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New York City
May 2001


Erica Jong and Molly Jong Fast: Two Generations of Authors
by Pola Rosen, Ed.D.

Erica Jong, the quintessential feminist, credits her mother, a painter, with imbuing her with feminism. “My mother was passionate about her work and fierce in her feelings about women.” According to Jong, her mother, born in 1912, was part of a movement that began in the 18th century, the age of enlightenment, a movement that spawned democracy and continued into the 19th century with abolitionists and suffragettes through the 1930s with Mary McCarthy and other writers. “Women have pushed forward in one generation and pulled back in another,” says Jong. “Today, we are retrenching again.”

Jong remembers writing early in her life. She kept travel diaries and personal diaries, and wrote letters. At the age of twelve, Ms. Tulip, her English teacher at Birch Wathen Lenox complemented her writing, and thus launched her career.

Motherhood “made me Everywoman. It changed my life,” says Jong of her daughter Molly. She had thought that having a child would destroy her creativity. “It is the hardest and most important part of your life. You support what they have and hopefully don’t destroy it. What they express is not from you but from God.”

Molly, “a fierce feminist,” had incredible verbal gifts. Jong taped her at the age of three and a half as she retold the story of Cinderella and then explained how dinosaurs had vanished from the earth. Jong read her daughter all the books she had loved as a child: Winnie the Pooh, The Wizard of Oz and all the sequels, Judy Viorst’s books, Dr. Seuss, and Frances Burnett’s The Little Prince and The Secret Garden.

Writing, according to Jong, is a competitive profession. “It’s tough if you are successful, and tough if you are a failure because of the rejection,” she says. In her experience, writers are type cast in their genres. “I have insisted on doing different things,” she says. Because of this insistence, she is “a marketing nightmare” because, as she points out, “I can’t write Fear of Flying over and over again. The very things that made it successful made it inimitable.”

When it became clear that Molly was going to be a writer, Jong was terrified. “What if she goes out there as my daughter and fails?” she asked herself. But she didn’t, publishing her first novel, Normal Girl at the age of 19 with the help of a wonderful editor at Random House, Molly Doyle, who made her rewrite her book over and over again.

“Of all the things that astonished me was that Molly had her own voice. It is very different from mine,” says Jong. She has never edited Molly’s writing. “I am not her editor. I am her mother and cheering section,” she says, and becoming her editor would destroy their mother -daughter relationship.

From the way Jong describes it, this relationship is quite strong. “We love each other to distraction,” she says. “We go on book tours, live in the same building, do yoga with the same coach three times a week, and often have dinner together. We cruised the Aegean last summer. We do very well together, much better than other mothers and daughters I’ve seen.”

But there is one thing Jong does not do: give motherly advice. “It doesn’t work,” she says. “Whenever I start, Molly says, ‘Lecture! Lecture!’” which ends the advice before it is given.

However, Jong feels that she has given Molly some measure of advice through setting an example. For instance, in relationships, she has always made it clear to her daughter to choose men who treat her well—which Molly has done. “Modeling is the most powerful way to demonstrate behavior,” Jong says.

Roots can be a means through which generations can share each other’s feelings. Jong, by her own admission, became obsessed with the Holocaust when she was 23 years old. “I have a profound and passionate sense of being Jewish. I think being Jewish is a fascinating destiny,” she says. She now sees Molly, now almost 23, doing the same thing. Molly corresponds with children of the Kindertransport, reads a great deal about the Holocaust, and wants to go to Europe this summer to visit her family’s roots.

While Molly doesn’t read her mother’s books (“She’ll read them someday; now she protects herself,” says her mother) , her mother says that she may one day want to write an introduction to a re-release of her grandfather, Howard Fast’s, book Spartacus.

“Everyone in my family is a writer,” says Molly, correcting the myth that her mother was her inspiration. “It’s an amazing career. You can create something and profoundly influence people’s lives.”

But writing is also a hard and lonely profession, “like pushing a rock up a hill,” she says. “People think it’s easy. It’s the Jackson Pollock syndrome: they say ‘I could have done that.’” But they didn’t, she points out.

“I write about 15 novels each year and then throw them out,” she says. “I rewrite like crazy. So much of writing is intentional—you have to know everything in order to make choices.”

Molly and her mother had a disagreement over the definition of writing; Molly saw it as a craft, Jong named it a calling. Now Molly agrees it is a calling.

“I get ideas from everyone I know or have met,” Molly says about what inspires her. “The best characters are based on people I don’t know so well.” This is because she can fantasize and create more imaginative pieces about their lives.

Critics described Normal Girl as autobiographical. But Molly describes her second novel as “a lot more Jewish,” and perhaps even more autobiographical. “It’s a lot more about me in a way that the first book was not,” she says. “I am a much better writer than I was in my first book. I have a better idea of what I want to do now.”

Molly describes her relationship with her mother as one of teamwork and deep friendship. “The better she does, the better I do. The better I do, the better she does,” she says. “We don’t read each other’s work. It’s not helpful. We do not compete with each other. We’re very different in many ways.”

Growing up in a family of readers and writers, Molly says she had to read in order to speak. Her mother got her to love books by having them around the house. Her favorite book is The Great Gatsby, which she rereads every year. “It is the great American novel, beautifully crafted and perfect,” she says. Other favorites authors are William Styron, Pablo Neruda, and Yeats, and she also mentions In Cold Blood and Lolita (“but everyone loves Lolita!” she says).

Writing “is an amazing thing to do if you can—if you can survive,” says Molly. “It’s a very interesting life. Most people, even if they do what they love, don’t have to do it all day. I love to read and write, and I get to do it all day.”

While Molly sees her profession as letting her do her favorite things all day, her mother describes her as “out discovering herself, which is exactly where she should be.”


Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001. Tel: (212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919. Email: ednews1@aol.com.
All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express consent of the publisher. © 2001.


©1997 Susan May Tell,
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