May 2015

Kate Bolick

Interview by
With a record number of American women now unmarried (more than 50 percent) Kate Bolick offers a fresh look at “going solo” in Spinster.
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With a record number of American women now unmarried (more than 50 percent) Kate Bolick offers a fresh look at “going solo” in Spinster.

As a 40-something confirmed spinster, I’m a member of your target audience. What do you imagine men, or married women, learning from your book?
All of us spend at least part of our lives alone, possibly more so now than ever before, between the rising age of marriage, the ubiquity of divorce and our increasingly longer lifespans. My hope is that -Spinster will remind any reader that being alone, whenever it happens, is something to treasure, not fear.

Spinster grew out of your 2011 Atlantic cover story, “All the Single Ladies,” which I read standing up at a magazine rack in one fell swoop. That article seemed to focus on the demographics of single women, as well as on the sociology of men’s lives, while your book makes your own experiences central. Can you say a little about the process of moving from article to book?
I wanted to take advantage of the intimacy that a book offers, and draw the reader into my imaginary life, to better share the nuances of my single experience, which was (and remains) shaped by the women who influenced me. I thought that by putting my life on the page alongside theirs, I could animate the similarities and differences between our historical contexts, and show that the ways in which we talk about marriage and not-marriage today, which seem so modern and contemporary, have been around for centuries.

Your book opens by claiming that marriage—to do or not do—is a central question for women, but by the end of the book you say that this is a false binary. Can you clarify what populations of women you’re thinking about here?
All of us are raised to assume we’ll someday marry—the institution of marriage has always been the foundation of our social order. But already, in our lifetime, that’s changing. I’d like it if we all grew up understanding that marriage is an option that may or may not be right for us.

Aging and illness, the specter of the crazy bag lady, haunts single women of a certain age. What housing solutions or living arrangements can we develop to ensure the balance between autonomy and community as we age?
It’s time to send the specter of the crazy bag lady into permanent retirement! She represented a legitimate fear at a time when women relied on marriage for financial security and social acceptance. But that’s no longer the case. . . . All over the country, single parents are moving in together, couples are living apart, and people are approaching aging in ever-more innovative ways, from “aging in place” initiatives to co-housing arrangements. The isolated nuclear family in its single-family home still exists, but it’s no longer the only way to live.

The April issue of Harper’s had a cover story by Fenton Johnson on solitude and living alone. What is your own relationship to solitude?
Isn’t that a wonderful piece? Solitude is central to my sense of self. Figuring out how to balance that necessity with those other necessities—intimate love, meaningful work and close friendships—has been the central conflict of my adult life.

RELATED CONTENT: Read our review of Spinster.

This article was originally published in the May 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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By Kate Bolick
ISBN 9780385347136

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