Alysia Abbott had long thought to write a book about life with her late father, artist and queer activist Steve Abbott. But it wasn’t until finding his journals that she set about Fairyland.
Zola: It’s been 20 years since your father’s death. Why write this book now and not sooner—or later?
Alysia Abbott: I’ve been thinking about writing this book since my father died 20 years ago. I knew, as my father’s only survivor, this was my story to tell. And when I found his journals, which included a line about his imagining a book about our life together, I knew I had to write it. But I didn’t know if I was worthy of the story. I knew I only had one shot and if I tried to write it and it was only so-so, I would be devastated. This fear of mediocrity prevented me from ever seriously engaging with the project. Each time I tried to start working on it and then felt disappointed by a lack of interest from agents or a sense that it wasn’t succeeding, I’d feel discouraged and put it aside. Finally, I left New York for Cambridge when my husband was offered a fellowship at Harvard. As his partner, I could also take classes at Harvard and took several that inspired my restarting Fairyland, including a class on children’s literature taught by the great Maria Tatar.
Zola: Your father was a poet, an essayist, an editor. For years, you sought to separate yourself from his literary scene. You liked New Wave music, for instance, because it was a world you were choosing instead of simply inheriting. Similarly, your lead in a school play made you feel that you were carving a version of yourself “apart from Dad.” When and how did you overcome these qualms and end up pursuing a literary life?
AA: My father never made a fortune as a writer. A lot of the instability of my childhood was a result of my father’s commitment to writing and art (which was also wonderful in other ways). Because I was orphaned at 21, I wanted to have more financial security and took a series of corporate jobs. Eventually I decided that I wasn’t interested in marketing or fundraising and that the jobs I most enjoyed were creative. Writing and reporting has been the most personally satisfying. I’ve also learned that I can feel connected to my dad through writing. He brought me up to respect artistic and intellectual pursuits.
Zola: You claim your father and you shared a “crankiness” and “bohemianism” from the start. With age and/or his death, have these similarities lessened or become more pronounced?
AA: I definitely still exhibit my father’s crankiness but also his playfulness. I don’t know about bohemianism. I feel the word doesn’t even mean what it used to mean. So many creative people are also avid consumers, which wasn’t as true in my father’s world. I do know that when I moved into my first house two years ago (I spent my life living in apartment rentals) I had a crisis of conscience, wondering if this new life (house, cars, kids, semi-suburban neighborhood) was really ME, because it was different from the life my father shared with me. I’ve decided that this is O.K. As Walt Whitman says, I contain multitudes.
Zola: You have a daughter of your own. Given your unique upbringing, do you ever wonder how she’ll turn out as the result of a more conventional childhood? Are there practices from your father’s parenting that you use as your own?
AA: I’ve wanted to give my daughter some of the things I longed for as a child: a backyard, a playmate next door, help with her homework. But I want her to be exposed to difference, as I was. I take her on trips to New York. I want her to mix with adults and be encouraged to hold her own, to know that even though she’s just “a kid” she has valuable ideas and perspective to contribute. It’s hard to say how she’ll turn out. I hope she’ll feel the security of a deep love, as I did from my father.
Zola: Your father did a great deal for gay liberation in general and for queer literature in particular. Do you think he would be proud of where these issues stand today?
AA: I think he would be proud to see that gay men and women are being given the right to marry and serve in the military. But I think he would also say that there’s more to gay life than being accepted into traditionally heterosexual institutions. I think he’d urge the GLBT community to broadcast its own unique voice and experience and inspire our mainstream community to be more tolerant of difference.
This article originally appeared on Zola Books.