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Erica Jong: From Fear Of Flying To Fear Of Dying

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ERICA JONG
Erica Jong | The Washington Post via Getty Images
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The following article first appeared at http://alainelkanninterviews.com/2014/01/05/interview-with-erica-jong/.

"I first met Erica in Italy, her second home after New York. There she has friends like Umberto Eco, her publisher is Bompiani. Probably at that time her heart was in Italy. Erica is a woman that loves women. She is feminine and intelligent. She understands where things are going in the world. She is an American writer and a loyal friend. What I would most like to say about her is that she is loyal to her friends and to her ideals. I am sure that in these hours her feelings are in Ukraine. She is always close to people that fight to defend freedom because she has always been a free woman” – Alain Elkaan, Torino.

Erica, what is your view of what is happening in the feminine world?

JONG: I think that more and more people are becoming aware that women's rights are human rights. The smartest men understand well that when women are educated, the economy goes up.

Why?

JONG: Because when women participate freely in the economy, they improve it. Because they are less preoccupied with fighting meaningless wars and they are willing to improve the status of their children. Of course we need male allies to help us. We would be crazy to reject their participation as we did in the past. Men and women have to be partners in order to improve the world.

But doesn't this happen everywhere?

JONG: It is not like that in Afghanistan. In any case, fundamentalism has to be defied because it hurts everywhere if one keeps women barefoot and pregnant. You stop progress. Nowadays women have very important roles in the world. I think of Angela Merkel, the new chairman of the Federal Reserve, and Hillary Clinton.

Do you think Hillary will make it as the next president?

JONG: I hope so. She is so gifted. It would be very important. It is possible but it is going to be a struggle. She is obviously by far the most talented politician we have in the U.S.

What is happening in the U.S.?

JONG: As for the condition of women, for some time we went back to sleep. But younger women are awake. In our history, we never go straight ahead. But now we are going through a new period. Hopefully Hillary will be president. I would like to see that. There is a prejudice against women but she is the most qualified.

Can we say that in literature women were always very influential?

JONG: Sappho invented love poetry. Women were important from the very beginning. But there has been a transformation and women now have more of an equal place in society.

Erica, what are you writing?

JONG: I am finishing a novel about people getting older.

The title is?

JONG: "Fear of Dying." It is a funny book, all about the "crazy" of the aging. When you realize you are not immortal and you start to deal with not being around forever. The book is a funny book about facing mortality.

Do you consider yourself a Jewish writer? A feminist writer?

JONG: I consider myself an American writer with all the craziness of American writers. We have these ideals of freedom and democracy and we do not live up to our ideals. So the writer in America has to be constantly reminded of that. Obviously my Jewish identity and my beliefs in feminism are in my writings, but they don't define my books.

As a writer do you feel close to Philip Roth or to Saul Bellow?

JONG: They are many similarities between Philip Roth and I. Wild humor and a lot of views of one's own life.

Your books are mainly fiction?

JONG: A combination of autobiography and fiction. It is impossible to tell what happened and what did not.

Are you a good plotter?

JONG: I don't think my strong point is plot, but I like my characters to develop.

What is the position of a woman writer today in American society?

JONG: We certainly have many good ones and we are freer to write about our life than we have ever been before. I think I broke through censorship and fear and made it accessible for women to write honestly about their lives.

What about sex in your books?

JONG: There is always sex in my books because in part I associate sex with freedom. But it is not what I am writing about.

How did you start the New Year and what are your wishes?

JONG: I started by going to a great jazz concert in New York. My first wish is to finish my novel. I am very happy with my life. I would like to be healthy and finish all the books I am thinking about. I have a new idea for a book -- but I don't want to talk about it, it is bad luck.

Is it a good time for America today?

JONG: It's difficult to speak about the entire country. I think we are changing. Nowadays there is a tremendous influence of Latino culture. I miss Italy and from where I sit, Italy seems to be in a terrible mess. It's hard to understand the politics. But at least you got rid of Berlusconi and that's a good thing.

You always had a special relationship with Italy, didn't you?

JONG: Yes, it is a country that reminds you that life goes on. It is a country where I love the attitude towards life, much more fatalistic than in America. America believes in change -- and sometimes the change is a disillusion.

Do you think people are still reading books nowadays?

JONG: Yes I think so. I believe the form is changing but people who read still read. It is never going to be a mass audience as it is for movies or TV. The audience is more intimate.

Filed by Alex Gardels