Author Joanne Rendell joined students and faculty at Mount Vernon’s Post Hall Monday night to discuss her newest novel and the genre of “chick lit.”
Rendell, author of “The Professors’ Wives Club,” said that while reading novels about academic life, she was dismayed by the lack of female professors as central characters. She also wanted to address the conflict between the classic literature taught in English classrooms nationwide and “chick lit,” the popular novels many women love to read. Inspired, she set out to write “Crossing Washington Square,” which was published this month.
“As a grad student, I always loved the debate between high-brow and low-brow literature. Should it just be Shakespeare and Charles Dickens that we read, or should it be John Grisham and Bridget Jones’ Diary as well?” Rendell said.
Rendell said she oftentimes felt the conflict on a personal level.
“I spent my days reading traditional, high-brow literature, but at night, I’d come home and read The Devil Wears Prada. I’d go on academic conferences and have my chick lit hidden among my academic books. I always wondered why what I read at night wasn’t allowed during the day,” Rendell said.
At the event, members of the audience participated in an interactive reading of excerpts from Rendell’s new novel.
“It’s been really fun to get people reading [the novel],” she said. “It brings it to life in a different way.”
Four students read the dialogue of professors in the English department at Manhattan University, the setting for both of Rendell’s novels. The excerpts focused on the differences between the two female professors’ teaching styles and thoughts on literature, as well as sources of conflict that play an important role in the novel.
Rendell said she believes the issues chick lit discusses play a serious role in the everyday lives of women.
“The genre is a bit of a Trojan horse. It’s packaged to appeal to an audience, but there’s a lot of interesting themes you can explore within the genre,” she said.
The author advised aspiring writers in the audience to take the craft seriously and to take advantage of the opportunities they have to learn about writing through creative writing courses, writers’ groups and writing every day.
“I always try to write 500 words a day. When I first started doing this it felt like torture. I was constantly checking the word count, but I stuck with it,” Rendell said. “I really try to keep to that. Just get something on the page.”
Alexis Aliquo, a freshman, said she enjoyed the interactive reading and agreed with Rendell’s assessment of popular women’s fiction.
“I don’t think chick lit should be just tossed aside,” Aliquo said. “I think there’s something to be gained from reading it.”