The Rural We: Roxana Robinson
Photo by David Ignaszewski
Although born in Kentucky and raised in Pennsylvania, writer Roxana Robinson has a connection to her current home of Cornwall, Conn. that dates back two centuries. The critically acclaimed author of five novels, three short story collections and the definitive biography of Georgia O’Keeffe has had her work published in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Wall Street Journal, Best American Short Stories and elsewhere. She teaches in the MFA Program at Hunter College, CUNY, and only recently stepped down as President of the Authors Guild. Also an art scholar, Robinson’s articles have appeared in numerous magazines and in exhibition catalogs for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She reviews books for The New York Times and the Washington Post, and has written essays on gardening for House and Garden, House Beautiful and others. Her own garden has been included in even greater number of publications and is often on The Garden Conservancy’s Open Days tours. On Sunday, April 23 at 3 p.m., at the Cornwall Town Hall, Robinson will give the Norman Dorsen endowed lecture, presented by the Cornwall Historical Society. Her talk is titled “What Are Women Doing in Politics?”
My family has been in Cornwall for 200 years, in a house that my grandparents built, so I’ve been coming here all my life. It was owned by my mother and her two brothers, who shared it, when my husband and I took it over about 10 years ago. We like this area because it’s so quiet; we basically live in the woods, and there’s an astonishing wild natural presence: bears, bobcats, wild turkeys. We always enjoy being in the middle of the natural world. It also has a wonderfully diverse community of writers and artists, which is a big part of the family tradition and is important to us. We love the Falls Village Inn, too, and we go there a lot.
The Historical Society asked if I would give this lecture, and I was very honored. The woman in charge of it knows I’ve been involved in political activism – I was at the Women’s March; I went to Congress with veterans and wrote about that; and I went to Pennsylvania during the campaign to volunteer. The talk will be about what role woman play in politics, which is different now from what it was 100, 50, or even 10 years ago. I’ve been watching to see what effect women are having on the political process. The march was billed as a “women’s march” (although men were there), and it was very powerful on that account, but some countered that the word “women” doesn’t necessarily mean any certain social movement. But women are taking steps and being challenged, and sometimes fiercely challenged, by people who think they shouldn’t have a voice. This election revealed a current of misogyny that is relevant.
I’ve always written about broad social issues in my work – divorce, the environment, and then heroin addiction and the war in Iraq – but through the context of the families in my novels. I’m drawn more and more to social topics that are very powerfully present in our culture. It’s the task of a novelist to address issues that are most important to her, to make them real and important inside the life we all lead. Instead of setting down numbers about climate change, you write a novel where characters are watching the lake and show what they feel about what’s happening to it.
Right now I’m working on my next book, and I have an essay in a collection coming out soon called Radical Hope, which is about this past election and what it means to people. This summer I’m teaching two writing workshops – The Writers Hotel in New York in June, and at a Southampton, NY writers conference in July.