Kate Bernheimer speaks on writing fairy tales
Aline Irihamye | Wednesday, November 4, 2015
The Creative Writing Program welcomed fairy tale author Kate Bernheimer on Wednesday evening as this week’s guest author.
Joyelle McSweeney, the program director of the Creative Writing Program, said the program’s faculty chooses writers each week for their “interesting body of work and their interesting approach to writing.”
This week’s author was selected by Professor Steve Tomasula, one of the directors of the Readings series the program sponsors. In his introduction of the author, he said Kate Bernheimer has been called “the master of the modern fairy tale.”
Bernheimer is the author of “How a Mother Weaned Her Girl from Fairy Tales,” “The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold” and other fairy tale novels and short-story collections.
“I think of fairy tales as a kind of language that we know before we know language,” Bernheimer said. “I was drawn to them for their poetics. Not so much as ‘princess-gets-married stories,’ but as stories of survival above all.”
Bernheimer said her interest in fairy tales started when she was a young child reading at her local public library.
“For me, it was a safe haven,” she said. “I could walk there and read quietly to my heart’s content and … nobody bothered me.”
Soon, Bernheimer said she was venturing into the adult section of the library and reading the Brothers Grimm and other fairy tales.
She said her grandfather also influenced her love of fairy tales from a young age.
“My maternal grandfather worked as a freelance publicist in Boston for Disney in the late ‘60s and ‘70s and he got to take home films,” Bernheimer said.
The “technicolor madness” and aesthetic experience appealed to her as a child, she said.
As a younger writer, Bernheimer said she was encouraged to write other genres.
“I didn’t think of fairy tales as an art form. I was really encouraged to leave childish things behind and childhood and write what people considered to be ‘real’ stories,” she said.
However, Bernheimer said, she was never able to shake free from the fairy tale writing form, despite never having been taught any fairy tale writing technique in school.
Bernheimer said when she was working on her first novel, she stumbled upon a shelf of fairy tale scholarship. Bernheimer said this helped her finally embrace writing fairy tales.
“What I wanted is what I always wanted when I was a kid at the library,” she said. “[I wanted] to enter a story and not be disparaged for the kind of story I liked … ”
Bernheimer said she works to advocate for more acceptance of fairy tales through her own writing and through the work of others.
She said fairy tales are often accused of being escapist stories, but she appreciates that aspect of them.
“I love that they are accused of the very thing that they are about. … Let’s embrace the escapist because sometimes you do need to escape a bad situation. … I’m for escapism and the sometimes radical behavior it takes, and sure, a little bit of wishing for luck and for magic as well,” she said.