Want to dive deeper than greeting-card sentiments this Father’s Day? Acclaimed author and University of Evansville professor Margaret McMullan has the gift for you. In the anthology Every Father’s Daughter, which publishes this month, McMullan compiles essays from two dozen female writers remembering their fathers. Included are American Book Award winner Maxine Hong Kingston, Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley, and Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro. McMullan, author of six novels herself, sat down with us to discuss the anthology’s origins.
Your foreword for Every Father’s Daughter was very moving, as you described your own father’s death in 2012 and how editing this anthology was a way to grieve. What about creating this book brought you the most comfort?
The very act of reaching out to like-minded women writers. I was, in fact, asking for their help, but that’s not exactly what I asked for. I asked to read their work. I craved quality writing about fathers from women. Then I began reading their work as it came in, and that became addictive. Then came the business of editing and putting together an anthology—focused and engaging work that gave me purpose. I had a goal: a book that paid tribute to my father, but also to the fathers of these wonderful women, and to all fathers. I didn’t know then what I know now: I wanted to better understand the relationship I had with my dad.
Why do you think there are so few anthologies about fathers and daughters?
I looked for a collection like this, but I only found older anthologies with unsatisfying accounts. And I wanted nonfiction. That was so clear to me. I wasn’t looking for sweetsie essays, but I wasn’t looking for angry essays, either. I wanted a more whole picture of fathers and daughters, and I was astonished this book didn’t exist. Maybe editors think anthologies belong only in a classroom, and maybe that’s where most of us discover collections. I love to read anthologies, especially when I’m in between writing books. Anthologies feel leisurely, and you can take your time with each piece. They remind me of those big variety packs of individual cereal boxes my mother used to buy. There’s something for everybody.
The book is filled with a range of writers and essays under the categories of “Absences,” “Lost and Found,” and “Presences.” Did the sections suggest themselves somehow, or were they predetermined?
I give full credit to my publisher, Bruce McPherson, for the categories. The original order suggested these categories, but he saw it clearly. And from the start, this collection was bookended with Jane Smiley and Alice Munro. That was self-evident to both of us.
Given that excellent range of work, I won’t ask you to pick a favorite piece. But what about a line or two that really resonates?
I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to come up with one only one line from these essays! But at the beginning, this group of women writers felt like a women’s baseball team. Then just the other day, one contributing writer said, “This feels like a movement.”
What most surprised you about working on this book?
The generosity of spirit from these women authors astounded me and kept me focused. I thought, if Jane Smiley, Susan Neville, Ann Hood, Jill McCorkle, Lee Smith, and so many other wonderful writers can get a phone call or an email out of the clear blue, asking for an essay, and then turn it around and send it within a week, I can damn well get this book published. And I learned from them. I contacted these women because I admire their work. Now all of them are my heroes. They helped me to quit feeling sorry for myself for my own loss. These women write. They are workhorses. In many ways, working with them taught me that we writers are very much in this together. We all have the same goal of investing our lives with meaning.
Indy Reads Books will host an event for Every Father’s Daughter on May 23. Margaret McMullan, Susan Neville, Jessica Woodruff, and Barbara Shoup will participate.