Diane Cook: Lecture Series


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Editor's Note

Hysterical Women with Diane Cook

September 9, 23, 30 and October 14
9 – 10:30 AM PST/ 12 – 1:30 PM EST

We’ll be looking at different excerpts from texts that focus on the range of women’s emotionality, looking at characters who experience rage, obsession, violence, ecstasy, true selflessness even, thinking about the societal why of it all, and how its portrayed believably on the page (or even screen because you know I’m going to talk about Yellowjackets at some point.) All the wonderful complexities that make women characters so interesting. We’ll be reading into why these portrayals so often get negative attention, with honest women characters often viewed as unlikeable, or unrelatable. We’ll look at the rise of the narratives about resentful moms, violent teenage girls and very recently the toll of menopause on women in the culture. And I’ll probably peddle my own personal theory that the purported steadiness of men is the outlier of a highly emotional society. The alienation motif of man-focused literature is giving way to more emotional dynamism and agency in characters as women’s stories take up more space. What if that emotional dynamism–that hysteria–which was always seen as a liability was actually a power, even a cure for something that ails us?

Session 1. The Woman Upstairs

One of the first discussions of unlikeable women in literature I remember occurred around the publication of The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud, though it had quietly undergirded many conversations about women in literature before that. We’ll look at excerpts from Messud’s novel and other works whose women simmer and explode and keep us at arms length, to interrogate what it means to be a likeable or acceptable woman and why anyone would want that. Why do we like characters to be flat when we ourselves aren’t?

Session 2. The Woman in the Wallpaper

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman was an early feminist text that tried to dramatize the particular hell of having a woman’s temperament in a society run by the opposite–and very different–sex. We’ll look at this text and others to study how something as bewildering as perception and trauma can be portrayed.

Session 3:  The Woman who turned into a Dog

Motherhood in all its complexity is finally taking up space on the page and Rachel Yoder’s Nightbitch was a fascinating example. It has alienation, anger, and ecstatic joy, and seems to argue the complexity of motherhood cannot be contained in human form and human norms. We’ll not only look at other motherhood narratives, but also at the wildness we preserve through our emotional presence in the world.

Session 4: Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered Women

Why is intensity so scary? We’ll look at all the freaks and figure out where their power lies and why their stories are important.

BIO: Diane Cook is the author of the novel The New Wilderness, shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize and the story collection Man V. Nature, a finalist for the Guardian First Book Award, the Believer Book Award, the PEN/Hemingway award, and the Los Angeles Times Award for First Fiction. Her writing has appeared in Harper’s, Tin House, Granta and elsewhere, and anthologized in Best American Short Stories and The O. Henry Prize Stories. She is a former producer for the radio show This American Life and the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. She lives in Brooklyn, New York with her family.



Sessions will be held on Zoom. You do not need a Zoom account in order to participate. Each session will be recorded and distributed within 48 hours. The recordings will be available for up to a month after the last session.



The scholarship for this series has already been awarded.

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As you will have access to all recordings, we will not be offering refunds for this lecture series.