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Jennifer Weiner up close

Best-selling author speaks candidly before addressing Rockland gathering

Jennifer Weiner (Tamara Staples)
Jennifer Weiner (Tamara Staples)

Jennifer Weiner is a heroine to so many women.

Her best-selling novels might often be called chick lit, but they always focus on a strong woman. A woman who might not always be the thinnest or the fittest, but who is always smart, fierce, and ready to take on whatever challenges come her way. Ms. Weiner’s books have been read by women, and possibly some men, from all over the world. One of her recent literary gems is her autobiography, “Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love and Writing,” a raw and honest look at her life. Her journey has empowered women from every walk of life, and she continues to keep in touch with her fans via Twitter. She appeared on Time Magazine’s list of “Best Twitter Feeds,” and on Forbes’ list, “25 Working Moms to Follow on Twitter.” Ms. Weiner has more than 100,000 fans on social media

On May 18, the Jewish Federation & Foundation of Rockland County’s Women’s Philanthropy division hosted “Celebrate the Power of Women,” featuring Ms. Weiner. As a run-up, she answered some of our questions:

Q: Many people regard you as their favorite author. Who is your favorite author? And why?

A. That’s very kind! I always go back to Susan Isaacs’ books — I love their humor, their heart, their wit, their happy endings — and their Jewish protagonists, who save the day and get the guy because of their smarts and not just their beauty. “Almost Paradise” and “Shining Through” are two of my favorites.

Q: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram — social media in general —have you found it to be helpful or detrimental in regard to life in general? And your profession more specifically?

A: Whether it’s helpful or detrimental, it’s no longer optional. Only a very small handful of authors can get away with telling their publishers “thanks, but no thanks.” The rest of us are, shall we say, strongly encouraged to maintain our own websites, and an online presence.

For the most part, I like social media. I like connecting with readers on Facebook, I like having a place for fast, funny comments on the news or pop culture on Twitter. I’m less successful with Instagram, because that’s all pictures, and I’m a word girl, although I’ve been known to ‘gram a picture of my gefilte fish in progress, or my kid’s funny artwork. But, in general, I’ve found social media to be a benefit, not a detriment, to my writing life, which can get a little lonely. It’s like a virtual water cooler, where you can always find people who are ready to talk.

Q: Your autobiography, “Hungry Heart,” was amazing. You truly put yourself out there. Why did you decide to write it after so many fiction masterpieces?

A: Some of it had to do with wanting a permanent place for the stories I tell when I do readings…the story of my Nanna volunteering as an extra in “In Her Shoes,” or how I wrote my first book. Then there were other stories — the more painful, personal ones — that I wanted to put out there as a way of telling other women that they aren’t alone. I think, so many times, we as women put a positive spin on our lives, and that’s especially true online. We don’t talk about things like addiction, or postpartum depression — and so when those things happen, a woman can end up feeling like she’s the only one, the only woman who struggled with breastfeeding, or a parent’s addiction, the only one who felt ashamed of how her birth story ended, or who felt inadequate and not up to the task of being a mother.

The amount of loneliness and isolation is very sad, and with things like postpartum depression, it’s not just sad, it’s dangerous. There was a recent case where a young Jewish woman committed suicide after giving birth, and literally everyone who’d seen her said, “She seemed to happy. We had no idea.” I think there needs to be a space for telling our stories, in all of their gory, unlovely details. And the more those stories circulate, the more women know they’re out there, the less alone they’ll feel.

Q. Self-deprecating humor -— are you pro or con?

A. I get depressed sometimes that self-deprecation is women’s go-to method of getting a laugh — but the truth is, sometimes it’s funny! And sometimes you have to laugh at yourself to keep from crying.

Q: What is your favorite Jewish holiday, and why? (This is the Jewish Standard, so I thought I would throw that one in there…)

A. I’m lucky enough to celebrate the Jewish holidays with my extended family — my siblings and their kids, my mom and her partner — and there’s something special and wonderful about all of them. The High Holy Days are my favorite, because they always coincide with the start of a new school year, and my favorite weather. The air is crisp, the leaves are changing colors, and it feels like an opportunity to reflect, to close the book on the past and move forward in a positive, loving way.

In terms of favorite foods (because I have to talk about food!), I always host break-the-fast, which I love, because people always tell me what an amazing cook I am…and, of course, the truth is that everyone is so hungry that anything you put out is going to taste delicious! But I’ve also started some of my own traditions around Chanukah and Passover. On Chanukah, I make sufganiyot with my kids, and on Passover I’ve started serving goose which, it turns out, was a standard turn-of-the-century Jewish main course, before geese got too hard to mass produce. (Who knew?)

Q. And the final, and most clichéd — what is your next project?

A. I’m working on a novel that’s set in the not-too-distant future, where a familiar-feeling politician has declared himself President for Life. Abortion is illegal, affirmative action is gone, there are curfews and dress codes for women, who can only work if they’ve proved that no male head-of-household wants their job. The book follows a group of characters, including a young nurse who’s part of the Resistance, the true-believer government official her sister’s going to marry, a young, pregnant teenager, and a senior citizen who’s found his life’s true purpose at the age of seventy-two. My working title is “The Girl at the End of the World,” and it should be out in the spring of 2018.

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