An interview with the literary critic Ruth Franklinby David Wolf / August 30, 2013 / Leave a comment
This is the second in a new series of interviews about the art of criticism (to read the first, with Adam Kirsch, click here). More to follow soon.
Ruth Franklin has been described as one of America’s “most important critics under 40.” She is the author of A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction (OUP) and is currently working on a biography of the writer Shirley Jackson. Franklin has written for many publications, including the New Republic, the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, Granta, and Salmagundi, to which she contributes a regular film column. In 2012 she was awarded the Roger Shattuck Prize for Criticism.
For Prospect, Franklin has written on the elusive fiction of JM Coetzee, the resurgence of the American short story, the growth of “post-national” literature and, in the current issue, Margaret Atwood and the pleasures of science fiction. I spoke with Franklin earlier this month about harsh reviews, the gender gap in literary criticism, and her unusual first encounter with James Wood…
There is a popular stereotype that literary critics are all failed novelists, bitter that they never “made it,” but in a speech you gave last year, you mentioned that you had always wanted to be a critic. Why?
Books were a major part of my life from as early as I can remember. I guess I exaggerated a little bit in that speech—it’s not as if I grew up reading the New York Times Book Review—but if I had known as a child that there was a profession in which I could read books all the time and get paid to do that, that is certainly what I would have thought was nirvana.
I understand you went to grad school, so was the original plan to pursue the dream of getting paid to read books as an academic?
I didn’t really have a plan. I had bounced around between academia and journalism for a little while, and at the time I decided to go to grad school I was living in Poland, where I worked as a research assistant at the New York Times Warsaw Bureau.