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Richard McCann on Alison Bechdel, Fall 2009

In Capital Letters: What interests you most in the work of Alison Bechdel? What themes, scenes, techniques, etc. are most effective and central in her work?

Richard McCann: In Bechdel's Fun Home, I'm interested and affected by the ways in which Bechdel re-enters memory: the way she  "re-members" experience, that is. As a writer of nonfiction, I know what it means to re-inhabit fully a moment that is passed, and in Bechdel's work—the rendering of the self, for instance, and her rendering old photographs into drawings—I find myself reminded of how difficult and necessary it is to re-enter memory in a manner that feels unflinching. I'm also interested by how Bechdel juxtaposes her drawings—the panels—with her text, particularly because I think she opens new ways of imagining and using retrospective narration.

  ICL: What would you like the colloquium to teach participants about Bechdel's  work and Bechdel herself?

RM: I don't have enough of a didactic nature to have an answer to this exactly. You know how you want to introduce a new friend to your old friends and have your old friends fall in love with the new one? I just want to provide an opportunity for more people to fall in love in Alison Bechdel's Fun Home because I myself love it so dearly.

ICL: Why did you choose Alison Bechdel and in particular her graphic novel Fun Home for the colloquium this year?

RM: Last spring, Marianne and I spoke about the Visiting Writers Series teaming with the Department of Literature colloquium, as a means of bringing together the whole department:  graduate students with undergraduates, creative writing students with scholars, and so on. Thus, we began talking about writers whom the Visiting Writers Series might bring to campus, to support and amplify the colloquium. I suggested Alison Bechdel not only because I love her work and am interested in questions related to memoir but also because I'd invited her to speak at a PEN/Faulkner reading a couple of years ago, along with Lynda Barry and Chris Ware, and I knew her to be a brilliant speaker about the larger issues of creative process as well as her own work. I remember there was something of a ground swell around the idea of inviting her at an early colloquium planning meeting, perhaps because a number of people had taught Fun Home.