Arts Listings

Ayelet Waldman at Berkeley City Club

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Thursday April 30, 2009 - 06:56:00 PM

Ayelet Waldman will celebrate her “brash, wise, provocative” new book, Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace, with a talk and booksigning, 7:30 p.m. Monday, May 4, at the Berkeley City Club, hosted by KPFA News Director Aileen Alfandary, as a benefit for KPFA. 

Bad Mother, available at the event, will be released by Doubleday on Tuesday. Pamela Paul, author of Parenting, Inc. said Waldman “writes about motherhood the way women live it: not only as parents, but also as wives, professionals, and most touchingly, as former children.” 

“It’s half memoir and rant,” Waldman said of her book, “and half social commentary on what contemporary American women find themselves in, the parlor game of how a mother feels—eternal ambivalence, anxiety. It’s a plea for a more humane approach to motherhood.” 

The book came about from blogging on the “bad mother” theme about five years ago at “It was very, very successful, very fast,” Waldman recalled. “I only had it up for a couple of months, then shut it down. I started to feel it was taking away from my other writing. Because of the book being written, I started blogging again. It was better for me; I’m sure it doesn’t have the same audience, but that’s not what I’m trying to get—and not as a diary, either, but as a way to say stuff. I feel I’m more mature as a writer; maybe I’ll just quote an idea, stuff I’d maybe never write a book about. And at the moment, I’m not involved in another project.” 

Known also for her advocacy of Barack Obama’s candidacy, Waldman recalled “When [husband] Michael [Chabon] and I started supporting Barack, we heard, ‘Oh you writers, what do you know?’ I traveled all over the country, was a full-time volunteer between the convention and the election. I raised over $11 million. My favorite fundraiser was ‘Books for Barack,’ book baskets and grab-bags that writer friends put together, signed first editions sometimes, or volumes of poetry beloved by the writer ... How much of the surface of our house was covered with boxes and bubblewrap! There were great parties, never fundraisers, but for canvassing. The first ones I went to were deadly! Then Alice Waters organized local chefs; somebody shot a wild boar in Point Reyes, roasted it on a spit ... ‘No Rubber Chickens!’ was our motto. We had literary events, readings with Michael Pollan, Dave Eggers, my husband, Annie LaMott, Isabel Allende—my favorite was at Robert Mailer Anderson’s: ‘Light Appetizers, Heavy Cocktails.’” 

At the inauguration, Waldman and Alice Waters “put together a dinner, ‘Art Food Hope,’ the message being a sustainable culture, healthy food. I was so angry at the excess, the parties people were throwing at $10,000 a head. So we said, ‘Let’s do a soup kitchen in D. C. and feed not just the wealthy, but the hungry.’ We started with the idea for one dinner and ended up with 12 different locations, 12 internationally known chefs.” 

Waldman reflected on “the depth of poverty” in Washington, D.C.—“one of the most racially polarized cities in the United States”—yet the mood at the inauguration which “transcended” that, “once we left the all-white enclave, and you realize what it is.” 

On Obama: “I think Barack is doing a great job in a grim situation. I’m euphoric he released the torture memoranda—after Mark Danner had already publicized it—but intensely disappointed with the Justice Department’s position. The architects should be punished. It’s what was learned at Nuremburg, holding people responsible who should’ve known better.” 

Reflecting on the KPFA benefit, she said, “Six months ago, the progressive position was only really heard on KPFA; now it’s in the mainstream press. I guess I could say I’m to the right of KPFA, and Barack is to the right of me. In any other universe, I’m a crazed liberal, Newt’s socialist menace. Here, I’m in the mainstream. My 7-year-old stepdaughter’s an Eleanor Roosevelt fan; that’s what you get, raising children in Berkeley.” 

Waldman spoke of the political legacy from her own parents. “My mom was from Brooklyn, my dad Canadian; both were suspicious of mainstream U.S. culture.” Born in Jerusalem, she reflected, “In a very real way, America is the Promised Land for Jews. Germany once was, too ... I was a committed Zionist once; I lasted about six months.” 

Author of two novels—Love and Other Impossible Pursuits (Random House) and Daughter’s Keeper (Soucebooks Landmark)—as well as seven Mommy-Track Mysteries (Nursery Crimes being one title) from Prime Crime—Waldman talked about the film of Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, now in the can, directed by Don Roos, with Natalie Portman, Lisa Kudrow and Scott Cohen starring: “I didn’t write the script; my role was as a cheerleader. Everybody has crappy things to say about Hollywood; for me it was tremendous, being part of it getting made. They’re artists in a different medium.” 

And on yet another, earlier career, as a federal public defender “for a brief period; since then, I’ve written for 12 years. But it’s informed for the longest time all my writing, both fiction and nonfiction: that sense of the powerless individual in the face of the might of government. We have to struggle together for that reason.” 



The Daily Planet will run an excerpt from Bad Mother in next week’s edition.