Academic journal article German Quarterly

Interview with Jeannette Lander

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Interview with Jeannette Lander

Article excerpt

This interview was conducted on October 22, 1998, at the University of Illinois at Chicago with Helga Kraft and Dagmar Lorenz.

Development of Lender's Writing Career

Q:

Your career as a writer took unusual turns. You grew up in a Yiddish-speaking family in the United States-Atlanta-in the 1930s and 1940s, but later decided to write in German for a German-speaking audience. How did these particular circumstances come about?

JL:

The circumstances came about seemingly without my doing. I married a German man. After we had lived in America for some time together, we moved to Germany. And I had always been writing. And when I completed my education I had a doctorate from the Freie Universit/it Berlin. My dissertation was published in Germany and also another little monograph was accepted for publication. I was encouraged, as far as language was concerned.

Q:

What did you study at the Freie Universit/it Berlin?

JL:

American Literature and English Literature. I wrote my dissertation on William Butler Yeats, who was an Irish and English author. They make a distinction in Germany more so than here. American and English Literature is one subject here in the English language, but in Germany these are two separate subjects.

Q:

Did you consider an academic career?

JL:

I did not consider an academic career. My husband had that plan for us, but it just wouldn't work, for financial and other reasons. I always wanted to write. But I'm the type of person who, when she begins something, she ends it, and I wanted to study until I got a degree. But I didn't want to teach. I had an offer to become an assistant professor but I turned it down.

Q:

Did your academic background help your writing career or did it rather hinder it?

JL:

Neither. I think writing fiction and writing essays or articles are two completely different matters. Academic training taught me to do research. I can go into a library and I can function quickly and find things, because I know how to find them. That has been a help. And then, of course, it's very good to have knowledge about other writers over the centuries, and to be able to draw on that, because otherwise you would start out in a very primitive manner and do everything all over again, so to speak. You know and have respect for what has been done. I will never forget my experiences in American university libraries. These experiences unfortunately can't be made in German academic libraries. You don't have the experience of going into the stacks and sitting among the books and just pulling them out. In Germany you thumb through a card catalogue and order a book sight unseen. Paging through the many books on your subject is something priceless, feeling how much has already been written. You get a sense of an awe, which is very good for a writer.

Q:

This is very interesting, because some writers don't read other writers because they are afraid they have done something better than what they want to do at this point.

JL:

When I am in the process of writing, I find it difficult to read anything except nonfiction. Then I like to read related themes on my subject matter. I find it hard to read, for instance, completely different novels which are about completely different things while I am writing a novel, writing fiction, and so I don't do that.

Q:

That would distract you, wouldn't it?

JL:

It distracts you from your language. It gets you off your tone of voice. It distances you from your characters. It sidetracks you. I can understand these other authors who say they don't ever read, because ifyou read really good, admirable works, it intimidates you a little bit, and you think: I can't do this. The people who incite you to writing are the people who write mediocre books, which make you think: Oh, I can do better than this. That inspires you to sit down and try to do it better. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.