Having a book reissued is probably one of the most exciting things to happen for an author. It means not only does a publisher think it’s good, but also the general public thinks so too, enough that the publisher is convinced more people want to read it even though it’s not considered “new” anymore. It’s a great vote of confidence, then, that CALA professor Jan Clausen’s 1999 memoir Apples & Oranges was reissued by Seven Stories Press on July 25. It is a multilayered book, but here is the story in brief:
In the late 1980s, after more than a decade living within a strong Brooklyn lesbian community with her female lover and their daughter, Clausen travels to a war zone in Nicaragua, where she falls in love with a West Indian male lawyer. Her memoir is brimming with intimate physical and emotional details of her personal journey, but perhaps what sets it apart are the deeply informed historical and philosophical lenses through which she examines her own experience.
A reissued book tends to also undergo a reevaluation. How does it stand the test of time? It may have been novel then, but what does it have to offer us now? This can be a bit nerve-wracking for an author, especially when the book happens to be a deeply personal memoir. Clausen decided to consider the critiques in an essay, “Self-Determined,” on Women = Books.
Clausen responds to one criticism in particular, which is that Apples & Oranges looks almost exclusively at women and men. She says that this is a valid point, but that it is part of a trend of treating “just women” as boring. She links this to the idea of female self-determination:
Time and again, I’m astonished (I know I shouldn’t be) that the discoveries about self-determination that my feminist and lesbian cohort made in the 1970s and 80s seem so lost to the larger culture. In my more optimistic moods, I believe that my memoir is now more relevant than ever, thanks not so much to its theoretical framework, but rather to its efforts to recall the intimate texture of erotic feeling, creative insurrection, mutual support, and practical organizing knowledge in an intensely politicized community of female human beings nervy enough to think that women, all by ourselves, could take on the world.
Apples & Orange, in any case, is worth reading through the lens of the ever-more-urgent feminist movement that is at the heart of many political issues today. With some of the leaders of today’s movements being preteens in 1999, it’s always important to reflect on the ideas that brought us to the present.
Jan Clausen is on leave for the fall semester, but if you’re interested in writing your own memoir/philosophical meditation on feminism (or anything else), you should check out some of our Fall 2017 course offerings: