Women writers have a few words for Gay Talese, who struggled recently at a narrative writing conference in Boston with a question about which female writers have inspired him.
Susan Orlean, author of "The Orchid Thief," and others weighed in after the iconic journalist came under fire for his comments Saturday, prompting reflection on why women writers don't get the recognition they deserve.
"It doesn't surprise me given his age the women writers of his era weren't being given their due," Orlean said. "That's more a sad comment on the way the world hasn't appreciated that generation of women's contributions to journalism than it is a statement that he's a monster."
Talese, 84, struggled to respond when asked at the Power of Narrative Writing Conference which female writers had inspired him, mentioning Mary McCarthy before saying he couldn't think of anybody. He said after that he believes he misunderstood the question.
Author Roxane Gay said Talese's age is no excuse and that he should know better, but he chooses not to.
"That he can't name a woman writer he respects, well, that says all we need to know about him or at least the persona he is interested in presenting to the public," Gay, who's an associate professor of English at Purdue University, wrote in an email.
Even actress and writer Tina Fey zinged Talese, saying in a separate email interview Tuesday with The Associated Press that nothing by Talese has moved her.
Author Katie Roiphe, however, said Talese is "of his era," and that it's "absurd to be policing people's inspirational influences."
"There's nothing good coming from it, except a weird, public shaming of this prominent man," said Roiphe, who directs the cultural reporting and criticism program at New York University.
Talese is best known for his landmark profiles "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold" and "The Silent Season of a Hero," about Joe DiMaggio, both of which appeared in Esquire in 1966. Gay is teaching the Sinatra profile in her nonfiction class this semester.
Talese said he believes he misunderstood the question, and that he couldn't think of any female writers whose work he was familiar with in his youth. Talese said there were female writers he admired, including Roiphe and Orlean.
Orlean said, "What's meaningful here is to make sure we keep reminding everyone, but particularly young women, that this is a profession that's infinitely available to all of us. It's not a man's profession, and shouldn't be, and really hasn't been for a long time."