Advertising Info     About Jewish Woman Magazine     Jewish Women International     Join our Community

bottom

   Book Group

 WINTER ISSUE 2005  SUBSCRIBE

Wendy Wasserstein Wendy Wasserstein

There might not have been a "Sex and the City" had Wendy Wasserstein, not laid the groundwork with "The Heidi Chronicles," according to Charles Isherwood of The New York Times. Wasserstein, 55, who died on January 30 of lymphoma, wrote with wit, insight and compassion about single and urban women (many of whom were Jewish), their quest for self-actualization—and their desire for fulfilling relationships with men. She was the author of about a dozen plays, three books of non-fiction, including Sloth, her 2005 parody of self-help books, and a children's book, Pamela's First Musical. Knopf will publish her first novel, Elements of Style, in April.

Here are excerpts from the article about her that ran in the fall 2001 issue of Jewish Woman on the publication of her book of essays, Shiksa Goddess.

The Wendy Wasserstein we meet in her latest collection of essays, Shiksa Goddess (Or, How I Spent My Forties) is smart, funny, irreverent, approachable and kind. But we'd expect these qualities from the creator of "The Sisters Rosensweig," "Isn't It Romantic," and "The Heidi Chronicles," which won the Pulitzer and a Tony award. We see her at her most ridiculous: in the wildly ironic title piece she discovers WASP roots and suddenly begins "eating chicken sandwiches with mayo on white bread, no crust, and getting full after two bites." We also see her at her most serious in essays about the death from breast cancer of her beloved older sister, Sandra, in 1997, and her struggles with infertility, culminating in the premature arrival of daughter Lucy Jane, shortly before Rosh Hashanah in 1999. Even in tough times, her ability to notice the ridiculous keeps her going, a gift she shares with Jewish humorists throughout history.

Your Jewish background is a wonderful part of the essays in the book. How do you think your sense of being Jewish has changed over the years?
In so much of my life it had to do with social, cultural and theatrical. My mother's father was a school principal, but he did write Yiddish plays and did act. I think that's a very Jewish tradition, in my family's case, a European Jewish tradition, the love of the arts, the love of the theater and also humor. I think as one gets older and experiences more of the texture of life, the randomness of life, like the sadness of my sister dying, you also have to somehow deal with your faith so it isn't just about the theater, or the community, but also has to do with coming to terms with life and death.

Does getting older bother you?
It's funny I never was a particularly narcissistic woman, so I don't feel that you know "Oh my God, I'm losing something." I was always funny. It's not that I thought that when I walked into a room and I was drop dead gorgeous. It's not that I feel I've just lost my trump card. For those of us character women, it's a little easier.

Also in terms of women's health issues, there are maze of things to try to personally figure out including menopause and breast cancer genes. On top of all that you are supposed to be sexually alluring. It's hard to live in a society when men over 50 are supposed to date women in their thirties and women over 50 should be on estrogen in order to feel like they are 30.

When did you know that being a writer was your calling?
I was always funny. That's how I got by in my family. I'm the youngest of four kids. I always thought I'd go to law school and be a lawyer. I always secretly wanted to be a writer but I was scared. Then I did it.

Do you find yourself thinking and writing about different things since you had Lucy Jane?
I do think about different things. You have to. I think about nursery schools. I don't know anything about nursery schools. You think about what the world will be like. You know how people now walk down the street talking on telephones and they don't even hold on to the phone? They are just talking to the air. I think: Is Lucy Jane going to live in a world in which everyone is walking down the street just talking to the air? That I find very disconcerting.

I worry about community. It makes me like the theater even more, even religious practices because I think children need community, I think people need community. You need to feel part of something that works.

What has being a mom taught you about yourself?
It's made me a little more easygoing, maybe because I'm so tired. I was telling a friend that I really don't have time for anxiety or depression. I do my work, see my daughter and then pass out. It's made me less hungry too. It's amazing to love someone that deeply. It's made me closer to my own mother too.

What values would you like to pass on to Lucy?
A buoyancy. A love of music, dancing, life. A sense of wonder. A sense of community and looking at other people and thinking what they want. Trying somehow in your own life to make the world slightly better, that you are sort of responsible for the world you live in.