we have to talk about this because we're gaze reading. Jen Silverman, you're about to make your freaking Broadway debut.

Brett Benner:

It's incredible.

Jason Blitman:

With

Brett Benner:

Just

Jason Blitman:

it's what's hilarious, like so many people, dream of making a Broadway debut as a whatever, whether they're, the third prop assistant to the left or a Broadway star, this is a play that you freaking wrote. And it's not just starring your neighbor community theater lady. Maybe now she is that she doesn't have her equity card anymore but freaking Patti LuPone and Mia Farrow, Jen, how you feeling?

Jen Silverman:

Oh my God. Just, yeah. So blown away and grateful and lucky those things.

Brett Benner:

When do you, what's the timeline?

Jen Silverman:

Tickets are on sale now I'll say. And we start rehearsal in July, I believe. And we preview at the end of August and we open. Oh, I think it's September 12th. I could be wrong about

Jason Blitman:

It's perfect that we're recording today because, for our listeners, on the day of recording your EPA was just posted for

Jen Silverman:

Was it?

Jason Blitman:

equity principal auditions. Even though both roles are cast, I still might submit anyway.

Jen Silverman:

I want you to. Would you please?

Jason Blitman:

So it is The Roommate on Broadway, late summer, early fall, written by Jen Silverman. We're so excited for you.

Brett Benner:

It also just got announced too, that you're doing the screenplay for Sarah Blakely Cartwrights, Alice, Sadie, and Celine. Congratulations on that.

Jason Blitman:

oh, how fun.

Jen Silverman:

a good novel. I don't know if you guys have read it

Jason Blitman:

I have read it. Yeah, it's great.

Jen Silverman:

it's, I think it's amazing. And I'm really excited to adapt it into a movie. We're working, I'm working with Reva Marker, who's a producer that I have wanted to work with forever.

Jason Blitman:

So cool. So you span time space genres, Jen Silverman. Amazing. What does being a queer writer mean to you and why is that important today?

Jen Silverman:

For me, I think that, oh, man, I could talk about this for nine years, but we don't have nine years.

Jason Blitman:

Listen, glass half full, maybe we do.

Jen Silverman:

That's helpful. Maybe we do.

Brett Benner:

it's only part one

Jen Silverman:

Exactly.

Brett Benner:

ongoing series.

Jen Silverman:

I will say I'm really, I am grateful for the language that now exists around queerness that did not when I was coming up. And I think part of what has been a real gift in my life is being able to. see other people who were like me and understand what and how they identified. I'm queer. I'm genderqueer. I use they them pronouns. When I was a teenager going to a public high school, that was not a thing. And I think part of my experience of like the generations, I'm sure you guys have felt this too, the generations have really shifted in terms of the way that queerness occupies a more public space in media, in people's lives the way that younger generations are more there's less stigma for them to step into their queer identities, but I think what I have found really some ways beautiful, actually, because that was not the atmosphere in which I came up. Is that being a queer artist is a process of constantly asking yourself really hard questions. Or I should say being a queer person. And then that spills into being an artist. It's asking yourself really complicated questions about who you actually are. Not what you've internalized. Not what you're being told. Not what are the narratives that are being told. That have informed the way that you're socialized, but what are you actually I think it is possible for humans to live long, long lives without ever asking themselves that question. And I think queer people often have to ask it earlier and more often than others. And. are also, for me, the questions that inform the art that I make. Who are we really? Who are we under our socialization? Who are we under the social contracts that we agree to and then perhaps break? How do we sustain ourselves individually and in community? The questions of queerness and the questions of art.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah, it's funny that you should bring that up today because I was just thinking last night My husband and I are so good at having difficult conversations with each other and I realized I was like well as Gay men like we've needed to have difficult conversations as a part of life. So we are accustomed to having hard conversations

Jen Silverman:

Yeah. Yeah. I think that is a, there are many gifts I think of being queer and in a queer community. And that is one of them that there's a kind of communication that, that I think we require often.

Jason Blitman:

We're needy.

Brett Benner:

more than others.

Jason Blitman:

I know,

Jen Silverman:

And that's true.

Brett Benner:

Wait, I have to digress back to the book for one second. All right. This is more of a comment because I listened. I was driving back from the desert and I put it on one day. I am so obsessed with Marin Ireland, I am, I talk about her all, I know she did Spain for you did you get to pick her for this?

Jen Silverman:

Oh yes, absolutely.

Brett Benner:

as much. I also know that she's really close with, this is such a weird connection. I'm living vicariously through all of you theater people. And by this I'm gonna mispronounce his last name, David Ajani.

Jen Silverman:

Oh, David Ajme, who I adore. Yes.

Brett Benner:

with him. And like, when his book came out two years ago, we were talking a lot and I was obsessed with his book. And I know he's she's almost like his muse, he's, she's in like everything of his. So when I saw she did Spain, I was like, Oh, they're all fucking connected. Of course. They're like this Greek.

Jen Silverman:

You'll like this, but when I was getting my MFA at the Iowa Playwrights Workshop, David, who had graduated from that program, came out to do a workshop with us. So he spent a few days teaching us, and he had such a big impact on me. And then we became friends. I saw Marin in his work. Marie Antoinette, astonishingly astonishing. And Marin, of course, was amazing at it. And then I, I knew I wanted to work with Marin and I was looking for opportunity for years to do that. And yeah. And so then we got to do Spain together. I asked her to do the audio for the book and we got to do it. I move through my life looking for moments in which I can calm her in and ask her to do

Brett Benner:

I, I get it. And I'm so obsessed with her. And I'm a casting director. I have never met her. Jason could tell you, I talk about her all the time.

Jason Blitman:

all the time. Jen, it's such a pleasure to meet you.

Brett Benner:

You're just lovely.

Jen Silverman:

Thank

Brett Benner:

It's so funny because one of the things that I told Jason, I always like to do, and I know he does this as well as I always like to go on and either find some kind of audio or video interview of the person, because sometimes I was looking at your pictures and I was like, Jen's a badass. And you would,

Jason Blitman:

scared of our guests sometimes.

Brett Benner:

I do. So I always, and then I was listening to something and I heard your voice and I was like, Oh my God, congratulations on the book and everything, on the play, the screenplay, like you're master of it all at this point. You're living a very enviable writer's life, I will say. It's really amazing.

Jen Silverman:

That's kind of neat to say.

Brett Benner:

No you're I was thinking like you're covering every single medium because Tokyo Vice, all of it, you're, you have the career, I'm sure you know this, that many people would only dream of and it's really incredible and it's, there's a reason. So

Jen Silverman:

Thank you.

Jason Blitman:

We're all very proud.

Jen Silverman:

Thank you.

Brett Benner:

Exactly.

Jason Blitman:

Jen, thank you so much for your time.

Brett Benner:

Thank you, Jen.

Jason Blitman:

book, There's Going to Be Trouble. And now we'll hear from David Levithan about his book, Wide Awake Now.

Brett Benner:

Hello. How are you?

David Levithan:

Okay, how are you doing?

Jason Blitman:

Okay, Thank you for being here. You are here to talk to us about Wide Awake now. Your update of Wide Awake, the book that you wrote, you started writing in 2004, that came out in what, 2006? For the folks who have not had the chance to read it yet, or since things have maybe shifted, can you share your elevator pitch for the book?

David Levithan:

Sure. Wide Awake Now is the story of the election of the first gay Jewish president of the United States. And it is about two boyfriends who work on the campaign and then basically have to go with a whole lot of other people to the state of Kansas when the election is called into question. And basically the gay Jewish president elect says, I need you all to come here to protest so they won't steal this election. And it was written, again the first version of the story was written as a protest against the re election of George W. Bush, which seems like quaint now aw, poor David, were you sad then?

Jason Blitman:

Someone call him. Can he run for president again?

David Levithan:

But it was, when I wrote it, it was, Again in 2004 I said it 20 years in the future. Needless to say, a lot of things that have happened to us in the 20 years were not on my Bingo card. So what I wanted to do is I wanted to actually take the same storyline. It unfortunately is still very relevant. And instead of setting it in the 2024 that I imagined quite inaccurately in 2004, I've now said it in this year. So that is the difference.

Jason Blitman:

Brett and I, after we both read the book, we're talking about the, how it almost makes us more anxious for November and so how do you, how did you find that balance of being true to these characters and being frankly optimistic while also like thinking realistically about what's up, what's going to happen, what's happening in the world right now. I imagine that was like a tough thing to straddle.

David Levithan:

Yeah, it was really hard because even in the first iteration, it's about how it's very hard to be idealistic, that especially as a teenager, you want to believe in freedoms and equality and you want to believe that The right things will prevail. And that's very hard because when you enter the wider world, you realize that you have some allies, but you also have many forces that are hostile towards your idealism for a variety of reasons. And again, it's, I think it's now harder, I wouldn't say than ever before, but I think it is particularly hard right now. And it's certainly harder now than it was in 2004. So I want to acknowledge that to be a teen today, To be a 17 year old today, you've been through so much already with the global pandemic, with the divisiveness that's spewed from the Trump presidency, with the strange pendulum swing of, you have rights, And then maybe you don't and especially queerness being something that seemed to be moving forward in a very positive trajectory, but then now we're fighting the pushback on so many fronts. And that's very hard, to be given a world and then have that world taken back a little. So I wanted to really explore that in the book and show that there's still room for idealism that, We aren't actually going to get to the better place without the idealism, but certainly it has to be an informed idealism and you have to know what you're up against in order to fight it.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah. With liberty and justice for some people.

David Levithan:

Right.

Brett Benner:

I was having this conversation. Last night with my son because, of this video that Trump had posted on Truth Social with the words Reich in it. And I was so baffled that, first of all, that the media hadn't, and I did see it in the New York Times this morning, but the media hadn't done anything with this and hadn't really jumped on this the way they should have. Or I felt that they should have. My son, who is 20 and a poli sci major is first of all, polls are always very inaccurate at this time. And it was calming to hear my child who was so cerebral about the whole thing. And I thought, okay, I really hope. And I look at these kids in your book and it. It gives me hope for a future because of the, a lot of these young people today and what they're doing and the way that they're standing up and in a way that certainly my generation didn't in a lot of ways, or didn't know to because we weren't in where we are now to the extremes we are.

David Levithan:

Yeah, and I think it's also, I think there is such an interesting fundamental tension right now between The virtual presence and the physical action that which again, 20 years ago, where we had all of our phones in our pockets wasn't as much as pronounced, but I've been inspired to see that the younger generation is actually the one we think that they're the ones that are completely addicted to devices and won't stand up for anything and we'll just sit at their computers. But in fact, the opposite is true. It's true that when things happen, like Black Lives Matter, student protests right now, that they understand the importance of actually physically putting yourself on the line, showing your support, and being willing to actually Be an active activist which I find, again, gives me hope because I think that there is an attempt to literally disembody us so that it is easier to be divisive and to divide us and to control us. But I do think that the generation right now that is, that our teens are in their 20s, they are fighting back against that and that they're not going to go quietly. if the people in control want to silence them that way.

Jason Blitman:

I mean, you even talking about the virtual presence versus physical action, virtual presence, there's a safety behind that. And a lot of the book I think wrestles too, with the safety of standing up and whether that's, physical safety, emotional safety and the fear of doing the right thing. Sometimes doing the right thing can be scary. Did any of this come from personal experience?

David Levithan:

I've certainly been to protests, but, and again, there is something about the strength in numbers there. The whole notion of, it is scary, but at the same time, there are so many of us. that can't get us all. And I think that, again, is a very easy way of looking at it. And again, in, in the book, the parents are very afraid that the kids are going on the road. And I am with the parents. I would be afraid too, if I were the parents, but again, I do think that there has to be an analysis. The risk is worth it to achieve the goal. And that again, if you band together and you do things peacefully, hopefully you will get a peaceful response.

Brett Benner:

Do you get much response from young people? Clearly you get response from young people for your books, but this book specifically, I have to believe that people, it's touching things with them as well and reaching out to you. Do you find that?

David Levithan:

Yeah, with the first Wide Awake, absolutely. I would hear from students who became politically involved because of it or who saw themselves reflected in it. I certainly heard from teachers who used it, not just in literature class, but in, in a poli sci or politics class, because it is so much about engaging in the system as a way of making sure the system treats you the way that it should treat you. It's been interesting having those conversations and of course it's. totally complicated. No, no novel can encapsulate all of the nuances of our political system. But there's so few novels that actually grapple with what is our political system. Like the electoral college is bonkers. Like it's it's absolutely bonkers. But that you don't usually come across that in a novel, especially if you're a teenager. But I, so I wanted to work in all of these thoughts about the system so that they have thoughts about the system. Again, because we're not necessarily going to change the Electoral College overnight, but at the same time, we have to be able to know, again, what we're up against and what needs to be changed.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah. There's a line in the book, changing subjects, but also just very prescient a character says, I asked myself why I had to care so much, then I reminded myself how vulnerable I was. I didn't want being queer or being Jewish to mean being defined by my vulnerability, by the long history of hate and injustice being directed against us. And yeah. I don't ever think I thought about my queerness or my Jewishness as a vulnerability in that way, but it articulated, I think, how I feel, and the Venn diagram of being gay and Jewish, especially right now, is tremendously complicated. Can you, was that, I assume, that was something you were grappling with as well as you were writing the book. Can you talk about that at all?

David Levithan:

No, absolutely. I think it is, again, when I wrote the book. in 2004, I was much more focused on the gay part of it. Again, this is pre-marriage equality. There were so many, and I was just like, okay and the Jewish part was there, but. But it was not a huge moment for anti Semitism in 2004. And as I was rewriting the book, I did have to layer in more of the fear of anti Semitism and what's going on there, and this idea of double vulnerability that you do face it on both sides. And I used to I used to, if somebody said something to me like, Oh we can't have a gay book in my library. Which somebody quite openly would say to me in 2003, 2004, I would say would you ever say, I can't have a Jewish book in my library? Or would you wouldn't, that would be wrong. So why is it wrong to say gay in that instance? And of course, now it's more complicated because I do feel like there are people who would say we can't have gay books or Jewish books in the library. And feel fine as well as black books. And again, like any. Anything that isn't them. So It was interesting to really explore that and to think about the stories that we do tell and what stories are told about us. And when we tell our stories, are we usually defined by the vulnerability? Is it, again, in the history of queer literature, There are so many books where the queer kid was the outcast, it was a struggle, it was a problem that needed to be solved. And then our literature evolved so that there are plenty of other stories that don't revolve around a central vulnerability. Jewish literature, again, Is primarily still very tied to the holocaust and to suffering and again, I don't in any way minimize that those stories should be told. They must be told, but there are plenty of other narratives that also need to be told. And so it's interesting in writing a gay Jewish story to say, how do I balance that because I want to acknowledge that there are people who hate us out there, and we can't ignore that. But at the same time, we cannot be defined by their hate. And I think right now, it seems like a time where that conflict of defining ourselves versus being defined by our haters is hugely pronounced for both.

Brett Benner:

One of the things that you said earlier, when you're talking about the Electoral College, and what I appreciate so much about the book is for a young person who does go into this, Who may not be politically active, who may not be aware of even these things and these systems that are set up within our own system are going to become aware of them. By just reading this, it's a question then, hey, what is this and how does this affect me and what does this mean in the larger terms and how can we work to change it? And I really think that it is about working for change and working to move, continuing to move forward in any way we can.

David Levithan:

Again, that idealism, I think, is a word is much frowned upon. It seems oh, it's not tethered to any sort of reality. But I do think, I think shortening it just to the notion of the ideal. Of what is our ideal system? What is how do we want things to work? And again, when you take it so simply, actually makes sense that, oh, we want equality for everyone, period. Like that, okay, that is an ideal. That is what we're striving towards. We want every person's vote to count the same way, no matter where they live. That is an ideal to work for and to point out that the things that are holding us back from that ideal so we can try to move progress forward.

Jason Blitman:

To that point this is airing during pride and something that we've been asking a lot of our queer authors is what does it mean to them to be a queer author of a version of that question? I'm curious to ask you is. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think your first book, Boy Meets Boy, came out in 2003? 2003, very different time. Ideals, very different, right? Aspirations, very different. The way that we talked about being gay, being queer, whatever, tremendously different compared to today. you share, maybe, The David in 2003 compared to the David now, or, reflecting on your journey as a queer author in this space.

David Levithan:

I always tell the story about when Boy Meets Boy was signed up I knew Brett Hartinger who wrote Geography Club and he said to me, welcome to the queer YA club. And there are now eight of us. And I don't need to tell you that now, of course, On a slow week, there are eight new queer YA books that are coming out in a week. I And get to June, it's probably 80 a week. And so I think it is, to use, again, the most simplistic of metaphors, it is the notion of, you open the door, and then people come through. And there's no point in opening a door if other people don't get to walk through it, if you're the only one who gets to walk through. And I think, for me and for the other members of the class of 03 I think that's really the most meaningful thing is that. It is now, we are now one of many queer authors representing so much intersectionality, so much of the full spectrum of what it is to be queer that, that wasn't conceivable. In 2003. We were fighting just to, to be able to have an out queer book on the shelves in the YA or the children's section in 2003. The fact that 21 years later, you walk into pretty much any bookstore in America, and you see a pride display or you see literally five shelves of, Just queer graphic novels, like if you look at Barnes Noble that's amazing. And so I think there is pride in that, of that it isn't just of making a mark yourself, it is just empowering so many other people to make a mark and showing that there is an audience, that there are readers, that this is, Something that is meaningful to a lot of people, whether they're queer or not that these stories need to be told and cherished.

Jason Blitman:

I imagine, hearkening back to my first question about not being Daddy David, but using the metaphor of opening the door. I imagine there's something I don't really know how to say this other than it makes you feel good that the effort to open the door in the first place wasn't for naught, and that you opened, you were among the first to open the door and kept it open. And the people did come through and that has to feel really special to know that you helped carve that path and make a safe space for other people to do the same.

David Levithan:

Oh, of course. Again, but and I, again I want to emphasize that Nancy Gardner did it for me.

Jason Blitman:

Yes

David Levithan:

for me. Like again, it's, it is, you just keep opening

Jason Blitman:

you're right. You keep it, you keep it's like when lots of people go into a building, you're one of the people that just helps push the door open for the people behind you. Yeah, it's

David Levithan:

so it is, it's a great continuum to be a part of, and it's also right now. very politically meaningful. I, I keep talking about, so this era of book bands that we're in right now and book challenges, but it's a very, I have a very different relationship to them now because At first, they were scary and certainly being picketed, as one of my events was or being challenged, or having the books pulled, you'd be like, wow if they pull my book, and Bren's book, and Melinda's book they really, the kids in that town won't have access to queer books that, that is, we're being shut out. However, now, when there are literally over a thousand queer books. that have been on these banned books lists, a thousand. Again, on the one hand, that's horrifying that all of these books are being challenged. On the other hand, though, realistically, I think there's no way they can erase us now. You can get when there are only eight books or when there are only 20 books, you can get rid of those. You can't get rid of a thousand books, especially now when all of them are available online at independent bookstores. Like, You can, There are ways of getting it that are not reliant upon your school library or your public library. While we still have to fight the fight, and while It's still exhausting and frustrating because our books are being used to send a signal to youth that you don't matter as much as your peers, especially trans youth, so I don't want to minimize the damage that these book bands are doing, but at the same time, when you think about, can they actually achieve their goal, the answer is no. It is impossible for them to achieve their goal, and it makes it an easier fight to know that, whereas 20 years ago, there wouldn't have been that assurance.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah. No, that's amazing. And back to what you were saying too about protests and just like numbers and how,

Brett Benner:

When you also start to,

Jason Blitman:

them in the numbers.

Brett Benner:

when we also start to actually learn how few people there actually are behind these

David Levithan:

Oh, yeah,

Brett Benner:

that's what's appalling to me. And that's another reason like, bitch, you did not sit down and read a thousand books to know what the problem with it is. You saw a cover, you saw, so interesting.

Jason Blitman:

I love that you have so many hats. have your writer hat, your co writer hat, your editor hat. How does, how do you feel? How does that, how are you, how's your 2024 treating you? You're all of your hats and you're handling them okay. You're doing good.

David Levithan:

I'm juggling as best as I can. No, I think, again, it's a good segue from what I was just saying because in January, a bunch of other authors and I started a group called Authors Against Book Bans. And that has been really important because it's we said, In this election year, what is the thing we want to focus on? And it was like, we really need to gather together to be a counterbalance to the groups that are trying to pull books. And that has been really important. And I think that It does go hand in hand with what I do as an editor and what I do as an author and does again, repeat the theme of the novel we're talking about, where it's like, there are times when you do have to leave your office, leave your house, and stand up for something and do the work, because you can't rely on anybody else to be there for you, and so I think that has been, again, added to the exhaustion right now, but at the same time, Our books are worth fighting for, so it's been wonderful to set up the apparatus that we can help in the fight.

Jason Blitman:

Amazing. Where can people help? Is there like a website, an

David Levithan:

Yeah, and if they just got authorsagainstbookbans. com, and if they're an author, they are, they're more than welcome to join.

Jason Blitman:

Cool. Fantastic. David, it's such a pleasure.

Brett Benner:

it's been so wonderful.

Jason Blitman:

We want to be very mindful of and you need to go work on all the things that you have going on.

Brett Benner:

Focus,

David Levithan:

It's good. Well, It inspired me now. I think, yeah, keep going.

Jason Blitman:

Yes, keep going. We need you.

David Levithan:

Thank you so much. It was great talking to you.

Jason Blitman:

And now we move along to Emma Copley Eisenberg, talking about her book, Housemates.

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

Aw, thanks so much for having me!

Jason Blitman:

Thank you so much for being here. What's, I'm like obsessed with this like,

Brett Benner:

The color,

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

Yeah, I feel like it's like millennial pink. That was a, it was, the color was speaking to me like last year, but I'm still into it and yeah, these are actually, yeah you can't really see a couple of these, that one, the cityscape that you, there's a

Brett Benner:

Oh, wow.

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

is a Bernice Abbott photograph. And then this is Carson McCullers, my like idol in the middle, this lady.

Brett Benner:

For our listeners, can you just give like an elevator pitch of the

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

Yes, so housemates is about a queer group house in west philly. Where I live and it is a story of bernie and leah bernie responds to a housemates wanted ad and moves into this chaotic queer group house, and there's an exciting spark between Bernie and Leah. Bernie is a large format which I didn't know much about, but a very difficult, formally inventive old form of photography. Leah's a journalist, they have a spark, and then they end up going on a road trip throughout Pennsylvania together, and hijinks and queer joy and struggle ensues.

Jason Blitman:

perfect. The book is it was a lot more literary than I think I was expecting. In a bad way. Just and these characters are rich and special and they were inspired by real people. Is that? Yes.

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

Yes,

Jason Blitman:

you tell us a little bit about

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

Yeah, I'm saying inspired by sparked by because you really were just, very exciting seed and then I Took that and ran wild with it. But yes, Bernice Abbott was a real, very well regarded, photo nerds will know who she is if you're out there and you love film photography, you'll already know her. She was a very influential American photographer starting in the 1930s, and then she had a life partner, romantic partner, as well as a creative partner named Elizabeth McCausland, who was an art writer. Elizabeth McCausland was much less well known, much less willing to play the art world game, butch, fat, tall just more difficult of a sort of figure to swallow at that time. Yeah, and I, they took a road trip together for real in 1935, and Left, very single and adrift with their lives and came back quite together and quite clear about they wanted to make this project called Changing New York. And so I was very inspired by that idea of what would happen if two people who are very, solitary and different, but struggling in their lives went on a road trip together and then came back? How would their lives be different afterwards? Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

And just like the process of how two people in a specific state emotionally can come together to spark something artistic, right? You like never know what the ingredients could result in, a nice reminder of putting yourself in difficult or uncomfortable situations to see what comes out on the other end.

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

Yeah, for sure. I think I was really interested in there's a really unique force field that happens between two people sometimes. It's special, doesn't happen every day, and it's a very, rare and cool thing, and so I knew that had happened for real between these two historical queer women. There was, like, a couple other tidbits I took from life. Bernice Abbott had been lovers with a fat queer princess from Belgium or something. The princess was a fuckboy and Bernice had her heart broken right before meeting Elizabeth, her life partner. So that kind of gave a little bit of spice to the beginning events of housemates. But yeah, I think it's a kind of once in a lifetime thing that you don't, it doesn't often happen, but when it happens, thinking about like Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe or other people that have Their lives and their art have just gotten galvanized by each other. I'm always really interested in that. Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

The book has a framing device, which I find so interesting. How did that come to be?

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

Oh my gosh. It

Jason Blitman:

She rolls her eyes.

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

yeah I know it's an audio medium, but I'm rolling my eyes and

Jason Blitman:

It's funny because like you rolled your eyes like at yourself.

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

Yes. Absolutely at myself, at my own process. I went to this incredible talk at Bread Love a couple summers ago. Rebecca McKay was like, Any time I've had a problem in a novel, like something intractable, like a big problem. She's like, I've never been able to succeed or fix the problem by writing around it. I've only been able to succeed or fix the problem by putting it in the book at the center of the novel. And I was like, fuck okay. So my problem was that I was, yeah, I wanted to create a sense of queer generational I didn't want this book to be just a story about 2018 or the Trump years. I wanted it to be wider than that and think about generations of queer inheritance and I wanted it to be a little bit bigger and more about art making rather than just about these individual people. So I was like, okay this is At first it was just in a close third from Bernie's point of view, and then it was like alternating back and forth between them. And I was like, this isn't really working. And then it was like, I was sitting at my desk and this voice again, audio medium, you can't see me, but I'm making like hand

Jason Blitman:

Puppet hands.

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

me. Yeah. And it was like, this, I voice just started talking. And I was like, Who's that?

Jason Blitman:

Get out of my head.

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

Yeah! And I was like, is it me? Is it Bernice Abbott, the real person from beyond the grave? I'm not really sure, but I was like, having such a problem with the POV that I just decided to go with it and listen to it. So I kept developing that I voice for a while. And people were like, Early readers were, like, excited about that and wanted to know more about her and eventually it became clear that she was like an older queer person who had also been in an intense partnership and lost her partner and was working something out about whether or not art can save your life by watching Bernie and Leah, this younger pair, and she was okay what's changed for them that wasn't true for me? Or, how can I think about what happened to me by like lightly stalking them? Question mark. Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

And it's lately stalking them, question mark, in spirit, in fly on the wall, in energy, in vibe. It's if my vibe was seeping through the walls, what would it be, a seeing or feeling? Which is I think part of why I said it. It was more literary than I was expecting, right? Cause that is a very thoughtful and complicated thing for a reader to like, get on board with is the wrong turn of phrase, but you have, to read it and figure it out and vibe with it and then get on that journey is an exciting challenge for a reader.

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

for sure. And it was definitely a struggle, like I said, and I think I swung for the fences with this book. That's all I had, you know, and I think it's exciting to see people trying things. I'm a fan of like ambitious novels, so I was like, I don't know that I have I've never done this before. I did read a bunch of other texts that kind of had like a roving eye as a way of Seeing if I could like fine tune it or make it more successful. Like I really love, um, Jazz. Toni Marson's Jazz has a sort of undisclosed weird eye that looks at the main characters in the book. And that person turns out to be kind of similar to my narrator, like someone who lives in the neighborhood who's Interested in, like, working out her own shit through watching and talking about these characters, I tend to, like, gravitate towards and, like, be attracted and excited about juicy books that have some sort of, like, structural or, um, additional layer in addition to just, like, the forward action of the plot, like, my brain gets excited.

Brett Benner:

Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

It's, I'm, I like, don't I, I, I worry that I'm coming across as like, judgment of that style, but

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

No, you're

Jason Blitman:

acknowledging that it made for a much more interesting read Than I think I was even expecting. Because I was like, whoa, this is a cool and unique way in.

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

I love that. Thank you.

Jason Blitman:

You have now said a few times, words like queer and femme and butch and fat and the book is queer positive and queer inclusive in every kind of way. And talks about fatphobia, and I think it's a huge important piece of the book and of the fabric of the book and of these people. Can you, what, how do I want to phrase this question? Can you talk about where that came from? Can you talk about why that was important to you as a, person who's not a little twink? It's, I always find it really important to see all sorts of inclusivity in media, in art.

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

Thank you. Yeah. I love, someone was like, it's a very corporeal book. Everyone's corporeal. And I was like, yeah, I think so. And it's so interesting. Cause I'm not someone that like, has it all figured out or anything. I'm not like, I love my body. No qualms. Like I'm done. Like I too am on my own sort of body journey and I wanted to represent bodies that are real, that are in process, that are struggling, that have different kinds of relationships to, between the body and the mind. So Bernie is like a skinny little lesbian twink, but she's also really dissociated from her body, I think, and dissociated from her self and her sexual self. And Leah is fat and definitely feels shut out sometimes of queer spaces that can be really anti fat and weird, just full of Skinny little white queers, and but also, and also grew up in a family where, that was quite fatphobic, but is on a very complicated journey with it. Is, I wanted to give a character whose body, whose fat body is not a problem. The book is not trying to solve her fatness. The book doesn't end with her being like, I'm losing weight, or the, or end with her being like, I love my body now and I'm done. And I tried. It was important to me to show a fat character who, that was just one aspect of their existence, but it was a real aspect of their existence, right? I wanted to have a book where we could talk about Leah's fat folds and the yeast under her boobs, because that's a thing, but also doesn't say that's negative or a problem, it's just part of being a human person, right?

Jason Blitman:

Just descriptive.

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

Yeah, and it's more than half of Americans are fat people now, so if you're writing fiction about America, you're writing about fat people, to be honest. And so I wanted to, and also I'm a fat person, and that's part of my experience, so it was just like really fun to get to show Leah being joyful and confused and struggling and sexual. She gets to have some fun sex, which we don't see from fat people that much. And I think also she Not that fat people need to mentor thin people about body stuff, but I think in addition to them finding each other as artists, I think Leah also provides a space for Bernie to learn more about her own body, and that's cool Between the two of them. And I think that's a real phenomenon that happens too, that people, disabled people, fat people people of color often are the ones that are, like, more aware of their bodily struggles, and they end up leading the way for the rest of us, yeah.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah. It was, It was um, exciting to see you sound so uh, minimizing, but it was,

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

Great. Yeah. Thank you.

Brett Benner:

One of the things that you, that it's a kind of catalyst for the book and I just love for you to talk about a little bit is Bernie's relationship with her professor. And this whole idea of great artists doing terrible things which has become so prevalent, obviously. And we're seeing so much of that. So what, where did that come from?

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

I wanted to create a relationship that is on the line of boundary crossing, that is extremely formative for Bernie as a young person, that is, extremely artistically important to her, but is also damaging, I think there's this misconception that the only bad thing a man professor can do to a young woman is sexual. Which absolutely is pernicious and, extremely harmful and there's a whole other like group of actions and behaviors I think that happens specifically in like artistic education spaces that can be really that can stay with you for life, right? So things like yeah talking about different kinds of bodies in art and saying some are more worthy than others or Talking about yeah, what makes great art? What does great art look like if you're being taught what that is by someone who like doesn't respect you as a human being? You That can be really damaging and stay with you for a whole life. So yeah, I'm really interested in like artistic. Professors in particular I, there is a part in the book where I tried to talk about the difference between a professor who's teaching math and a professor who's teaching photography and the ways that they talk about the world, right? Not that a professor teaching math can't do shitty things, but a professor teaching, again what makes a human beautiful or what makes a photograph beautiful is a different kind of deep manipulation than other kinds of education. This dude was like extremely generous and deeply engaged with Bernie's art too. So she has this like real influence and real debt of gratitude to him. And I also wanted to talk about money and inheritance that there's ways that You know, over a whole life, young artists, people coming up may either reject gifts or inheritances from older artists who are shitty because of what they've done, or they might accept them, and that's okay, too. People deal with difficult, traumatic, boundary crossing relationships in all kinds of ways. Some people we've seen with Claire Dieter's work and stuff, some people are like, we're cancelling this artist, I'm never gonna speak of them again, and other people are like but I want it for my career, or, there's, I want to take what they gave me and use it to my advantage, and there's a lot of different ways to navigate those complex inheritances, so I wanted to let the book present a bunch of options, and I think both of those are valid and I hope the book talks honestly about if you don't have money and you don't have a security net those choices look different too. Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

Completely changing the subject, but

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

yeah.

Jason Blitman:

I would be remiss if we do not talk about her. Can we talk about Delilah?

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

god! Hell yeah! Talk about Delilah. That was. I love you so much.

Jason Blitman:

Why are we all obsessed with her? How, like how do we become her? Doesn't she have 40 kids? Where is her biopic? What's going on?

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

Okay, so I, if anyone is listening who wants to give me this assignment, I will pay you to write it. I've been wanting to write like a big bio feature piece about Delilah for years and no one seems to want to do it, but maybe between the three of us we can make it happen. So for any that might not know, Delilah is an incredible radio presence. That's syndicated in every airwave in America. If you drive across country, which I have done, you can listen to Delilah's radio show at night pretty much every night of your life until the end of time. She is like immortal and basically what happens is like people call in and they're like, Delilah, like my husband is like moving to Staten Island, and I love him, but I'm letting him go because I have, I don't, I have trauma, whatever, and she's Jason let me play you a song, and she only plays one of five songs, and it's like the same five over and over again, but it's iconic, and there's something about the simplicity of the format. The emotionality of the songs she plays, they're all like, the rose, or thank you for being a friend. They're just like, absurd poems. And Leah, the character, is really into Delilah in this novel because I think there's a sense of just simple, core, accessibility in an artistic way. Leah really wants the most people under the umbrella to be thinking about art and creativity. And yeah, so Delilah was just obviously on my mind as a, for a road novel, because she's everywhere when you travel. And also, it's just an incredible format that has kept millions of Americans company for decades. Yeah.

Brett Benner:

It feels like there should be a Netflix documentary. At the very

Jason Blitman:

It has to be. It has to be. My friend Amy and I in high school would hear her on the radio all the time. And so the fact that she made such an appearance in the book, I just was so excited. The idea of nuance comes up in the book and the question of why we're starving for nuance. Why do you think that is? Yeah.

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

mug that my friend, the writer Sarah Marshall of Your Wrongabout Pod, we love her she gave to me that it just says nuance on it. So I drink my coffee out of a mug, this is Nuance. And I think that, um, how much time do we have? We don't, we need 20 more hours to talk about why America has no nuance. But I think I was shooting for this. Yeah part of my sort of maximalist, swinging for the fences vision for this book was like, I want this book to have nuance about all the things, about the idea of Sort of queer assimilation versus queer separation. The idea of is, can art save your life? The answer is maybe yes and maybe no. I, I think that all the answers, I hope, get to live next to each other in this book. But yeah, I think Leah and Bernie are, maybe Leah even more than Bernie, because Leah's a journalist and she's really frustrated and annoyed. Books are often the place, and fiction in particular, where nuance gets to live more so than, are more capitalist driven short articles with a quick argument, yeah.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah, I'm so glad that you just said, can art save your life? Maybe yes, maybe no, because, I have a background in theater. And as I've gotten older through the pandemic, through all sorts of things, I'm always like, it's at the end of the day, it's people putting on plays. It's people dressing up, it's people dancing, it's people singing. And I love theater. I find art important, but at the end of the day, like we're not. Actually, literally saving lives in the way that like a brain surgeon is and

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

not.

Jason Blitman:

I and people, peers of mine, have been offended by me saying that, but art does save lives, and I'm like it has the potential to, it can, someone can consume this, and it can move them, or it could point them in a direction that was surprising to them, or it can be meaningful to them in a way that is quote unquote saving them, but it's not literally. Saving lives at the moment of,

Brett Benner:

I don't know, Jason, that Wicked trailer.

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

Could save our life. I know.

Brett Benner:

No

Jason Blitman:

and it just, it's just me, it's just like important, I think, to like address and talk about because of the nuance.

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

Yes, no, I

Brett Benner:

a little bit of because your maturity and your, yes, that's a little bit of a part of it.

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

Yes, and I think it's just art can save your life if there's also systemic mechanisms in place. that give you health care and access to a safe place to live. And, but if you're like, yeah, if you're, if you don't have access to those like systemic resources, art is absolutely not going to feed you and house you and clothe you. Like it's just not, and especially not in America. Like we've made a systemic decision not to invest in the arts in this country. There isn't public arts funding basically, except for very limited resources from the NEA and it's so what else is there? It's all tied to capitalism. And I think that Bernie and Leah are like contending with that a lot and asking that question and Bernie's art's not gonna save my life. I need money. I need a way to survive. And I think Leah's a little more idealistic'cause she has more privilege and more of a safety net. And they, but they, I think they both are grappling with that question'cause they feel a lot of urgency around it. But at the same time they're like, bigger things would need to change than just us in order for art to save your life. And I, I guess there is, I don't think this book can really be spoiled, but there is a part at the end where Bernie and Leah reach for some solutions. They try to put some things in place that are about making art a little more accessible, a little less dependent on capitalism. And that was really fun and exciting to get to play with the idea of what if I allowed myself to put in actual community organizing into a novel without, and still hopefully not have it be like super pedantic or prescriptive. Like it's just scenes. I'm doing stuff that are their ideas. Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah, it's not pedantic or

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

Okay.

Jason Blitman:

In our last few minutes together, every queer author that we have, we've been asking some version of what does it mean to be a queer author? What does it mean to be queer right now? And so I'm asking you that question, but I'm also curious through the lens of queer group home and queer collective, that's like a lot, that's like a big question. And we probably could have talked about that for this entire time, but is there, are there things that brings up in you to talk about now?

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

For sure. Yeah, no, I love that. Thank you. And yes, I think that queer group homes are not discussed enough as an essential part of queer community. Like, where's the great American boarding house novel? There's a few that I love. I do love Nell Zink's Nicotine, which is straight people queer, but not exactly queer. So I, yeah, I set out to write the great West Philadelphia queer house novel, and I think there's something very specifically powerful and transformational about living in close proximity to people who are not your girlfriend, not your lover, not your family member, but like this other thing, where you see them in a really intimate way, you're privy to the noises that they make in their sleep, and their weird toothpaste smears on their toothbrush, right? But they're, not someone that you have an official box to put them in as an intimate. So I'm really, I think that's very queer in general. And then I think that's the way a lot of queer people live. So I want to see that more in fiction. And then, yeah, I just wrote this like piece for Esquire this week that was like thinking about ways that fiction can play around with and satirize and discuss and open up the idea of queer goodness or queer morality. I think a lot of small microclimates of queerness can create these really strong queer moral zones. And I think, yeah, I'm interested in that. I'm interested in being a moral person, and at the same time, I'm interested in freedom of thought and the ways that we're different as queer people. The umbrella of queerness has gotten so big, I think it's really hard to think about what's best or what's right or what's beautiful for any, for all queers. I hope that the book plays with that and I'm excited to see other queer novels that are like letting queer people be wrong and amoral and messy and questioning and and unjudged in a, I think fiction is really the place that's happening which I'm excited about.

Jason Blitman:

And so that, so being a queer writer right now to you is about. being able to do that and champion that and accomplish that.

Brett Benner:

Back to nuance.

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

Yes, my Nuance mug. I'll try to find a picture

Brett Benner:

Yeah. And these characters, they're full of it. That's what I love. And that's one of the things that make them so not only identifiable, but just real and human and messy and in the best possible way, that's not a bow.

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

All of a sudden, queer fiction seems to be about characters. that feel squeezed by other queer people. Like a sort of interrupt, like we're at the stage now where we can write novels about intergroup trauma and rather than just like pressure and trauma from the outside. And I think the ways that queer people lift each other up and create like warmth and community is so incredible. And also there's a ways, there's ways that can become policing and and stifling.

Brett Benner:

critic.

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

Yeah and critical, and I think those are, I don't really have an opinion about whether that's good or bad, but it's just a real thing that's happening, so I'm excited to see it in fiction, yeah.

Jason Blitman:

Emma, I'm so excited for people to read this.

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

Ah, thank

Brett Benner:

so fantastic. Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

have you.

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

Yeah, this is a delight. Thank you guys so much for your careful reading and fun jokes. Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

jokes. Great. I'll take it.

Emma Copley Eisenberg:

It was a delight. It was a delight. I know.

Jason Blitman:

Emma, thank you so much for being here. David, Jen, Emma, you're awesome. Happy Pride. Make sure to check out There's Going to Be Trouble, Wide Awake Now, and Housemates, as well as all the other books that we've talked about on this episode. And we'll see you very soon because it's Pride and we got a lot of stuff going

Brett Benner:

you

Jason Blitman:

Bye.

Bye. I'm going to be doing a whole video on how to make a translation of the book. So, um, I'll see you guys later. Bye. Bye. Bye. Bye. Bye. Bye.