CHERRY MUHANJI, author of Her, interviewed by Deia de Brito

Deia de Brito: So, Her is being re-released sixteen years after it was published. How would you describe your relationship to Her when you first wrote it and how has it changed? Was it a passionate love affair, or an intellectual struggle...?

Cherry Muhanji: It was revenge. I was the Sunshine—the dutiful…little wife. And I did move into a house on John R. Street and I did live with those women. But I had none of that aggression where she paints on the walls...And so, those women were challenging…and influenced me in many ways to be the woman I am today. In a black home or in the black community, women would challenge for your womanhood—you know like, “Girl, you not gon’ really do that” or “girl, you need to sit up straight” or “you need to stop let letting that man beat you.” ..But I was very angry because they made me feel less. And so when I initially wrote Her, it was all the things I wished I had said; all the things I wished I had done…I wanted revenge.

DD: You never got a chance to become Kali?

CM: No…I got a chance to become Kali once I entered the university, which was many years later. But all that time I was kind of a pipsqueak. As a matter of fact, I laugh and say, “If I didn’t have a Leo moon, I’d be a doormat.” But it took me a while to realize that they were training me.

DD: Do you think they were conscious of their training?

CM: I think that’s what they do. Your mother would say, “Keep your dress down and your panties up.” …As a young person, you’re always thinking, “They don’t think I have any sense at all.” You rebel in your own thoughts…because we were in a time when you didn’t take on your adults like that. You took it.

DD: What is your relationship to the novel now? You said earlier that you were happy to be out of the “Her” world.

CM: I did a gig in Portland a year or so ago and one woman asked me during a question and answer session, “What did the Cheshire cat mean in the novel?” and I said, “Was there a Cheshire cat in the novel?” So I guess what I think about it is that it took on its own world. I hadn’t reread it for a long time. And I taught it last year. It certainly wasn’t something that I had written. I still love the language, the poetry. I’m struggling to get that language in the new work. It was quite a charge. It’s like a beloved something that I read a long time ago. I read it like I read Toni Morrison.

DD: So you’re still surprised by it.

CM: I am. Some of those lines go like, “Whooo!” and some of them go like “Eeeh”. So it’s like a song—some of them hit the high note and some go flat. I could not write it now. I’m way away from it.

DD: In terms of where it falls in our society now, and in the university setting, with all the changes and expansion in Queer Studies and Gender Studies, do you find the novel to be as relevant? Where do you think it falls in these categories of thought?

CM: I think the young people…that come into Queer Studies or Transgender Studies or Women’s Studies probably put it in a historical context because that’s the setting. And they probably see it as ambiguous and what does it really mean? I think it’s freer than what’s going on today. Sexuality is fluid. Alice Walker’s daughter Rebecca came to me at the U of Iowa and I challenged her, “What do you think you can tell us about sexuality as a young woman. What do you think you can tell us about sexuality and gender studies?” And she said, and I’ll never forget that, “In the generation of my mother and yourself, the battle lines had to be drawn because you were trying to create something new. And you wanted clear lines.” Bisexuality was a problem. It was like, “What, you can’t make up your mind?” And she said, “What you allowed us was ambiguity.” And it stopped me, because that’s what’s in Her. But I wouldn’t have said ambiguity, because it was a time when “Ain’t nobody’s business if I do.” In the academy today, where they want you to be very clear, the theory’s reductionist. They’re not as free because it’s been named. When you name it, you give it a category, and when you get a category, you’re expected to stay in it. And they always use expressions like “Transgressing.” We didn’t even think like that. It was not named, therefore, “ain’t nobody’s business if I do.” If you transgress, obviously this isn’t real. If it’s just the way it is, then it doesn’t fit any of that. We called them women “bull daggers”. The men were “female impersonators.” You know it’s a male because it’s a female impersonator—you know what you’re looking at. Your coming of age was to go in (cuz we could get into the bars) and then your imagination would work. Because the female impersonator became female for that period of time. Now you might see him on the street dressed male, but it was a way you were allowed your internal process.

DD: The female impersonator didn’t fool you?

CM: No, you knew because it was a female impersonator. Like the time in Her when Kali goes into the bar and Monkey Dee (incidentally my favorite character in the book—the psychotic pimp) sees her shoe. First of all, he thinks this is a boy. And then he recognizes, “Oh, My God”. The charge is in her massaging of his imagination. And that’s where the energy is—in the paradox. He sees the shoes, flowers in the drinks. And she’s watching him. The energy is in the paradox.

DD: Since we’re on the topic of sexuality…since the book was first published, have your own ideas about sexuality changed or were they already developed at that time?

CM: …It was clear to me that I needed to say that I was a lesbian. It’s always been very clear to me that I do particularly prefer the company of women. People…say that I really am a political lesbian because I have been concerned not about men in the bedroom but power outside the bedroom. That’s what I can now articulate. I prefer the sex with women; that foreplay; dinner and the whole thing—I love that. But I’m not going to say that I would never, ever, ever have sex with a man, because I control the bedroom. And the penis is neither here nor there to me in the bedroom. Certainly with a dildo you can work all kinds of things. I’ve been in academia—you know what that looks like; women in this culture—you know what that looks like; women of color in this culture—you know what that looks like; and older women in this culture—you know what that looks like. And that’s what pisses me off. In the bedroom, I can take charge.

DD: In the bedroom you can take charge, but how do you do that in society?

CM: You got this system that puts you in a certain place. Right now as an older woman, I’m kind of dismissed like, “Well, what do I have to say?” This is a patriarchal society, which means it hates women. I don’t care how you stretch it, push it up, stretch it some more. The laws are set up. So that pisses me off because all of that’s in play just because of my genitalia. I mean, hello???!!!  In texts such as Zuni Man-Woman (which I teach), the Burdash’s gender was not determined by their biology but by their culture. If the culture needed hunters and you only had girls born, the hunters would be males; if you needed potters or whatever was for the good of the culture, then that’s what you would do. It was situational. And that’s where I think Gender Studies or Gay Studies differs—if you say situational sexuality, they go crazy. They want it defined by either changing the body or making the statement. I go back to the Burdash who needed certain things at certain times. When you are oppressed in this culture, you’re going to have to do a number of things. I see that as agency.

DD: Is that still in practice?

CM: It’s supposedly being revived, but with the impact of European culture, I think the last one they had was in the beginning of the twentieth century and of course the missionaries came in and made them feel like they were dirty. It’s really an unfair thing to make genitalia determinate. The first question I ask when I teach is, “When did you know when you were a boy or a girl?” I tell them they never have a choice.

DD: I bet sometimes the math majors or business majors are the most receptive to your class.

CM: I’ve had some of them change majors. I say, “So you’re not going to spend your time counting money?”

DD: In an interview from the early nineties, you talked about some of the dangers of integration—of accepting white ideals into black communities—and how the melting pot ideology is not necessarily a good thing. How have your views on black women’s sexuality within black communities changed? What needs to happen within these communities to bring back the expression and acceptance of sexuality?

CM: In the time that Her was written, we were a segregated community, which means that everyone was there. I played with Aretha Franklin; her daddy was a preacher. My father was in Ford Motor Company. There were class differences, but because we were segregated, we were in the same area. Sexuality was not an issue. I’m talking working class community trying to get access to the American dream, and in the ’50s and before, access to the American dream had to do with trying to deal with race, not sexuality. We had the Harlem Balls and female impersonators—that was what you did, it was not a big deal. When the ’60s came along and everything got hot, the edict came down that said “We need to clean ourselves up” if we want to be accepted.  And cleaning ourselves up had to do with sexuality. Don’t get me wrong—the church was always in there doing its little number, but the issue was race. Martin Luther King’s stuff was all about race—nobody was talking about gender, let’s be clear. Gender and sexuality still do not go down well in the black community. I’m not sure that it goes better in the white community either. Whites like to say that misogyny and homophobia are heavier in the black community. In some ways that’s true because we got that layer of the church just really heavy like the Latino community have the Catholic Church and all that fire and brimstone business. I know I’m much more comfortable with my sexuality around whites.

DD: And how do you express your sexuality? Do you prefer not to talk about it when you’re around people who you think may not accept it? How does someone who wants to be able to express it or needs to express it in a community that doesn’t accept it?

CM: I don’t think it’s always necessary to wear a sign early on. It cost me a lot of family. But I’m very angry with the Black church for not taking up the issue around HIV/AIDS. The Black church is the one entity that black people in general will listen to. If the work had been done there, you wouldn’t have the spike in the statistics. In my generation, it would never have occurred to anybody to hurt anybody because of his or her sexuality. We would never have beaten up and/or killed because of sexuality. I had gay teachers—I knew they were gay. We didn’t say that—it was “sissies”. I was very shocked when I got into college to find out that people would not allow their children to be taught by gays. Heterosexuals do very well…abusing children.

DD: Do you still write with the Vulva Voice?

CM: Oh yeah. So right now I am writing about the turn of the century—a historical novel that takes place at the turn of the century in a brothel. Incidentally, I’m putting my father in the brothel. For women of color, black women, you were gonna be a maid…a wet nurse…or a cook, and you were going to get married and have a baby a year and by the time you were thirty you were gonna have ten children. So childbearing is going to break you. You’re going to work in the kitchen and have those children, or be a wet nurse and have those children, OR you’re going to have clientele that you may have some choice over, and you can have silks and satins, and in the brothels all of the new inventions—electric lights, indoor toilets…the Victrola started there. So you had access to “The Good Life”. I would argue that most of the women in the brothels were lesbians, because dealing with the Johns was business.

DD: What is the Vulva Voice?

CM: It is a voice I use extensively in Her…I eroticize the house.  When you think about Her, there’s very little sex in it.

DD: Yet it’s drenched in it.

CM: But it’s the choice of verbs and situations where you eroticize the language, and the metaphors are generally female metaphors. For example, a male would not use the metaphor, “A stitch in time saves nine.” The female metaphors are highly eroticized. The reading is so sexual, but there is actually very little sex. You have Wintergreen and Charlotte (two women) at the end with the feet; you have Brother and Sunshine trying to get together on some level…but there is no graphic sex.  I use the female as the content. You can eroticize anything. You can eroticize the kitchen. Just think about it—like that blue there, on that detergent bottle. I could work that into a Blues tune. So that’s the Vulva Voice.

DD: It seems like the opposite of pornography. Pornography is just physical sex but no erotic, no sensual landscape.

CM: Pornography is a lot of violence, and I’m not going to say that that isn’t part of the erotic mind in some ways. There’s more to eroticism than sex. I’m going to give you an example. Toni Morrison in Beloved has Denver, the beloved, and the mother. That’s a ménage et trois. And I have said this in class and…students hate me to say that. In Beloved, the line comes in like a poem. So here you have a menage-et-trois between mother and the two daughters, which is so erotic—it’s so erotic when I read it. I said, “Morrison, REAALLLLYY…”. I mean the Beloved is looking up from the water and she sees the shiny earrings. Everybody says, “Cherry, that’s incest” or “I have that kind of relationship with my Mama—you talkin bout my Mama.” I’m talking about the uses of language.

DD: Before you began your academic career, you were working at the Detroit telephone company. What triggered your decision to go to college?

CM: I got to the phone company because there was a riot in Detroit. I was a mother of three. And the whites fled the city so for the very first time I could get a job. I had tried three other times to get hired, but I could never pass the test. So the minute I go down in December 1967—the riot was in July 1967—I get hired immediately. I’m not an operator, I’m a lineman. I’m makin really good money. I raise my family, I bury my parents, my niece goes to the University of Iowa and starts a PhD program. She comes back and says, “What are you doing with your life?” And my children are all grown and gone. She said, “Why don’t you go to college?” I said, “I’ve been eighteen years at the phone company and you want me to leave?” At that time I’m forty-six. And she stays on me. Finally, I visit her at the University of Iowa. She enrolls me in a class. I haven’t been to school in thirty years. The class was going to start in two weeks. I go in and quit the phone company and start the University of Iowa. The teachers are younger than my children, the students are eighteen, and I am forty-six. Greatest decision I ever made in my life. I always identified as a writer. It was magical. The phone company wouldn’t give me one-year leave of absence to see if I could do it. They said, “If you’re not back in a month, you’ll lose your job.” It pissed me if. I was so angry that school had to work. I was going to show them. This was 1985.

DD: You’ve said that one of the reasons you wrote Her was that you missed your community.

CM: Yes. I missed it. It’s full of sass, music, clothes, and the music. Being in academia away from my community…I would have trouble going back because I don’t know the rules anymore—they would know immediately. Language changes. Your body movements change. They know that you are not from there any longer.

DD: Were these changes a conscious thing as you try to adjust or do they just happen?

CM: They just happen. One of my friends who wrote with me on Tight Spaces, Egyirba, she’s always saying I keep writing about that community all the time. She says, “When are you going to write about now?”  I haven’t been able to. I still miss it. If I had not had what I call the “second tier” of my life, I would not have been able to write about it. You got to have some distance. You need to be able to back up and look.

DD: What kinds of communities did you discover or create when you went to college?

CM: Generally my communities in a university are in the queer community. I’m an out lesbian so therefore that’s what happens. My sexuality has given me more room for thinking because you’re between everything. In other words, you can’t just talk about race because your sexuality cuts in. You can’t just talk about being a woman because something else cuts in. What my sexuality has opened up worlds that if it weren’t there, I think I would still be looking through [gestures tunnel vision]. That isn’t to say that heterosexuals can’t do it, but because I live it and it’s important to me…it determines what novels I read, it determines my interests…My sexuality allowed me to touch lives that just talking about race or gender or class can’t do, because sexuality cuts through all of that.

DD: How does somebody that identifies as heterosexual and a specific gender go there—how do they expand a view that is specific to their sexual orientation?

CM: Heterosexuals got to reach. It’s just like living in this country with the privilege that we have and then going to a third world country. You have to decide to go there. And oftentimes when we go, we want to live like we live here. We want to live in the Five Star. But some of us don’t want to do that. Some of us, as much as we can, would like to know the other story…You can read who you want to, but you also have to reach. Just like white people can be our best allies, because they can talk to people where you can’t because they can become one of them. My niece and my best friend are both straight, but if anybody makes a homophobic statement they go to the jugular.

DD: What audience did you have in mind while writing Her?

CM: Primarily black women, gays and lesbians, black men. I didn’t think white men would read it at all. I didn’t have any interest in that. White men are well taken care of in this culture. I don’t feel any allegiance to them. If they read it fine, but they will live long and well without reading anything by Cherry Muhanji. If they were gay, they had a way to get in.

DD: Which authors influenced you most while you were writing the book?

CM: Toni Morrison is always there. Who probably influences me more when I’m writing is Miles Davis. Miles is my muse.

DD: Which album?

CM: His early stuff. He gets crazy. Whenever I need to go there, it’s always Miles Davis. His music is what I grew up with. Miles was not a…good classical trumpet player. He was an interpreter of music, which made him even better. He wasn’t like Winston Marseilles who plays a classical trumpet and who is proficient as a musician. Miles couldn’t play in the high register like Dizzy and them—he doesn’t play those kinds of notes. He plays what I call a “feminine sound.” People say, “Cherry, you’re stretching.” It’s okay. So it’s Miles more than anybody. It’s Morrison because of her skill with metaphors.

DD: What’s a “feminine sound” in music?

CM: It’s even in his stance. When you hear trumpet players, it’s “Taaa!!!”—generally they’re up and out. Miles is muted and down. And the sound is softer. Early Miles—I’m talking about that “Bitches Brew” and all this. He was a misogynistic pig, actually. What you get is a muted sound, soft, some of the most romantic sounds, from a man who I think had trouble with his sexuality. Not like that charging music where you hear the trumpet player hit higher and higher notes, where you can see the muscles in their throat.

DD: So you yourself are a jazz musican?

CM: Ha! Everybody always asks me that. They always ask me what instrument do I play. I don’t play ANYTHING. I’ve never had any music lessons at all.

DD: But you wrote “How I Became A Jazz Musician.”

CM: Yeah. It is about a woman who wants to play with the boys but they don’t let women in to play. The saxophone is a phallic instrument…The questions I asked myself in my dissertation are, “Where’s the female Miles Davis? What kept her out?” The character in “How I Became a Jazz Musician” is a woman that demanded in…about what the musicians said to her when she tried a gig, and how a woman on the bandstand was considered bad luck... Unless she could be sexually catcalled, they wouldn’t allow it. Maybe on the piano, which is the bisexual interest. Trombone is male. You don’t see women playing congas, because women can’t have anything between their legs. Even on the upright bass, that’s a woman figure and a man is playing her. I do a whole thing on the gendered instruments. It just talks about a woman trying to get there. It’s probably me living out my fantasy.

DD: So your new project.

CM: It’s called Detroit. When Henry Ford said “Five dollars a day”, black men came up from the South and my father was one of them. I talk about being on an assembly line…Ford was the only car company to hire blacks. What happens when a person is so dehumanized by a machine? What happens when you bring that person home? It’s about my recollection of what Henry Ford meant—not from the top down, but from my father having to work there and what it meant there as he was year by year by year stripped of his humanity. What does that say to a sensitive daughter? What does that say to a wife, my mother, who was an educated woman, while he had a third grade education? So I’m exploring that and I add on this fictional part. The first part is about the brothel. Do you train your boys by taking them to the brothel? I don’t know if they still do that, but they did. The question becomes, where do you take your daughters? Detroit is the name of it. I’m very proud of it. It’s taken me a long time to get it.

DD: Where do you take your daughters?

CM: I would sit her down. I would really talk to her. But you don’t say things like “Keep your dress down and your panties up”—you don’t say that. I had my children before birth control. And now women can wear patches and take pills…I say to myself, “I had none of those options.” I think some women think Roe v. Wade…was always there. Some women were using knitting needles and wire hangers. To think that that’s in jeopardy. And the one thing that I would really like to talk to my daughters about—and nobody has really done this that I know of—is how do you age? Now you have these baby boomers and Botox and everything. The one thing that’s missing in academia is how do you age in a culture that hates women? How does it feel like, particularly if you’re a good-looking woman according to how people perceive you? I know women who are considered to be good-looking—and they are—but as they age, men pay less attention, until finally as an older woman, you’re just miserable.

DD: And they talk about how beautiful they were once.

CM: And it’s always about that. How do you keep your self-esteem, particularly when it begins to slip? What helped me was the fact that I became a dyke. A dyke has a longer shelf-life.

DD: You’re probably happier too.

CM: I’ve seen women when they’re used to being the attention getter and then all the sudden it isn’t happening. They enter some pretty rough relationships. I think what’s really missing is how do you age—not in the sense of creams or whatever—but how do you psychologically—depending on who you are—if you’re a woman of color, if you’re heavy or not…how do you keep from falling under that self-esteem in a society that sucks you down? That’s what I’d like to sit around and talk to women about.

DD: There is some awareness now about ageism.

CM: That’s about how you can fight it, but I’m talking about internal processes. How do you sit and talk about to younger women…we were aware of gender and sexuality and all the things we did in the wonderful women’s movement, but I don’t think anybody went to that part of it. It’s just supposed to happen and you’re supposed to just not think of yourself as still beautiful and still worthwhile and that you can still contribute. I don’t think so. I’m going to do that, people. Women always say to me, “You look so young, blah blah blah…” and one of the things that has made that happen is I have absolutely refused—and I have to do it daily—to let somebody put me in what they consider to be my age bracket. They wanna put you there and when you get there, you supposed to just…I don’t even know. No. That’s the piece that’s been missing in Women’s Studies. I’m still as productive as I was at age twenty. Maybe not as fast. This culture really hates us. I always tell my students, “Have you ever seen in any of the Hollywood movies, a fat, older woman in love?” Your parents had to have sex at least once because you’re here, but you really don’t think that they had any romance at all? And what does your mother really think about her life? I don’t think we know how to age here. I think we do in other cultures, but not here.

DD: So now that you have more free time since you’ve resigned from the University of Portland…how do you fill up that time with writing? What’s your process these days? How much of it is research? How much of it is thinking? What do you do?

CM: I start writing at eleven o’clock at night and I write till four in the morning. And I sleep till noon. It’s wonderful. I swim twice a week. I get my books from the library. Since last Thursday, I’ve devoured two books, which is really kind of fast, but I’ve got time! I live in a cabin, so there’s not much cleaning. On the Internet, you can research anything, so I’ve gotten pretty adept at that. I don’t really need to do much more research, cuz what happens is that has a tendency to kill the creative drive. But I’m a late night person. I start at about eleven p.m. and then I go till five-thirty a.m., till the sun comes up. Then I go to bed.

DD: When you had less time, when you were raising your children, did you stop writing or did you find a way—how did that work out?

CM: I think I write somewhere in Tight Spaces, you write poems between twenty diaper changes. And poems worked better because they were shorter and you didn’t have to spend so much time. So when I was younger and writing—which is why the language in Her is poetic—that’s when I knew I was a poet.  …Later I went into prose—prose is more time, at least for me. My pieces are longer. I still love poetry. I wrote shorter pieces and I wrote more of them. I never took music lessons, I couldn’t sing. But I could write.

DD: What about people that are looking for a form? Does it just come to you or do you have to really try different things? For example, do you have to force yourself to pick up a magazine and cut out images or words to make a collage or cut-up? 

CM: I have to now because academia has gotten way in the way. In Tight Spaces, we used to come together to write the pieces and they were scheduled to come to my house and I just scratched something down really quick and it became one of the most read stories in the book. But I was full then. Now I have to prime the pump. Now I’m reading the Persian poet, Rumi. And that’s where I get some of my stories. That’s where I get my lines. I do a lot of editing cuz it’s just not there at the top. One of the reasons I left Portland State was that I had to get back to the voice. But I’m struggling. If there’s anything you can do to prime the pump, do it.

DD: Most of the people I’m in contact with are women in their early twenties. It seems like that’s a difficult time to produce art. A lot of people that are incredibly artistic and have a lot of ideas seem to have a hard time getting them down.

CM: Maybe carry a book if you’re looking for words or images. In one bookstore, they had a chain where you carry the book on your neck. Sometimes when you’re hearing people talking and you’re not really paying attention, sometimes a word or sentence will come up. So in my journal or whatever I’m writing, I’ll write, “The words for today were…”. For example, I’m really attracted by the blue in that detergent bottle. And there’s blue here on the table and blue over there, so…I’ll probably say “blue” today. It may not mean anything tomorrow, but it may. Mine is words, but for some people it’s images, pictures, whatever you can do. But you should try to pinpoint whatever it is in some kind of way. Even if you can’t work at it—let’s say you cut for ten minutes and then stick the pictures in a notebook. Then on Saturday morning, between eleven and twelve thirty, you may be able to paste something together.

DD: You’ve talked a little bit about your kids, but not too much.  Have they read Her? Have you made them read it or have they read it on their own?

CM: Pause. Well, let me say this about my children. I was a fanatical Christian. When I left Detroit, I had been a Jehovah’s Witness for twenty-five years.

DD: Wow.

CM: Whooooo! When I left, two of my sons were in the upper echelons. And you know, Jehovah’s witnesses shun. I have two sons—one son I raised is not my own—the neighbor boy. So that’s three. And three grandsons and a granddaughter.

DD: Why did they cut you off?

CM: I had become a lesbian. I’m outside of the church. One of the things you cannot be is a lesbian. My younger son and I both left at the same time. He happens to be a lawyer turned astrologer in Kansas City. Gay. He’s read it. He’s kept things together for me. It cost me. They would never read Her. That would be so graphic. I was the one. I trained them well. I did the training. I was fanatical.

DD: You handed out the “Awake” booklets?

CM: All that, all that. For so many years.

DD: How did you break free?

CM: The main thing happened was…my children were growing and my creativity kept trying to surface…A book came out—one of the people who was a fanatical wrote a book and was excommunicated. I wanted to read the book….What did he write that was so terrible? And they said anybody that would read the book would be called in to be questioned. I knew enough about the Inquisition…

DD: McCarthyism.

CM: I knew about that. I said, “well you mean to tell me you don’t trust me enough…to read something and make my own decisions…I’ve been here all these years.” Their attitude toward keeping me from the book made me want to read the book. I even took a plane down to visit him to find out what had happened. I found out, as the expression goes, “there was some shit in the game.” I began to unwind myself. I began to stop going. So finally when this whole business came up to go to college, I just left Detroit. Then I came back with my lover. So no, they haven’t read it. And if they are, they’re reading it in a corner in the dark.

DD: Do you have faith that your sons will come out of it?

CM: I don’t know if I think so. I’m not a Buddhist, I’m not anything anymore, but I do think we have multiple lives, and this is just one that had to go down this way. Maybe I say that because it gives me a measure of comfort. Sweet Honey in the Rock sing a song about “You don’t own your children, the children come through you.” It’s a decision that they made. I have attempted over the years to talk to them.  I even went back in 2000. They’re the ones pushing it, not me. I have to know that’s their decision. There’s no way I could live that life again. It’s their decision and I have to honor that. They’re older now. My oldest son’s almost fifty. Part of what they’re doing is they’re angry because they want me to be a certain way. You need to shun in the high echelon. People in power can always find ways to manipulate power. They have chosen that, too. I don’t care whose got it. How we got to the patriarchy that we have, I mean I know all the historical stuff. That’s why my academic career never goes anywhere—because I insisted on being a fiction writer, not a theoretician. I didn’t want to do that. I can do it. But I really prefer to fiction write. I was in academia because I filed racism and sexism against the University of Iowa’s workshop, so I could never go that way. When I don’t have to deal with the patriarchy, I just don’t.

DD: You’re back in Iowa. Is your relationship to the university okay now?

CM: No. I’m not attached to any university. I’m just there. I’m writing a book. I came back because that’s where it all started. I have friends there and I can live there cheap. But I’m not going to stay there. And something might come up at San Francisco State, so who knows.

DD: If Her could be remembered for one thing, what would it be?

CM: Great question. It was before the Civil Rights Movement. I don’t know if people in this country recognize the beauty of a community—it was such a dismissed and hated community. There was some really beautiful stuff there. I attempted to capture that in the language. If it could be remembered for the beauty of the time, the historical time in a time when people were really doing the best that they knew how and had formulated a way of life that in many ways we’ll never get again.

DD: If you could be remembered for one thing, what would it be?

CM: You know I want my writing to be remembered. When people read me, to know that I really really loved being black. Gender, sexuality, and all that aside, I really loved the fabulousness and the ridiculousness in some ways of being black. That’s what I want people to remember me for.