Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Interview: Flyway Talks To Kate Bernheimer

One of the things I love about Kate Bernheimer is that, when she speaks at conventions or is interviewed online she's so down to earth and accessible. For someone who is both an accomplished academic and writes and works with very literary pieces and people, she's obviously kept her feet on the ground and knows, not only how to speak at a level most people can understand (without referring to a dictionary or feeling like they missed a number of key university courses) but she talks about fairy tales - and their study - in the same way. 

From the interview:
KB: Fairy tales save people in all sorts of ways: it’s no accident Anne Frank wrote fairy tales. Historically a lot of authors say they first fell in love with reading through fairy-tale books.  The journal was established, quite simply, to give an open home to fairy tales and to preserve them for future generations of readers. It has never been about “silver coins,” though it takes some money to do this.  With a little fairy-tale luck the work will continue.
I was very interested to learn about her Fairy Tale Book Depository as I've been wondering what would happen to my own not-small collection of fairy tale books that I've very deliberately hunted down over many years. I know the collection may not be of much monetary value (as far as valuable book collections go) but it's an excellent and fairly unique library for anyone interested in fairy tales. I can't bear the thought that it might end up split between charity boxes or used for (gulp!) kindergarten papier maché projects. While I know my loved ones value them because of what they mean to me, once I'm gone they're just going to be annoying dust collectors (unless there's a late-blooming fairy tale student in the family). I'd much rather I was able to bequeath them to someone who's developed a passion for fairy and folk tales as I have. Perhaps Ms. Bernheimer's Fairy Tale Book Depository is the first step to making something like that available. (As soon as it is, I'll be revising my will!)
Illustration of Kate by Victoria Advocate
LM: Tell me a little bit about your new program, “Fairy Tale Book Repository”. Where did you get the idea? Can you give me a summary of the “long range plan” your website mentions, or is it a secret? 
KB: I got the idea to establish a Fairy-Tale Book Repository over many years of finding discarded fairy-tale books at garage sales, thrift shops, or (along with other sad characters) in cartons on the sidewalk intended for garbage. I was frequently receiving new and used fairy-tale books in the mail from acquaintances, friends, and complete strangers who just thought I might like them. My shelves had become a sort of informal safe haven for fairy-tale books—an unofficial Island of Misfit Fairy-Tale Books.  So I decided to make it official and posted an announcement on the Fairy Tale Review website. So far The Fairy-Tale Book Repository exists in my study, my closets, my attic, and some boxes in the garage. I would love to give the books a more public home someday too, and I share these whenever I can. Anyone who knows me knows it is hard to leave my house or office without an armload of recommended fairy-tale reading.
Part of Fairy Tale Review’s mission is to “preserve” fairy tales of all kinds (more like preserving a delicious jam than some fragile artifact).  This is one of the ways.  I’m working on cataloguing the books and writing up descriptions of their contents and how they made their way to the Repository. Plans are not “secret” at all.  The Fairy-Tale Book Repository has been slow to venture from its current domestic space, but one day it will.
Author card from Powell's Books for The Complete Tales of Merry Gold
The main topic of conversation however, revolves around her wonderful independent journal Fairy Tale Review and the struggle to have fairy tale works recognized as legitimate literature. 

While I applaud the effort, agree in principle and support the incredible talent, persistence, scholarly skill and amazing research efforts by all fairy tale scholars and writers, I think the fact that fairy tales are still considered "common man material" is actually in our favor. Please understand, I do not mean to minimize any efforts or scholarship in the pursuit of fairy tale study, meaning, history, revival or writing newly inspired works. I just know I would not have felt it a worthy pursuit to study them outside of academia if they were regarded as Literature (with a capital "L"). But I have and I do and it's enriched my life. It's also bridged gaps to "big-L literature" for me as a result as well. Yes: my personal study of fairy tales has often given me an instinctual understanding of "greater works" in a way that's surprised people. It's not that I'm particularly smart. I've just read - and keep reading - fairy tales and anything related. Ms. Bernheimer herself paraphrases Einstein at the end of the interview with something I heard early and use as almost a mantra:

Albert Einstein

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
― Albert Einstein

I believe this is true and support every effort Ms. Bernheimer is making in ensuring they are readily available in multiple forms for generations of children to come.

Flyway's interview with Kate Bernheimer can be found HERE and the most recent issue (the brown issue) of Fairy Tale Review is HERE.

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