I came across this quirky and fun interview Late Night Library did with Alex Myers in January. I think you will enjoy it–be sure to scroll down to the Q and A. A week from today, on Sunday, April 13th at 7 pm EST, Politics for the People will be discussing Revolutionary with Alex.
The call in number for the conference call is 805 399-1200 and the access code is 767775#.
Have a great week, hope you will be spending some of it in the pages of Revolutionary with Deborah/Robert in the final days of the Revolutionary war. Please keep sending in your comments and thoughts as we start to think of questions to pursue with Alex.
ROOKIE REPORT: ALEX MYERS
When my copy of Revolutionary arrived, the first thing I thought was, man, this is a beautiful book. I ran my hand over the book jacket—covered in reds, whites, and blues—and felt the soft grooves in the paper. I’ve always been drawn to books with strong, female protagonists, and Deborah Samson, a woman who dresses up as a man and joins the war, is just that. Deborah’s life as a weaver is dreary. She has no master, but the men around her continually remind Deborah of her place. When she dons men’s clothing and becomes Robert Shurtliff, her world suddenly changes. It’s full of danger, thrill, adventure, and freedom. At each fork in the road, Deborah—as Robert—is finally able to choose her own path. As I read, I found myself questioning what it is that makes a man, a role that Deborah seems to embrace, and I find this fitting, because Alex Myers is a revolutionary himself, who makes all of us rethink our notions of gender identity.
In another half mile Deborah came upon a cart lodged in the muck. The carter berated his horse, but the beast couldn’t make the stuck wheel budge. Deborah pulled her hat low and made to sidle by.
But the farmer called out, “Hey, boy? Lend a hand?”
She could scarcely refuse a request for help. Tossing her bundle in the back of the cart, she and the farmer put their shoulders to the wheel. “One and two and heave . . .” the man said. With a mighty sucking sound, the cart lurched forward. Deborah fell to her knee, and the farmer grabbed her arm, pulling her up.
“There’s a lad,” he said. “Want to ride a piece?”
She nodded, numb and muddy, and stepped to the side of the cart. For a moment, she waited for the farmer to offer a hand at her waist and push her up.
But he just said, “Well, come on,” as he clambered in.
She grasped the cart, stepped onto the wheel, and swung herself aboard. It was hard to keep from grinning. The farmer’s simple assumption of her competence—lend a hand, get yourself up—buoyed her spirits tremendously.
-Excerpt from Revolutionary
Alex Myers: Attempt 1 = a sentence: Thwarted and confined, Deborah becomes Robert, fights for country/self. (The / might be cheating. Sorry.) Attempt 2 = ten words, hold the grammar: Woman disguised as man. Revolutionary War. Love. Identity. Discovery. Self.
LNL: If this book were the lovechild of two others, who are its parents?
AM: James Fenimore Cooper’s The Spy and Willa Cather’s A Lost Lady. (I say this with the caveat that, had they been contemporaries, I doubt Cooper and Cather would have tolerated being in the same room as each other, let alone allow their prose to procreate.)
LNL: What ingredients go into the recipe of your writing style?
AM: Daily walks and daily writing…patience with revision…and lots of reading across a range of genres and time periods.
LNL: Name one book you wish you could read again for the first time.
AM: Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
LNL: Answer a question you wish people would ask you about writing.
AM: The questions I wish people would ask about writing don’t have answers (at least that I can give). They have conversations. And to that end, the question I wish people asked (and then discussed with me): Is there a difference between writing and thinking? (Framed another way: What is the connection between writing and thinking?) I’d love to explore with that inquirer how it feels to move ideas into words—are concepts words in the brain? Do we understand our world through language? How accurately do the words we write on the page describe the feelings in our mind…and so on.
Alex Myers was born and raised in western Maine. Since high school, Alex has campaigned for transgender rights. As a female-to-male transgender person, Alex began his transition at Phillips Exeter Academy (returning his senior year as a man after attending for three years as a woman) and was the first transgender student in that academy’s history. Alex was also the first openly transgender student at Harvard, and worked to change the university’s nondiscrimination clause to include gender identity. After earning a master’s in religion from Brown University, Alex began a career as a high school English teacher. Along the way, he earned an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He currently lives in DC with his wife and two cats.