Michael Cunningham

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in Cincinnati, Ohio, The United States
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May 2014


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. ...more

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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 gl…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 whi…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: 3.84 · 233,734 ratings · 14,478 reviews · 48 distinct worksSimilar authors
The Hours

3.94 avg rating — 129,331 ratings — published 1998 — 188 editions
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A Home at the End of the World

3.92 avg rating — 18,645 ratings — published 1990 — 76 editions
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By Nightfall

3.43 avg rating — 9,415 ratings — published 2010 — 52 editions
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Flesh and Blood

4.03 avg rating — 5,395 ratings — published 1995 — 19 editions
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The Snow Queen

3.06 avg rating — 6,798 ratings — published 2014 — 3 editions
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Specimen Days

3.59 avg rating — 5,639 ratings — published 2005 — 66 editions
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A Wild Swan: And Other Tales

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3.66 avg rating — 4,585 ratings — published 2015 — 33 editions
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Land's End: A Walk in Provi...

3.83 avg rating — 1,132 ratings — published 2002 — 21 editions
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White Angel

4.49 avg rating — 137 ratings2 editions
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Little Man

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3.91 avg rating — 160 ratings — published 2015
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More books by Michael Cunningham…

Related News

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...
21 likes · 10 comments
“You cannot find peace by avoiding life.”
Michael Cunningham, The Hours

“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

Polls

March 2017 Pulitzer Prize Winners
Vote for 1, Top 2 Win

March March by Geraldine Brooks by Geraldine Brooks
An historical novel and love story set during a time of catastrophe, on the front lines of the American Civil War. Acclaimed author Geraldine Brooks gives us the story of the absent father from Louisa May Alcott's Little Women - and conjures a world of brutality, stubborn courage and transcendent love.
 
  3 votes 23.1%

The Hours The Hours by Michael Cunningham by Michael Cunningham
Passionate, profound, and deeply moving, "The Hours" is the story of three women: Clarissa Vaughan, who one New York morning goes about planning a party in honor of a beloved friend; Laura Brown, who in a 1950s Los Angeles suburb slowly begins to feel the constraints of a perfect family and home; and Virginia Woolf, recuperating with her husband in a London suburb, and beginning to write "Mrs. Dalloway." By the end of the novel, the stories have intertwined, and finally come together in an act of subtle and haunting grace, demonstrating Michael Cunnningham's deep empathy for his characters as well as the extraordinary resonance of his prose.
 
  3 votes 23.1%

The Age of Innocence The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton by Edith Wharton
Winner of the 1921 Pulitzer Prize, The Age of Innocence is Edith Wharton’s masterful portrait of desire and betrayal during the sumptuous Golden Age of Old New York, a time when society people “dreaded scandal more than disease.”
 
  2 votes 15.4%

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon by Michael Chabon
Joe Kavalier, a young Jewish artist who has also been trained in the art of Houdini-esque escape, has just smuggled himself out of Nazi-invaded Prague and landed in New York City. His Brooklyn cousin Sammy Clay is looking for a partner to create heroes, stories, and art for the latest novelty to hit America - the comic book. Drawing on their own fears and dreams, Kavalier and Clay create the Escapist, the Monitor, and Luna Moth, inspired by the beautiful Rosa Saks, who will become linked by powerful ties to both men.
 
  2 votes 15.4%

A Visit from the Goon Squad A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan by Jennifer Egan
Bennie is an aging former punk rocker and record executive. Sasha is the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Here Jennifer Egan brilliantly reveals their pasts, along with the inner lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs. With music pulsing on every page, A Visit from the Goon Squad is a startling, exhilarating novel of self-destruction and redemption.
 
  1 vote 7.7%

Foreign Affairs Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie by Alison Lurie
Virginia Miner, a fifty-something, unmarried tenured professor, is in London to work on her new book about children’s folk rhymes. Despite carrying a U.S. passport, Vinnie feels essentially English and rather looks down on her fellow Americans. But in spite of that, she is drawn into a mortifying and oddly satisfying affair with an Oklahoman tourist who dresses more Bronco Billy than Beau Brummel.
 
  1 vote 7.7%

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz by Junot Díaz
Things have never been easy for Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd, a New Jersey romantic who dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But he may never get what he wants, thanks to the fukú — the ancient curse that has haunted Oscar's family for generations, dooming them to prison, torture, tragic accidents, and, above all, ill-starred love. Oscar, still dreaming of his first kiss, is only its most recent victim - until the fateful summer that he decides to be its last.
 
  1 vote 7.7%

The Reivers: A Reminiscence The Reivers A Reminiscence by William Faulkner by William Faulkner
One of Faulkner's comic masterpieces, The Reivers is a picaresque that tells of three unlikely car thieves from rural Mississippi. Eleven-year-old Lucius Priest is persuaded by Boon Hogganbeck, one of his family's retainers, to steal his grandfather's car and make a trip to Memphis. The Priests' black coachman, Ned McCaslin, stows away, and the three of them are off on a heroic odyssey, for which they are all ill-equipped, that ends at Miss Reba's bordello in Memphis. From there a series of wild misadventures ensues--invoving horse smuggling, trainmen, sheriffs' deputies, and jail.
 
  0 votes 0.0%

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