Alice Bolin, author of Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving An American Obsession, uses both her own life experiences and the plights of others to deliver commentary on the treatment of women in today’s society.
Bolin moved to Memphis from Los Angeles last August to teach at the University of Memphis as a visiting professor. She loves Memphis and was attracted to teach at the U of M because of the institution’s positive treatment of its students, and how “down to earth” her own students are.
Although she currently lives in Memphis, much of the inspiration of her book was pulled from her experiences from living in Los Angeles.
She will be signing books at the Novel bookstore on Thursday, September 20th, 6:00pm to 7:30pm.
Can you give a summary of Dead Girls?
My book is a collection of essays that starts out talking about the violence against women in popular culture, what I call “dead girl shows,” but then it kind of expands to being more personal. So [it’s] about when I moved to Los Angeles, about growing up in the Pacific Northwest, and thinking about what it’s like growing up as a girl in this sort of hostile culture and the complicity that white women have to reckon with.
How did you get inspired to write a book like this?
I was writing these essays for years without really thinking it was really a book, or without having a lot of confidence that it was really a book. But I was really just following my interests and my instincts and writing about what was interesting to me. A lot of the time it just starts with me making jokes on Twitter about a show I’m watching or something, but then I realize, ‘Oh, that’s an essay.’ So that’s basically what happened when I was watching Twin Peaks and True Detective–I was just making jokes about it and then I sat down and wrote about it.
Is your book focused mostly on your experiences or the experiences of other women?
I think it’s a pretty good mix. I think that some of the essays are much more personal and some are much more analytical. None of them are purely about my experience; all of them have some element of criticism–looking at other works of literature and pop culture.
How does your life differ now from how it was before writing the book, if at all?
It’s changed so much! Before I sold the book I was teaching at a boarding school in California and I was hoping to get a college teaching job. I wasn’t really sure if I would ever sell a book, or if I would ever be a real author. It was sort of a defining moment to become a nonfiction writer. The book has changed my life in every way: where I live, how I live, the work that I do. It’s opened doors in every way.
What do you think people misunderstand the most about you as a writer or a person?
I feel like people really misunderstand my attitude towards dead girls and dead girls shows, even though I feel like it’s fairly clear. People will ask me, ‘Are you watching Sharp Objects?’ and I’m like ‘No, I don’t like dead girls shows.’ I’m tired of them, that’s why I wrote a book critiquing them. It’s sort of like I get associated with these things that I actually wish were not as prevalent in our culture.
What advice do you hope to give your students or any other potential writers?
I think the most obvious advice is to read every day, read a lot, but to also develop friendships
with people who are smarter than you [and] better read than you. Let them teach you that you’re never too big to learn from other writers. Ask questions, and form a network of people who can help you out.