From the Paris Review, interviewed by Thomas Gardner
Well, in the same way the double self-portraits in The End of Beauty were written out of literally being “double” while pregnant—being a person housing another, trulyother, person—another soul than one’s own, another body, another destiny, a different heart.
This was in Iowa City?
Yes. The early years in Iowa City. Getting up at night to feed her, put her back down, and then going to my typewriter with the terrible postpartum fear that I would never write again, not truly or deeply, and then feeling the black windowpanes holding the sleeping town and all its dreamers. It was as if I could feel all the dreams floating over the bodies in all the rooms in that town—and that silence full of dream beginning to pull that book out of me, beckoning, allowing me back into the ancient stream via dream and myth and listening while others slept. A roving consciousness over a sleeping world. That’s what Iowa was like, for me, in those years. It was not merely “not Washington,” or “not Rome.” It was the unimaginably mysterious life of mothering.
You began teaching at Iowa?
Yes. I had taught elsewhere, but at Iowa I began learning to be the teacher I became. I made some mistakes. But I loved teaching.
In Iowa I still felt very attached as a citizen—a mother scribbling notes on drafts as I waited in the car to get whatever group of kids I was responsible for to their next activity—and God knows I wrote a couple of books sitting in the car waiting for this or that lesson to be done: sports, math, music, Latin.