Michael Cunningham

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Michael Cunningham

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born
in Cincinnati, Ohio, The United States
gender
male

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member since
May 2014


About this author

Michael Cunningham is the author of the novels A Home at the End of the World, Flesh and Blood, The Hours (winner of the Pen/Faulkner Award & Pulitzer Prize), Specimen Days, and By Nightfall, as well as the non-fiction book, Land's End: A Walk in Provincetown. His new novel, The Snow Queen, will be published in May of 2014. He lives in New York, and teaches at Yale University.


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Michael Cunningham People ask, sometimes, about my ability to write convincing women characters (I’m not only a man, I’ve been one all my life). I of course am always…morePeople ask, sometimes, about my ability to write convincing women characters (I’m not only a man, I’ve been one all my life). I of course am always glad to hear that people find my female characters convincing.

I do, however, have a counter-question of my own – I wonder why some male writers have such difficulty writing women characters.

I don’t want to under-estimate the differences between genders. But at the same time, I believe that at our deepest levels – the levels of our natures, our characters – we’re much more alike than we are different. I don’t really think that men and woman come from different planets (though if I did, and had written a book about it, I’d be much wealthier than I am at present, wouldn’t I?).

I wonder sometimes if it gets down to this: I like women. I’m interested in women. It may be as simple as that. It may be that some male writers simply don’t like women all that much (and, for that matter, the reverse – there are probably women writers who don’t particularly like men).

That said, when I’ve finished a book that involves prominent women characters – which, now that I think of it, would be every book I’ve written – I show it to a few women friends, by way of a reality check.

This, however, is slightly tricky ground – what woman is an authority on woman-ness; that is, beyond her own experience as a woman? Do I consider myself an authority on what it’s like to be a white gay man? I do not.

However. There is, I think, a funny sort of middle realm, in which gender-y intuition is probably more in play than actual factual knowledge. Although it’s never come up, I can imagine being shown a gay male character written by a straight writer, and having certain… insights, I guess you’d say; a certain sense that this seems right but that seems slightly off the mark.

Here’s an example. When I showed a draft of The Hours to a friend, a remarkable poet named Marie Howe, she had a couple of suggestions about the character of Clarissa.

She thought Clarissa would walk through New York City with more awareness of the poor and homeless around her than I’d given her. And she felt that in Clarissa’s scenes with Richard, her oldest friend, Clarissa was too severe; that her severity should be more suffused with tenderness, with palpable love.

Marie meant, of course, that as a woman she could see certain qualities in the particular character of Clarissa. She wasn’t claiming that every living woman would walk the streets of New York and think of the poor, or that every living woman would be more loving and less strict with an old, ill friend.

I had the good sense to listen to Marie, and made the changes she suggested.(less)
Michael Cunningham Wouldn’t it be great if you could mention a movie star in a novel, and somehow cause that star to be in the film version?

The scene in The Hours to…more
Wouldn’t it be great if you could mention a movie star in a novel, and somehow cause that star to be in the film version?

The scene in The Hours to which you refer may or may not actually involve Meryl S. Clarissa, one of the novel’s central characters, happens upon a movie being shot as she walks through New York City (there are relatively few days when one doesn’t happen upon a movie being shot in New York City), and sees, briefly – extremely briefly – a woman who is clearly a star, looking out of her trailer. She quickly withdraws again. Clarissa wonders who it might have been: Meryl Streep? Vanessa Redgrave? (I can’t help noticing that my mention of Vanessa Redgrave did not cause her to appear in the movie version of The Hours).

That scene refers to a scene in V. Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, in which Mrs. Dalloway sees a royal limousine drive by, its rear windows covered with curtains, though briefly – very briefly – a hand wearing a grey glove appears, adjusts the curtain, and vanishes again.

Clarissa thinks about how, although there’s no way of knowing whose hand occupied that glove, the hand and the personage attached to the hand is a member of the royal family, and is therefore going into history; will be remembered long after most mortals are forgotten. It’s Mrs. Dalloway’s brush with the eternal, with that which the world simply refuses to forget.

It seems to me that movie stars are the closest we’ve got, in contemporary America, to royals. They too will be remembered, long after the rest of us are gone. Here’s to Meryl, then – and to Vanessa – in the 25th century.(less)
Average rating: 3.80 · 124,655 ratings · 7,280 reviews · 39 distinct works · Similar authors
The Hours
3.87 of 5 stars 3.87 avg rating — 77,861 ratings — published 1998 — 108 editions
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A Home at the End of the World
3.87 of 5 stars 3.87 avg rating — 10,621 ratings — published 1990 — 50 editions
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By Nightfall
3.38 of 5 stars 3.38 avg rating — 5,774 ratings — published 2010 — 40 editions
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Specimen Days
3.54 of 5 stars 3.54 avg rating — 3,929 ratings — published 2005 — 48 editions
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Flesh And Blood
3.97 of 5 stars 3.97 avg rating — 3,151 ratings — published 1982 — 30 editions
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The Snow Queen
3.09 of 5 stars 3.09 avg rating — 1,821 ratings — published 2014 — 17 editions
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Land's End: A Walk in Provi...
3.69 of 5 stars 3.69 avg rating — 548 ratings — published 2002 — 18 editions
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Golden States
3.31 of 5 stars 3.31 avg rating — 65 ratings — published 1984
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White Angel
4.47 of 5 stars 4.47 avg rating — 38 ratings2 editions
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Mr Brother
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3.94 of 5 stars 3.94 avg rating — 16 ratings — published 1999
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May 2014, Michael Cunningham
"After having a vision of what might be God in Central Park, a Brooklyn man confronts his spirituality in The Snow Queen, a new novel from the author of The Hours." ...More

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To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
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White Noise by Don DeLillo
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How to make a human being - A body of evidence by Christopher Potter
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Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
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More of Michael's books…
“I was not ladylike, nor was I manly. I was something else altogether. There were so many different ways to be beautiful.”
Michael Cunningham, A Home at the End of the World

“The secret of flight is this -- you have to do it immediately, before your body realizes it is defying the laws.”
Michael Cunningham, A Home at the End of the World

“One always has a better book in one's mind than one can manage to get onto paper.”
Michael Cunningham

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