Author Podcast: Kit Bakke
Seattle author, Kit Bakke has had an interesting life. In the '60s she was a member of the Underground Weatherman, an activist group who protested the Vietnam war. This interested the FBI enough to compile a 100 page file on her. Today this mother of two with two post graduate degrees and a book publication speaks to us about another reformer, the one featured in her first novel, Miss Alcott's E-mail: Yours for Reforms of All Kinds(David Godine Books 2006) Intrigued? Click on the link to our podcast in this article and listen along.
February 27, 2007 —
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PART I: Parallels between Louisa May Alcott and Kit Bakke
- PART II: The influence of big thinkers; The abolition movement
- Part III: Kit's writing interests, ambitions and technique
BB: This is Paula Shackleton podcasting for www.bookbuffet.com a literary website dedicated to book groups with news, reviews and interviews – and a set of tools for book groups to organize, communicate and meet authors and purchase books. Log on and register your book group today, and authors—contact us for an interview.
Today we are speaking with Seattle author Kit Bakke. Kit, whose first novel Miss Alcott's Email, is a combination of biography, review and memoir. In this delightful novel Kit explores the answers to life’s great questions through a miraculous conversation she evokes with fascinating author Louisa May Alcott who lived in the 1800’s and herself grappled with the issues of her day – wherein the two women share all kinds of personal, social and political experiences – and we, the reader get to vicariously enjoy thru these “e-mails”.
Kit can be reached thru her website kitbakke.com
PART I: Parallels between the lives of Louisa May Alcott and the author
BB: Kit thank you for joining us at BookBuffet. It is a pleasure to speak with you, I really enjoyed your book, Miss Alcott’s Email.
KB: Thank you!
BB: I wanted to talk first about the parallels between your life and Louisa May Alcott’s.
KB: Well what caught me in the beginning was just that we were both grappling with the same questions of how to have a satisfying personal life, but also, never forget that there is a bigger world out there. It is not only our responsibility but it's entertaining and useful to involve ourselves in the social and political issues that are going on around us.
BB: I was examining some of the similarities between you both: you both came from good sound homes with liberal parents, you are both passionate and intelligent women who value education & free thought, you both lived in communes, you both fought for causes (hers was abolition – yours was the Vietnam War), you both were nurses, you both gained financial freedom and took responsibility for your families.
KB: As well, of course on Louisa’s part, there was women’s suffrage. After the Civil War she became involved in the women’s suffrage movement, as did many women who had worked hard in the abolition movement, and then the Civil War came and went and guess what? Women didn’t get the vote after all. So they took maybe five minutes off, and then immediately turned to the women’s suffrage movement.
BB: Your book takes an interesting format, and I want to describe it to our listeners who may not have yet read Miss Alcott's Email. You begin communicating with Louisa through email—the wonders of email, and interspersed are essays in which you describe various aspects of her life and times. How effective did you find that literary device?
KB: It was really fun. When I was in the swing of it, so to speak, I really felt as though Louisa and I were communicating just like you would over a cup of coffee. Maybe it’s somebody you haven’t talked to for twenty years, somebody you went to college with, and you are able to just pick up where you left off. I think we’ve all experienced that. It’s a wonderful feeling, and that’s what it was like with the rhythm and the back-and-forth. Louisa and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye. But there were so many things that we both cared about.
One of the other parallels of course is nursing: both of us in difficult situations, she in an army hospital where she was caring for injured soldiers from the Civil War, and me in a pediatric oncology environment for a number of years.
BB: When you were preparing to write the book, you obviously did a lot of reading. You read all of her works, and then you read the contemporary writers as well...
KB: I actually began by reading her letters and her journals. They have been edited and published in an academic environment, and they are quite wonderful – two big volumes, one of her journals and one of her letters. They are certainly available to everybody, and that really gave me a sense of Louisa’s own voice.
BB: So that is how you got the uncanny change of voice between your own writing and hers in the emails.
KB: Louisa was born in 1832 and she died in 1888 so her lifespan covered the very chaotic and difficult life span of the mid-century in the US. But in her day, educated people all kept diaries and journals, so I was able to read snippets of Louisa’s mother and Louisa’s sister and Louisa’s father who went on and on, and her neighbors. It was common practice not only to keep a journal; they also shared their journals as a way to get to know each other.
BB: Now her father, Bronson Alcott, was quite a piece of work. I am very interested to ask you that aside from the fact that Louisa was surrounded by all these great thinkers and minds of the period, how her father’s inadequacies effected her. It’s almost as though the inadequacies of our parents effect us as greatly as the positive influences. Can you speak a little bit about Louisa’s relationship with her father? What was he like?
KB: Yes, Bronson Alcott was a piece of work. He was enormously eccentric. He never earned a living to speak of, which made the Alcott’s – the fours sisters and their mother -- just like in Little Women, basically Louisa grew up in a poverty stricken, extreme household. They ate only two meals a day. They were strictly vegetarian, not only because they couldn’t afford meat, but also because Bronson didn’t believe in disturbing life forms in any way.
BB: Right, you mention that he didn’t even wear cotton. He wore linen because he didn’t want to support the slave trade.
KB: Right. He wouldn’t wear wool because that was exploiting the sheep. So yes, he was a very sort of original and eccentric thinker who didn’t earn a living and didn’t feel that having a job, as an adult with children, was something he ever had to do.
In many ways he didn’t really like Louisa. Louisa was the most brash and rebellious of the sisters. Bronson was a very calm person, and he did not like things disturbed. Louisa was noisy and disturbing. Louisa knew that he was sort of in this constant battle with him.
Interestingly they both shared the same birthday. I think that really spooked Louisa. In the book I refer to the birthday letters; he would write Louisa on their birthdays…
BB: Totally fixated on himself!
KB: He was fascinated with himself.
BB: He was a narcissist.
KB: Now if you look at Louisa’s books, you will see that she never has a father [figure] in those stories. She said, "I don’t really know what a real father is like, so I can’t write it, and I certainly can’t write about my own father because no body would believe it."
PART II: Influences of big thinkers; the abolition movement
BB: Now aside from that male influence, Louisa was neighbors with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, and you indicate in the book that she might have had an infatuation with them that wasn’t returned. Could you discuss how you think their relationships went? I know that Emerson funded the publishing of her first book.
KB: And of course Nathaniel Hawthorne was her immediate next-door neighbor. (next transcript pending)
Part III: Kit's writing interests, ambitions and technique
More information on Louisa May Alcott on Kit's website
The Suffragett Movement: wikipedia
The Underground Weatherman as per the FBI website
The Civil War website
Whistler Reads event at the last (2006) Cornucopia Festival with photos of Kit Bakke at the event.
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