LETTERS

COURTESY MICHAEL KIRCHBERGER
COURTESY MICHAEL KIRCHBERGER

Recently I spent 3 days in San Francisco and had an opportunity to visit with Marianne Hauser’s son, Michael. Most of Hauser’s papers are housed in the archive at the University of Florida, but Michael has boxes of photographs and some letters. He was kind enough to share them with me, and has been scanning material for me to post. Without Michael this whole crazy thing would have been much more difficult, even impossible. Most everyone who knew Hauser has died, and those living have scattered, imperfect memories, as do I. So it is great to be able to open a letter and confirm that so and so was her agent for such and such book, that editors who rejected Prince Ishmael were brokenhearted. Letters are going to be the backbone of this story, and most of them are sitting in Florida. But these were not. San Francisco is the only city outside of New York I can truly say I love. So visiting Michael is no hardship at all. My publisher Miette joined us for lunch. We hiked up an arid hill and watched F-14 fighter jets wack off in the stratosphere. And Michael and I talked.

COURTESY MICHAEL KIRCHBERGER
COURTESY MICHAEL KIRCHBERGER

One thing that came up, as it often does, is Marianne’s hostility to any kind of identity politics. She was Alsatian, certainly, but she was an author first and foremost and not a hyphenated one. Because I was in town to give a reading, I also saw an old friend who has run an alternative press for 30 years. She told me she participated in a LGBT panel to discuss LGBT issues in publishing. For years she has been a remarkably supportive publisher for that community. It has not been her exclusive work but work she is passionate about. At the conference it was discovered by other participants that she was a heterosexual. She never claimed otherwise, of course. She felt it was irrelevant. But some conference organizers and participants did not feel that way and ostracized her, despite decades of publishing gay, bi and trans authors, that is, putting her money where her mouth is. A friend later informed her that probably they felt like she had occupied a seat that could be occupied by a homosexual. I guess some chairs would rather be smothered by gay butt. She said that in the course of this conference it came up that many gay men don’t like it when straight women write from the point of view of a gay man. I said that straight women have more insight into the experiences of gay men than straight men do, and the women laughed. Most women have sucked a lot of dick, after all, and had boyfriends who were assholes. Seriously though, our emotional lives converge even where our experiences differ. Hauser spoke very forcefully against this kind of stupidity, as the previous post shows.
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Hauser knew many artists, many of them gay, and spent summers on Monhegan Island, Maine. One of these artists was William Kienbusch. Her last novel, Shoot Out with Father, was inspired by the relationship between Bill and his father. There are many letters written by Bill to Marianne.
Hauser did not believe it was right to use the artist’s life to explain her creations. But she did draw extensively on her life, as all novelists do. Once it becomes writing, art, it ceases to be about the life. The life is a starting point, and imagination takes over. Michael and I discussed how to honor this. I guess a corollary is, if an artist does significant work, and has an interesting life, and is no longer alive and able to control that situation, then in a sense it becomes fair game. Life may not explain the work, but it can contextualize it, while the work might fill in details of the life where the record of letters and memories do not. It is not that life happened in the way the plot of the novel does, but rather, the novel dramatizes the emotional situations of life. Life and work are really inseparable, and each can illuminate the other.

Published by

Jon Frankel

This website is dedicated to the life and career of novelist Marianne Hauser (1910-2006). Marianne Hauser wrote 9 novels, and dozens of short stories. Her first novel, Monique, was published in German when she was 22 and living in Paris. Her last novel, Shootout with Father, was published by FC2 in 2002, when she was 91. She moved to New York in 1937 after traveling through Asia and North Africa alone, as a reporter. Only three of her works remain in print today: The Talking Room, her best known work, a brilliant, subversive and hilarious novel about a pregnant 13 year old being raised by warring lesbian parents, published by the Fiction Collective in 1976, Shootout with Father, and The Collected Short Fiction of Marianne Hauser (2004). These books are available from FC2. Her other American books, Dark Dominion (1947), The Choir Invisible (1958), Prince Ishmael (1963), A Lesson in Music (1964), The Late Memoirs of Mr. Ashley (1986), and Me & My Mom (1993), are out of print but easy to find used and in libraries.
This is a collaborative project. Its purpose is to promote her work and make available to interested readers as much information as I can unearth about her. In Hauser’s long life she made many professional and personal friends. Her agent was Perry Knowlton and her first book was published by Bennett Cerf six years after she took him to task over Gertrude Stein in her New York Times review of Ida. In 1963 Prince Ishmael was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and was a New York Times notable book of the year. From the 1970s through to 2004 her writing was published and reviewed by different incarnations of the Fiction Collective and Sun & Moon Press. She wrote reviews for the American Book Review and appeared in journals like Fiction International, Blatant Artifice, Witness.
If you knew her or are studying her work I welcome contributions, memoirs, interviews, letters, analyses, what have you. Since at least the seventies writers have lamented that she is not better known. Many people have tried to bring her greater recognition: Alice S. Morris, Anais Nin, Marguerite Young, the writers at the Fiction Collective, Larry McCaffery, Sinda Gregory, Douglas Messerli, Margot Mifflin, Ed Cardoni, and Professor Andrea L. Harris, among others. Just about everyone who has written about her has wondered why her work is neglected. Hauser cared little for self-promotion and was impatient with compromise. She was an anti-authoritarian enchantress, intelligent, intuitive, playful, and genuine. She wrote every day on a small manual Olivetti typewriter and tirelessly revised. She was passionate about politics and art. Friends called her Bear. Her final work, Little Buttercup, written for her granddaughter, is subtitled, the happiest bear in the world.

One thought on “LETTERS”

  1. Thank you so much for your research on my old friend and teacher, Marianne. The photos are precious treasure! I just came across my autographed copy of Prince Ishmael and thought of her and Alice Morris, who was also my teacher for one class at the New School. I have wonderful memories of spending time with Marianne in NYC.

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