Our content is reader supported. Things you buy through links on our site may earn us a commission
Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

An Interview with Sarah Schulman

Sarah Schulman is an award-winning author, activist, and historian. A celebrated writer of lesbian and LGBTQ fiction, she has written over twenty books, including the novels People in Trouble, Rat Bohemia, and The Cosmopolitans.

Her writing has been widely praised for its authentic voices, vivid characters, and unflinching social critique. In this exclusive interview, Schulman speaks candidly about her life, her writing, and her commitment to social justice.

From her early days of producing plays in New York City to her recent efforts to document the AIDS crisis, Schulman shares her passion for storytelling and her commitment to creating a more equitable world.

With an infectious energy and infectious enthusiasm, Schulman’s unique insights offer an inspiring look at how she approaches her work and her life.

Schulman’s Early Years

You were born in New York City in 1954. What were your early years like? What was your family like growing up, and what were your early experiences with New York? I was born in the Bronx, and I spent most of my childhood in the East Village.

My parents arrived in the US in the late 1940s, just after the war. They were both survivors of the Holocaust. My mother was born in a displaced persons camp in Germany, and my father was born in a Jewish hospital in Paris.

They met in New York, where they both ended up after the war. They had a very difficult time making a life in New York and eventually moved to California, where they raised my sister and me.

I was very young when I first came here, and I loved New York right away. It felt like a completely different world than what I had known back in California. I was especially enchanted by the East Village.

I knew nothing of its history. I didn’t know that generations of immigrants had been living there. I didn’t know that it had been a neighborhood of artists and other creative people.

I didn’t know that it had been a center of the Yiddish language and culture. I didn’t know that it had once been a very poor neighborhood.

All I knew was that it was magical. I loved the fact that there were so many different kinds of people living in the neighborhood. I loved the bars and cafés.

I loved the bookstores. I loved seeing people in all kinds of clothing and hair styles. I loved that there were galleries and stores open late at night. I loved that I could walk everywhere in the neighborhood.

Schulman’s Writing Career

You began writing in your early twenties. What brought you to the decision to become a writer? I had always written. I was a writer long before I was a lesbian.

In fact, I was a closeted lesbian for most of my twenties. I was in the Lesbian Writers Collective in New York City in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

I also edited a lesbian literary magazine called Chrysalis. I had always written, but I never imagined that I could be a writer. I didn’t come from a family of writers. I was raised in a working-class family. My parents didn’t go to college. I didn’t go to college. I had no role models for being a writer.

I just loved writing. I loved the feeling of being in a flow. I loved that writing was something that I could do on my own. I didn’t have to rely on anyone else.

Writing was one of the only things that I was confident I could do. I was an extremely shy and anxious person. I didn’t trust my own judgment. I didn’t think I had any real talents. I didn’t like my own voice.

It was only when I was writing that I felt strong and confident. It was only when I was writing that I felt like I was in the flow.

Schulman’s Commitment to Social Justice

You’ve been an activist your entire life. When did you become an activist — and why? I became a feminist as soon as I heard the word “feminism.”

When I was in high school, I read a book by Betty Friedan, the founder of the second wave of feminism. It was an amazing moment in my life.

I was raised in a very traditional family. I was taught that I had to be a good girl, that I had to be obedient and subordinate myself to men.

I was raised in a very Jewish, patriarchal culture. It was a very conservative, traditional community. It was a very homophobic community. I was very lucky to have a feminist consciousness-raising group in high school.

I was very lucky to have a teacher who told us about the Equal Rights Amendment. I had no idea what feminism was, but something about it really spoke to me. I had no idea that it was even a political thing.

I just knew that it was something I believed in. I knew that it was something I was. I was always very angry and outspoken. I was always very critical of the social order and what I saw as injustices.

I was always someone who pushed against the grain. I was always someone who challenged authority. I was always someone who spoke out when things were unfair.

Schulman’s Unique Perspective on Storytelling

You’ve written both fiction and non-fiction. How do you see these different genres informing one another and informing your activism? I think that the genres of fiction and nonfiction inform one another and inform my activism.

For example, I’ve been working on a new book about the AIDS crisis, where I’m trying to weave together the personal stories of people with the larger political narrative. I’ve been working on this book for the past six years, so it’s very long-term work.

I’m trying to weave together the voices of people who are now dead with the voices of people who are still alive. I’m weaving together the voices of people who are still traumatized by what they went through with the voices of people who don’t understand what happened, why it happened, and how we got to where we are now.

This has been challenging work. It’s very different from writing fiction, although there are similarities. I think that what I find in both nonfiction and fiction is a place of silence, a place where the language is like a prayer. It’s not just the story that matters, but how the story is told.

Schulman’s Approach to Life

Your writing has often explored the complexities of marginalized identities and communities, particularly LGBTQ people and people with HIV/AIDS.

How would you describe your approach to these issues? The AIDS crisis was one of the defining moments of my generation. It really changed the world. It changed not just gay men, but everyone.

I was an activist at the time, and I was a person with AIDS. I was a person with a friend who died of AIDS. I had friends who were abandoned by their families.

I had friends who were in the hospital and didn’t have anyone to help them. I just felt so much pain and rage and confusion. I felt like the world wasn’t telling the real story of AIDS. So many people were being left out of the story.

So many people were being silenced. I thought it was important to tell the real story of AIDS, both the personal and the political story. I thought it was important to tell the story of people who were left out of the story.

I thought it was important to keep the memory of people alive. I thought it was important to talk about what happened and why it happened.

I thought it was important to make sure the next generation understands what happened so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes. I felt like I needed to do what I could to make sure that people weren’t forgotten.

Conclusion

What does the future hold for you? What are you most excited about in terms of your writing? What do you think your legacy will be? I’m working on a new book about the AIDS crisis, where I’m trying to weave together the personal stories of people with the larger political narrative.

I hope this book will be in people’s hands before the end of the year. I just feel very lucky to be able to do the work that I do. I love being a writer.

I love the process of writing. I love the feeling when I’m in the flow. I love the feeling when the words just come. I love the feeling when the sentences just flow one into another. I feel so grateful to be able to do this work. END

Leave a Comment