June is full of celebrations.
Traditionally the “Month of Brides,” June also blossoms forth with LGBTQ Pride celebrations worldwide. Just in case that’s not enough for you, June is also one of the most famous literary months, with June 16 being the Joycean holiday “Bloomsday”, June 19 being the “Juneteenth” of Toni Morison’s great novel, and June 23 being the date of Haruki Murakami’s first ultra-marathon. (And for those of us who love great mystery writing, Dorothy Sayer’s birthday is June 8!)
All of this is actually just a wonderful rationalization for my talking to married literary icons Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman, about Literary Marriage and the Rather Interesting Thing on a Boat they’re doing in September.
Ellen wrote award-winning literary fantasy classics including Swordspoint – the first of the “Riverside” series, which have been produced as deliciously good audiobooks by Audible under the “Neil Gaiman Presents” imprimatur, read by Kushner herself. Delia wrote The Freedom Maze, as well her new short story collection, Young Woman in a Garden. As a couple, they wrote The Fall of the Kings together.
During our interview we were trying to have a serious discussion about “Literary Marriage,” but it’s impossible to keep a straight face as the irrepressibly exuberant Ellen goes off on an erudite and hilarious tangent. Delia looks on, with reserved amusement, and occasionally chimes in with a summing-up insight….and one gets the feeling that this is how their marriage works both in literature—and in life.
To talk to Ellen is to have the pleasant feeling that you have just been kidnapped by a good fairy on mild hallucinogens, while talking to Delia evokes feelings of being with one’s wisest female relative, the one who nurtured and soothed you—and then put you back on your feet with a kind, no-nonsense pat.
Prominent as a couple, they have taught together, written together, and as Ellen says, laughing, “Frankly, people come and sit in our living room and we give them advice together.” The writer Laurie J. Marks is quoted as saying that she “learned more about writing sitting in Ellen and Delia’s living room, than she did in college.”
I ask about famous literary marriages. Ellen and Delia say, simultaneously, “Leonard and Virginia Woolf!” One of them continues (and I’m not sure I can even tell you which one), “As a unit, they supported and nurtured each other, and glorified and dignified each other. Together they created something that was greater than the sum of its parts.”
Ellen adds, “They were tremendously successful, and incredibly supportive of each other.”
When asked how they influence each other’s work, Delia explains, “Ellen and I are each other’s first readers. We’re each other’s audience. Our tastes have influenced each other. They were similar to begin with, and it’s not that we’ve gotten more similar, but that the ways in which we are different, allow us to grow safely, in perhaps unfamiliar directions.”
You can observe the dynamics of a great literary marriage up close and hone your own writing brilliance, as Ellen and Delia are teaching at a writing seminar and retreat called “Out Of Excuses,” that will be held this fall on a—cruise ship! And then you can form your own opinion about what makes this Literary Couple a force to be reckoned with.