Ooh, I can’t wait to read it! When I was in high school, your books inspired me to ask for a banned-books elective course at my school. I’m proud to say that they ended up having the class. I remember Kurt Vonnegut was one of the authors on the list.
Kurt Vonnegut was like a cult figure. Kids love his books. I always say that censors don’t come near you unless they know kids like your books. They’re not sitting there reading all of the books. They are waiting until they find out if kids like it first.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian [by Sherman Alexie] is a book that the NCAC has to defend all of the time these days. Kids like it, and it is fascinating. We don’t have a lot of books about a kid who grows up poor on a reservation and gets beaten up at another school and then makes it. It’s a great story. I don’t remember if there’s any sex in it.
I remember reading it in my Native American history class. At the Tiger Eyes screening I enjoyed hearing about how important it was to you and your son to honor the local Pueblo community in Santa Fe, where the movie is set. How did the community respond?
We worked so hard on that. Larry was talking to the local community long before the movie was shot. It won an award at the American Indian Film Festival. [The actor] Tatanka Means won a prize [there] too.
You really tap into the heart of what teenage longing is and how it feels. I know you get a lot of letters from teenagers—what kinds of desires do they express to you?
There are so many kinds of longing. The longing to fit in, the longing to figure it out, the emotional longing for friendship and being accepted—these are all as important as physical longing. Before all the hormones start raging, it’s the emotional longing that is most important, and boy, you have to learn to figure it out. In my day, the rules were there for us. Back then there was no abortion and no pill, and my friends and I knew that what we called “going all the way” could ruin our lives. It is not that we didn’t have physical sexual longing, but we went out with guys who understood that there were ways to satisfy—and it wasn’t oral sex. We kind of could be satisfied through touching; we could be physically satisfied with what we called petting. I went out with a lot of guys, and there was an understanding. I was never pushed to go all the way.
I think today’s kids miss out on being sexual without having intercourse. There are a lot of sexual expectations today. Everyone is watching porn now. It turns you on, sure. I’m not saying don’t watch it. But what you see in porn is not what real love and sexuality within a long-term relationship are. Just like kids have to learn that the toy they see on TV is different from different from what it does in real life, I’d like to see the same thing taught about sex. I hate to see girls feeling like they have to emulate what they see in porn, with breast implants and pole dancing. I am actually glad that Amanda Bynes had her implants removed. This was a good development. What would I do if I was 16 now?
Did you raise your son as a feminist? I imagine so, having seen the strong, complex female characters in his adaptation of Tiger Eyes.
It came late. He likes women and respects women. He’s not married at 50. He has seen his two parents grow happily. He’s seen that long-term relationships can be satisfying and very happy. It is his life. I don’t sit around discussing it with him anymore. I know that his girlfriends usually stay friendly with him after they’ve broken up, and he says it is because he’s always honest with them.
Have you seen Friday Night Lights? I’m addicted to that show! I think Tami Taylor and Coach Taylor are pretty good models as parents. I’d like to have been more like them than I was, but of course it was a different time. Their daughter was a rambunctious kid. She’s out there. I think their marriage is just wonderful. The love comes through.
I really appreciated how they handled the subject of abortion in an honest and open way. Did you see that episode or read [former Planned Parenthood president] Gloria Feldt’s op-ed about it?
I haven’t seen that episode yet. Tell me about it! Who had an abortion?
I don’t want to ruin it for you!
Tell me! Don’t worry about spoilers! [Laughter]
OK, it is Becky’s abortion story. I used to work at Planned Parenthood, so I was really happy to see their honest treatment of this storyline.
What did you do for Planned Parenthood? Where did you work?
I was their national youth outreach manager, working out of Washington, DC.
I’m a big supporter of Planned Parenthood. I’ve written a fundraising letters for them. Planned Parenthood is there for women, and it is an amazing and necessary organization. Gloria Feldt and Cecile Richards are wonderful role models!
I just reread Summer Sisters, and my perspective on the story has changed since I’ve gotten older. I connected with the book in a deeper way as an adult, now that I’ve gone through some similar shifts in my own life, like epic friend breakups and reconciliations. That is why I love your books. They are timeless and they grow with you. When I revisit them with fresh eyes, I always learn something new about myself.
We all bring our own experiences to books, plays, and movies. Once you have an experience like losing a best friend you know what it is like. Have you seen the movie Frances Ha? There’s so much in there about best friends. Even though they are going their separate ways, they’ll always have that time.
Jamia, George [her husband] just let me know it is time for us to get ready for a show we’re going to tonight.
Before you go, can you tell our readers how they can see Tiger Eyes?
You can watch it on iTunes, and on any cable company except Cablevision (and we need a campaign to get it on there). Thank you! Let’s keep in touch!
Thank you so much, Judy! ♦