Wolitzer, Meg 1959-
WOLITZER, Meg 1959-
PERSONAL: Born May 28, 1959, in Brooklyn, NY; daughter of Morton (a psychologist) and Hilma (a novelist; maiden name, Liebman) Wolitzer. Education: Attended Smith College, 1977–79; Brown University, B.A., 1981.
CAREER: Writer. Has taught writing at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop and Skidmore College.
AWARDS, HONORS: Ms. magazine fiction contest winner, 1979, for "Diversions"; MacDowell Colony fellowship, 1981; Yaddo residency, 1983; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1994; Pushcart Prize, 1998.
Sleepwalking, Random House (New York, NY), 1982.
Caribou (for children), Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1984.
Sparks, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1985.
Hidden Pictures, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1986.
The Dream Book, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1986.
This Is Your Life, Crown Publishers (New York, NY), 1988.
Friends for Life, Crown Publishers (New York, NY), 1994.
Surrender, Dorothy, Scribner (New York, NY), 1999.
The Wife, Scribner (New York, NY), 2003.
The Position, Scribner (New York, NY), 2005.
"OPERATION: SAVE THE TEACHER" SERIES
Tuesday Night Pie, Avon Books (New York, NY), 1993.
Wednesday Night Match, Avon Books (New York, NY), 1993.
Saturday Night Toast, Avon Books (New York, NY), 1993.
(With Jesse Green) Nutcrackers: Devilishly Addictive Mind Twisters for the Insatiably Verbivorous, Grove Weidenfeld (New York, NY), 1991.
Fitzgerald Did It: The Writer's Guide to Mastering the Screenplay, Penguin (New York, NY), 1999.
Contributor to Ms. magazine; book reviewer for the New York Times and Los Angeles Times.
ADAPTATIONS: This Is Your Life was adapted for film as This Is My Life, Twentieth Century-Fox, c. 1992.
SIDELIGHTS: Meg Wolitzer's critically acclaimed first novel explores the often cold world of adolescents. Sleepwalking, by magnifying the rites of passage of three anorexic college girls, "captures the very real unhappiness of growing up sensitive and misunderstood," wrote Deirdre M. Donahue in the Washington Post Book World. Called "death girls" by their peers because "they talked about death as if it were a country in Europe," these "high-strung, over-enriched, self-conscious" young ladies are preoccupied with suicidal poets. Laura identifies with the whiskey-voiced Anne Sexton; Naomi dyes her hair blonde in the Sylvia Plath tradition; and Claire, the focus of the novel, surrounds her eyes with kohl, covers her lips with dark gloss, and scents her wrists with ambergris like the fictional Lucy Ascher.
Overcome by the death of a beloved brother, Claire finds in Ascher's poetry the grief and the resentment of adulthood she feels. Claire's acceptance of life and the question of her survival occupy most of Sleepwalking, thus making the novel, according to Elaine Kendall in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, "a remarkably sophisticated inquiry into the nature of such adolescent identity crises." Sara Blackburn noted in the New York Times Book Review that "Wolitzer quickly shows us, with empathy and wit, that these young women are so terrified of maturing that they'll do almost anything to paralyze themselves safely inside the lives of 'their' respective dead poets." "Wolitzer is so intelligent about adolescence," Laurie Stone stated in the Village Voice Literary Supplement. "She depicts it as a plague-ridden country to which children are summarily exiled and where they must wait, hoping for an exit visa or a rescue ship approaching through fog." Blackburn concluded that "Wolitzer's gift is being able to sense the tragicomic aspects of both childhood and adulthood and to describe them to us in a voice that is always lucid, insightful and, most of all, tempered with the hard-won wisdom of compassion."
Wolitzer was only twenty-three years old when she published Sleepwalking. She once explained to CA: "Reading was always something given great importance in my family, and becoming a writer seems to be a natural progression." Chicago Tribune Book World reviewer Merryl Maleska, noting Wolitzer's youth, concluded that Sleepwalking is an "astonishingly mature first novel…. The wisdom and sensibility of this novel and of its author—who can know so much at such a young age—leave one genuinely in awe."
Since her early success with Sleepwalking, Wolitzer has gone on to become a prolific writer of both children's books and adult novels. Her first books for young readers, such as Caribou and The Dream Book, received praise for the author's storytelling and comical talents. In her 1993 children's book, Tuesday Night Pie, the story revolves around a teacher whose wife has died, leading his fifth-grade class to write letters of sympathy. However, when one girl takes her sympathy one step further and offers to help with chores around her teacher's house, things go amus-ingly wrong. A Publishers Weekly contributor predicted that the book "will engage readers … interests by appealing to familiar problems."
Wolitzer's adult novel Friends for Life tells the story three young women in New York City. Nearing thirty, the women are successful in their respective fields and longtime friends. But soon their camaraderie, which includes discussing their sexual liaisons, is threatened as each one begins to form a more serious attachment with a lover. A Publishers Weekly contributor appreciated the author's "snappy dialogue and nicely captured trendy detail." Writing in Booklist, Donna Seaman commended the author for "creating scenes that sparkle with wit and glow with the relief of being able to laugh at the ridiculousness of life."
Wolitzer writes about the tragic death of a young woman and the reactions of her three friends in Surrender, Dorothy. The friends decide to go on their annual get-together even though the recently deceased Sara's place is now taken by one of the friend's lovers. Also arriving on the scene is Sara's mother, Natalie, who soon begins to direct her motherly instincts to her daughter's surviving friends. Judith Kicinski, writing in the Library Journal, noted that "Wolitzer's writing is un-adorned and direct; the relationships she dissects are neither." And a Publishers Weekly contributor wrote, "Wolitzer enchants with wholly realized characters and a sly narrative voice."
In The Wife, Wolitzer recounts the story of Joan Castleman, who at the age of sixty-four has decided that her longtime marriage to a successful novelist is over. Much of the novel takes place as a flashback, while Joan and her husband, Joe, travel by plane to Helsinki, where Joe is to pick up a prestigious literary prize. The reader learns that Joan was seduced by her former teacher while he was still married. Although Joan eventually wins Joe and is with him as he rises to fame as a writer, she comes to realize that Joe is a philanderer who takes little interest in their children or their life together. But Joan has another secret, one that would ruin Joe's reputation as a writer. Writing in Booklist, Donna Seaman called the novel "a diabolically smart and funny assault against the literary establishment." In a review for the Library Journal, Beth Gibbs said that the author is "as sharp as ever" and added that "this is not one to miss." A Publishers Weekly contributor concluded, "Wolitzer's crisp pacing and dry wit carry us headlong into a devastating message about the price of love and fame."
In her 2005 novel, The Position, Wolitzer focuses on four children who find a 1970s sex manual that their parents not only wrote but also posed for to produce the book's illustrations. The children's parents eventually divorce, and the story follows the siblings' lives as they deal with various problems and issues, including sexual dysfunction, homosexuality, drugs, and alienation from family. When their parents' book is reissued thirty years later, the family comes together once again to battle out old grudges, especially the central issue involving the children's parents, who long ago remarried others. Writing in Publishers Weekly, a reviewer felt that the author "bestows her trademark warmth and light touch on this tale of social and domestic change." And the Library Journal critic Beth E. Andersen concluded, "Wolitzer … keeps this study of one family's three-decade journey along the sexual continuum churning along with her droll, often poignant tale."
Wolitzer told CA: "My mother is a writer and was a great influence on me when I was starting out. I would run and show her any new story I'd written, and she was always a great fan and advocate. I know that most writers do not start out with a writer for a parent, and I feel especially lucky to have had someone who could show me what a writer's life was like, and could give me the encouragement that a fledgling writer needs. Writers, in the beginning, are needy and vulnerable and long for praise of any kind. (Writers, later on in their careers, are actually the same way.)
"My writing process is disciplined without being married to schedule. I work when I want to, and for as long as I want to. There might be weeks when I just read and think about writing; these are followed up by weeks when I work at a manic pace, really trying to steal time wherever I can. It somehow all balances out without my having to create a fixed schedule or forcing myself to stay seated. These days, I no longer have a desk; I take my laptop to wherever I am most comfortable: a bed, a booth in a coffee shop, a table in a library, and I work there.
"Here are a few books I love: Mrs. Bridge, by Evan S. Connell; The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro; A Passage to India, by E.M. Forster; Slouching Towards Bethlehem, by Joan Didion; The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. All of these books have excited me at some point in my life and made me want to write better.
"I am always surprised when I hear a writer say he or she doesn't want to read much during the writing process, for fear of being 'influenced.' I certainly wouldn't mind a bit of the language and luster of any of those books to find its way into my own work."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Antioch Review, summer, 1982, review of Sleepwalking, p. 374.
Best Sellers, June, 1982, review of Sleepwalking, p. 95; January, 1985, review of Caribou, p. 399.
Booklist, April 1, 1007, review of Sleepwalking, p. 1007; May 1, 1986, review of Hidden Pictures, p. 1285; October 1, 1986, review of Caribou, p. 281; October 15, 1988, review of This Is Your Life, p. 366; March 1, 1994, Donna Seaman, review of Friends for Life, p. 1182; April 15, 1999, Michelle Kaske, review of Surrender, Dorothy, p. 1517; May 15, 1999, Ron Kaplan, review of Fitzgerald Did It: The Writer's Guide to Mastering the Screenplay, p. 1662; March 1, 2003, Donna Seaman, review of The Wife, p. 1143; December 15, 2004, Donna Seaman, review of The Position, p. 710.
Book World, April 6, 2003, review of The Wife, p. 6; December 7, 2003, review of The Wife, p. 4.
Boston Review, August, 1986, review of Hidden Pictures, p. 7; December, 1994, review of Friends for Life, p. 30.
Broadside, October, 1988, review of Hidden Pictures, p. 13.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, December, 1984, review of Caribou, p. 76.
Chicago Tribune Book World, August 22, 1982, Merryl Maleska, review of Sleepwalking; October 16, 1988, review of This Is Your Life, p. 8.
Commonweal, December 2, 1988, review of This Is Your Life, p. 658.
English Journal, March, 1986, 107, Beth Nelms, review of Caribou; September, 1993, review of Caribou, p. 43.
Entertainment Weekly, April 11, 2003, review of The Wife, p. 82.
Glamour, May, 1982, Nancy Evans, review of Sleepwalking, p. 41; October, 1988, Laura Mathews, review of This Is Your Life, p. 180.
Guardian (London, England), August 6, 2005, Anna Shapiro, review of The Position, p. 19.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 1982, review of Sleepwalking, p. 302; November 1, 1984, review of Caribou, p. J99; March 15, 1986, review of Hidden Pictures, p. 427; July 1, 1986, review of The Dream Book, p. 1018; September 1, 1998, review of This Is Your Life, p. 1275; February 1, 1994, review of Friends for Life, p. 95; February 15, 1999, review of Surrender, Dorothy, p. 254; January 1, 2003, review of The Wife, p. 26; December 1, 2004, review of The Position, p. 1116.
Kliatt, fall, 1984, review of Sleepwalking, p. 22.
Library Journal, April 1, 1982, review of Sleepwalking, p. 827; March 15, 1994, Jan Blodgett, review of Friends for Life, p. 103; March 1, 1999, Judith Kicinski, review of Surrender, Dorothy, p. 112; March 122, 2003, Beth Gibbs, review of The Wife, p. 121; December 1, 2004, Beth E. Andersen, review of The Position, p. 106.
Library Media Connection, November, 1986, review of Caribou, p. 35.
Los Angeles Times, May 11, 1986, review of Hidden Pictures, p. 3; October 9, 1988, review of This Is Your Life, p. 8; April 11, 1999, review of Surrender, Dorothy, p. 11; March 26, 2000, review of Fitzgerald Did It, p. 1; March 2, 2003, review of The Wife, p. R15; July 27, 2003, R11; December 7, 2003, review of The Wife, p. R13.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 1, 1982, Elaine Kendall, review of Sleepwalking.
Nation, July 3, 1982, Brina Caplan, review of Sleepwalking, p. 25.
New Yorker, August 18, 1986, review of Hidden Pictures, p. 73.
New York Times, March 3, 1985, Henry Mayer, review of Caribou, p. 28; October 5, 1988, Michiko Kakutani, review of This Is Your Life, p. 24; April 7, 1999, Richard Bernstein, "A Meringue of Semiotics and Erotic Casualness," p. B9; May 25, 2003, review of The Wife, p. 6.
New York Times Book Review, August 8, 1982, Sara Blackburn, review of Sleepwalking, p. 12; March 3, 1985, Henry Mayer, review of Caribou, p. 28; June 8, 1986, Gloria Naylor, review of Hidden Pictures, p. 12; March 29, 1987, review of The Dream Book, p. 26; December 11, 1988, Kit Reed, review of This Is Your Life, p. 9; November 5, 1989, review of This Is Your Life, p. 42; April 10, 1994, Linda Gray Sexton, review of Friends for Life, p. 16; April 25, 1999, Sylvia Brownrigg, review of Surrender, Dorothy, p. 22; April 20, 2003, Claire Dederer, review of The Wife, p. 11; June 1, 2003, review of The Wife, p. 21; December 7, 2003, review of The Wife, p. 70.
Observer (London, England), November 2, 1986, review of Hidden Pictures, p. 30.
Organic Style, April, 2004, review of The Wife, p. 22; March, 2005, Barbara Jones, "Back When Sex Was a Little … Sweeter," interview with Meg Wolitzer, p. 72.
O, The Oprah Magazine, March, 2005, review of The Position, p. 174.
People, May 9, 1994, Dani Shapiro, review of Friends for Life, p. 36; April 7, 2003, review of The Wife, p. 45; April 4, 2005, Moira Bailey, review of The Position, p. 46.
Publishers Weekly, March 26, 1982, review of Sleepwalking, p. 68; March 9, 1984, review of Sleepwalking, p. 113; October 19, 1984, review of Caribou, p. 47; March 14, 1986, Sybil Steinberg, review of Hidden Pictures, p. 102; April 25, 1986, review of Caribou, p. 88; August 26, 1986, Sybil Steinberg, review of This Is Your Life, p. 74; September 26, 1988, review of The Dream Book, p. 83; October 6, 1989, review of This Is Your Life, p. 96; March 15, 1993, review of Tuesday Night Pie, p. 89; February 14, 1994, review of Friends for Life, p. 81; February 1, 1999, review of Surrender, Dorothy, p. 72; April 19, 1999, review of Fitzgerald Did It, p. 56; February 3, 2003, review of The Wife, p. 53; November 8, 2004, review of The Position, p. 32.
Rapport: The Modern Guide to Books, Music & More, 1994, review of Friends for Life, p. 33.
Saturday Review, Andrea Barnet, review of Sleepwalking, p. 60.
School Library Journal, September, 1982, Priscilla Johnson, review of Sleepwalking, p. 151; January, 1985, review of Caribou, p. 89; April 15, 1986, Laurie Spector Sullivan, review of Hidden Pictures, p. 97; November, 1986, Judy Greenfield, review of The Dream Book, p. 94; November, 1988, review of Caribou, p. 52; January, 1989, Keddy Outlaw, review of This Is Your Life, p. 106; March, 1989, review of This Is Your Life, p. 131.
Social Education, April, 1985, review of Caribou, p. 322.
Times Literary Supplement, November 28, 1986, review of Hidden Pictures, p. 1358.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), April 20, 2003, review of The Wife, p. 6.
Us, March, 1994, Juliann Garey, review of Friends for Life, p. 39.
Village Voice Literary Supplement, June, 1982, Laurie Stone, review of Sleepwalking, p. 3; June, 1986, review of Hidden Pictures, p. 9.
Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 1985, review of Caribou, p. 53; December, 1986, review of The Dream Book, p. 224.
Washington Post Book World, June 8, 1982, Deirdre M. Donahue, review of Sleepwalking.
All About Romance, http://www.likesbooks.com/ (July 29, 2003), review of Surrender, Dorothy.
Barnes and Noble Web site, http://www.barnesandnoble.com/ (August 25, 2005), interview with Wolitzer.