Washington Square Q & A
It's time to head back to school and SheKnows Chick Lit recommends hitting the campus of Manhattan U -- the fictional university setting for Joanne Rendell's smart, fresh, academic chick lit novel Crossing Washington Square.
Rendell, also the author of The Professors' Wives' Club, returns to Manhattan University in her newly released book -- a juicy tale of two strong women professors. Diana is a highly respected scholar of the classics like Plath and Austen. Rachel, the younger more impulsive professor, has a penchant for popular women's fiction like Bridget Jones' Diary and The Devil Wears Prada. Enter one hunky visiting professor from Harvard -- Carson McEvoy -- who sets his eyes on both women.
Rendell brings her own experience -- she has a doctorate in literature and lives in faculty housing with her professor husband at NYU -- and a welcome breath of fresh air to the stuffy world of academia.
SheKnows Chick Lit says you'll love diving into Crossing Washington Square and the secret lives of these women professors – and, meanwhile, we're diving into the secret life of author Joanne Rendell.
SheKnows Chick Lit catches up with campus cutie Joanne Rendell.
SheKnows: Tell us a bit about Crossing Washington Square?
Joanne Rendell: Crossing Washington Square is a story of two very different women and their very different love of books. Rachel Grey and Diana Monroe are both literature professors in the old boys club of Manhattan University. While this should create a kinship between them, they are very much at odds. Rachel is young, emotional, and impulsive. She wrote a book about women's book groups which got her a slot on Oprah and she uses "chick lit" in her classes. Diana is aloof, icy, and controlled. She's also a scholar of Sylvia Plath who thinks "beach" fiction is an easy ride for students. But as is often the case, it's a man that truly divides the two women. Smooth-talking Carson McEvoy, a visiting Harvard professor, has his sights on both Rachel and Diana and gets sparks truly flying!
SheKnows: How much, if anything, do you have in common with Rachel and Diana and which was more fun writing?
Joanne Rendell: I identify most with Rachel. As a grad student in a literature department, I was always caught in a conundrum. By day I would be reading classical literature and poetry, but at night I loved to read chick lit. Bridget Jones' Diary is one of my all time favorite books! Rachel is like this too. She mixes up the classics with the popular. Diana is much less like me: aloof, cool, and also frighteningly clever and commanding with her students. She was a lot of fun and challenging to write though. In spite of her austerity and poise, underneath she is vulnerable and wounded. I really enjoyed writing about such a complex woman.
SheKnows: What are your feelings on the debate in the book about the classics being more important and superior to modern fiction?
Joanne Rendell: I've always been fascinated by the debate about what's considered "good" or "trashy" literature and whether it should only be Shakespeare and the other classics which are studied at college. Popular fiction – including thrillers, romance, chick lit, or women's fiction like my own -- is often considered fluff, easy reading, or simple escapism. To dismiss it as such, however, is too simplistic, as well as elitist. It overlooks what is positive, fascinating, and important about popular writing. As Rachel says in the book, "popular culture influences who we are, what we think, and what's going to happen in our world and in our lives." How could we not deem it important to study what is popular? I also think modern popular fiction can be a site of great community. People come together in book groups to talk about such books. Even if readers don't belong to book groups, they often find community within the books themselves. I'm sure there are hundreds, if not thousands, of women out there who found solace and companionship in Cannie, Jennifer Weiner's plus-sized heroine of Good in Bed, for example. Although a reader might find community in the works of Hemingway, Salman Rushdie, or even Shakespeare, they probably wouldn't find this particular kind of companionship.
SheKnows: Tell us about Carson McEvoy - the handsome and brilliant professor who steals the hearts of both Rachel and Diana?
Joanne Rendell: Carson, I have to say, is a complete fabrication. Never in my days have I encountered such a gorgeous, smooth-talking, and well-dressed professor. Most male academics fit the common stereotype -- corduroy jackets, leather elbow patches, smudged spectacles, battered briefcases. As students, we probably all had a crush on some professor or other. But looking back, they were no Carson McEvoys. We overlooked our professors' bad dress or questionable looks because we loved their brains!
SheKnows: How much of Manhattan U is based on NYU where you live in faculty housing?
Joanne Rendell: Well, my husband is a professor at NYU and, as you say, we live in university housing, so that's the world I know. Of course, real life and the real NYU sneak into the novel a lot. But I'm not telling exactly where. My husband likes his job at the university too much!
SheKnows: What is your favorite and least favorite part of living on campus? Do you have a favorite campus spot?
Joanne Rendell: Living on campus provides an instant community for me and my family, which I like. But it can also be kind of goldfish bowl-y too. Everyone knows you where you work and knows when you're in or when you're out. Washington Square doesn't belong to NYU, of course. But it does serve as the heart of the campus. I love it there, especially in the fall when the leaves are turning red and gold. Just like on the cover to Crossing Washington Square!
SheKnows: Describe what it's like being married to a professor? Is there a character in the book who is based on your husband at all?
Joanne Rendell: I love being married to my professor! It's fun to be around someone so smart and who's so actively engaged with new ideas and new ways of thinking about the world. Plus, he gets a nice long summer vacation and we get to live in a great faculty apartment!! Oh and is my professor like one in the book? Peter Zadikian, the chair of the English department in Crossing Washington Square, shares a few features with my husband: the lanky frame, the penchant for wearing running shoes to work, and the mild, thoughtful demeanor.
Up next…Rendell relishes in her role as Chick Lit author…