Electric Literature: “The Morning After The Sixties”


Overjoyed to have had the chance to sit down with the indelibly luminous soul that is Darcey Steinke on the occasion of celebrating her new book, Sister Golden Hair, just out from Tin House this month. Sister Golden Hair engages with Darcey’s traditional themes of religiosity, loss, sexuality, violence and the body but also with something larger – the time period of the 1970’s in which the book is set and its corresponding social / popular culture. In the interview we examine what it is to have written novels set during a specific time period, feminism and the crisis of self-fulfillment, the “throbbing amazingness of a round full female body,” “Devolution:” Grandness, An Unconstant God, And Inventing Faith, and the architecture of physical place. With thanks to editor Lincoln Michel at Electric Literature for publishing our words.  Below is an excerpt.  For the full interview, please read here:

DeWitt: I was looking back on that famous Didion essay “The Morning After the Sixties” from The White Album and there was a line in there that reminded me of your novel where she said, “We were all very personal then. Sometimes relentlessly so. And at one point we either act or do not act. Most of us are still. I supposed I’m talking about just that. The ambiguity of belonging to a generation distrustful of political highs. The historical irrelevancy of growing up convinced that the heart of darkness lay not in some era of social organization but in a man’s own blood.” That made me think a lot about your novel, this description of it on the back says, “It’s all about awaiting new sexual mores, and muddled social customs and confused spirituality.” But more than that it specifically reminded of the father character in your novel and how he becomes a cipher for this change that’s somehow happened between the 60s and the 70’s. And I didn’t know if you could talk about what that “morning after the 60’s” was for you and what made you write about this time period?

Steinke: I’ve always wanted to write about the 70’s because—I mean there’s some good stuff about the 70’s. The Ice Storm would be a great example of a book that’s similar to my feeling of the 70’s. There are also a lot of things culturally about the 70’s that are ridiculed. It’s all about That Seventies Show and smiley faces and tube tops. And I always feel like when you get that, it’s usually because there’s been a lot of pain.

DeWitt: Fascinating.

Steinke: I always feel like if there’s a lot of romanticizing of a time period it’s because there’s been a fair amount of pain and confusion about a time period. And so rather than think about its bleakness, it becomes, “It was GREAT. We all wore love beads. We wore bellbottoms. There was a lot of pot around.” But in my experience I didn’t really know the difference until I’d lived through many different time periods. You know what I mean? Because I do think that the period of time that you come of age in, you’re always accessed in that time period. And I also think you’re often obsessed—I think you’re right, that there can be a nostalgia for earlier periods that came before you—but I think you’re obsessed with the people that you came of age around. You always have a kind of love hate relationship with them. You’re fascinated with them but you always think, “How could they have been better? What is it about them that made them who they are?”

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