The Paula Gordon Show
"Beyond Fear"

Erica Jong is known the world over (literally) for her 1970's book Fear of Flying. When she wrote her mid-life memoir, she called it Fear of Fifty. Why all the fear? Because Jong believes each of us live our lives facing a lot of it. Our challenge is to overcome, not to let fear control us. Jong wrote each of her novels in the grips of what she calls terror -- that she couldn't get the book right, that nobody would publish the book, once written. Or worse, no one would read it. Her solution? Overcome fear by pushing beyond it.

Jong, who's name is strongly identified with the struggle for women's equality, worries that women worldwide are stalled in an unfinished revolution. She sees them limited by fear and self-silencing. Until we cement the underpinnings of women's freedom -- reproductive freedom and economic equality -- the revolution will not be over. We're not even close.

Jong came to celebrity at a time when the sexual revolution and feminism were bubbling up on America. "Somebody had to be the voice for women. I knew from the beginning that was my job," she declares. She continues in that voice as she plots the rest of her creative career -- facing the fears of discovering the second half of women's lives. Until recently, these stories were left untold because women writers (Austin and Bronte are Jong's choices) died young.

Jong-as-artist has only one secret -- start every new book as a beginner. She is forever surprised that each book turns into something quite different from what she intended. "The exciting things are always unbidden."

In addition to being committed to women's rights, Erica Jong cares deeply about freedom of expression. She sees that freedom under attack as mass media worldwide consolidate and is "dismayed." When power is concentrated and outlets limited, Jong believes stories are suppressed and people's access to information limited. Jong promises a bleak future looming for us all if we capitulate to laziness and mindless entertainment. Her own response has been to go onto the Internet in the hope that the Web's "anarchy" may be enough to foster creativity.

Even though she has six best sellers to her name, Jong is alarmed that people seem to equate the number of units sold with importance. "George Orwell sold two thousand copies in a first printing. Danielle Steel sold two million. That does not make her book more important."

In the end, Jong hopes her award-winning poetry -- not how many million copies of her books have generated profits -- will be remembered. She wants to have helped move the cause of women and freedom forward. Fearlessly.

Erica Jong

Erica Jong is a poet, novelist and essayist. She exploded onto the publishing scene in the early '70s with Fear of Flying which sold 12.5 million copies and added vivid sexual descriptors to the vernacular. She has five other best-selling novels to her name. Her latest work is a novel telling the stories of four generations of women in a Jewish-American family, called Inventing Memories: A Novel of Mothers and Daughters, published by Harper Collins.

Ms. Jong started her literary career writing poetry and has published six award-winning collections of poems. She also wrote a memoir of her friendship with Henry Miller and her midlife memoir.

Erica Jong served as the President of the Authors' Guild of the U.S. from 1991 to 1993. Her work has been translated into 27 languages. She has been awarded the Premio Internationale Sigmund Freud in Italy and the United Nations Award of Excellence.


Conversation 1

Erica Jong always wanted to write the missing books, chronicle things which she did not find in books but needed to be written about, she tells Paula Gordon and Bill Russell in conversation. Jong vividly describes the challenges women face when they open our mouths. She attacks the "self-silencing" many women practice and tells how she found her own "voice."

Conversation 2

Jong offers her "only secret" -- always be a beginner. She bows to the 17 books which created her celebrity, then moves on to her current interest -- discovering the second half of women's lives. She calls on Bronte, Austin and Tolstoy to support her ideas about writing.

She discusses "character" in her stories and tells us why she thinks that "collage" is the art form of the 20th Century. Any artist is a prophet of sorts, Jong contends, citing the works of Henry Miller and George Orwell. She describes the writer's job -- getting out of the story's way.

Conversation 3

Jong is "dismayed" by the future. She describes the limitations she sees as the world of books narrows and the mass media consolidate. Jong faults consumers' sloth, laziness and refusal to see what's happening. She describes what happens when artists have a fewer and fewer outlets, left only with those which defend the status quo. She urges people to seek out stories not found in the mainstream media.

The Internet gives Jong some hope, based on it's anarchy. She describes her website ( She recalls meeting the librarian in Moscow, from whose fax machines many of the documents were sent which brought down the Soviet Union. She worries about the association people make between best-sellerdom and truth.

Conversation 4

Jong describes how she uses the Internet. She decries the potential television squandered, failing to deliver music, drama and art as it might have done. She compares the intrusiveness of television to the technological transparency of books, which become invisible as you read. She describes the great pleasure she takes from readers who report that her books empower them.

Jong sees people losing their freedom when they succumb to being consumers rather than individuals, an insidious process for which she gives a series of examples.

Conversation 5

Jong believes feminism as a unique process because of the dialectic she observes between mothers and daughters. She believes we are still in the middle of a revolution which will not be won until women have control over their own fertility and economic equality, worldwide.

She is excited about the potential for political force women past 50 years old have. She describes how older women can become powerful at the national and international level. She believes her own activism is best exercised in her writing. "Books CAN change the world."

Jong-the-Poet describes the upsurge she sees in poetry today. She attributes it in part to the blandness of mass media alternatives.

Conversation 6

Jong describes her own battle with fear. She suggests people expect fear but not be controlled by it. Her prescription -- figure out what you're afraid of. Then you can deal with it. She suggests men have much to learn women's ability to relate to others.

She describes artists including Maya Angelou and Gay Talese, facing the challenge to tell the truth about themselves, their families and their communities. Jong believes a central issue in self-expression is overcoming the fear that you will somehow "give power to the enemy."

Related Links:
Erica Jong (

Inventing Memories is published by HarperCollins Publishing(

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