to feel the other force—the male power—as oppressive. And I began to
feel ineluctably American.
CULLITY: It may have been a man’s world in the publishing industry in
both the United States and England during those years, but you learned
well how to navigate that world.
BURROWAY: I had taken it for granted through the ’50s that publishing
was a man’s world. I consciously sent out my early poetry under the name
“Jan Burroway,” aware that if no one could tell my gender, it proved I was
a writer. In New York, with agents and publishers, I was conscious of
being “charming,” which was perfectly usual then; girls whose parents
could afford it went as a matter of course to “charm school,” and we all
dreamed of being Miss America. So it was a paradox, and perhaps one
that has made me see pretty much everything through the lens of paradox, that I was fiercely determined to be a writer and also obsessively
eager to be “nice”—to women as well as men in power. And this attitude
had continued in England through the publication of two novels and a
children’s book, a stint as reviewer for the New Statesman magazine, and
the production of two plays in both England and Belgium, one of them
televised, a third under contract.
CULLITY: What was reentry to the US like for you as writer?
BURROWAY: I was thirty-five by 1971, when I left my husband and England, yet I still felt I was being “discovered,” as I had been by Charles
Monteith and Curtis Canfield, by middle-aged men who wanted credit.
And the “credit” did, yes, sometimes take the form of unwanted suggestion or touch. I understand very well the confusion of young women
whose careers are dependent on abusive men. I was not much harmed
and always found myself able to say no, but I knew that it sometimes
cost me dearly. One famous critic was very persistent in both London
and Tallahassee, where I took a position as assistant professor and where
he came to do a visiting professor series of classes. He went so far as to
nominate me for one of the MacArthur genius grants (and to tell me so,
against the rules) and continually assured me that he could further the
careers of girls that were nice to him. I went to dinner and the theater
with him—until the afternoon I realized that all our conversations took
the same form, in which I gradually began to pretend I was stupider or