From the Writers & Company Archives: Paula Fox

This summer, as part of Writers & Company's 20th anniversary celebration, the weekly podcast will feature some of the best shows from the archives. We hope you'll enjoy this opportunity to hear these programs that haven't been available as a podcast before.

Every Monday in July and August, CBC Books will bring you the Writers & Company podcast, an encore presentation of those great full-length conversations.

This week's Writers & Company's podcast features the American novelist and children's book author Paula Fox talking about her own extraordinary childhood in her memoir, Borrowed Finery. Eleanor's interview with Fox originally aired on January 20, 2002.

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Paula Fox was a prolific novelist in the 1970s, but her reputation for fiction was eclipsed by her work in children's literature for several years. It wasn't until Jonathan Franzen, author of the critically acclaimed and bestselling novels The Corrections and Freedom, stumbled across Fox's 1970 novel, Desperate Characters, and was dismayed to learn it was out of print, that interest in her novels was revived. Since then, all of Fox's books for adults have been reissued and are still available today.

Fox entered another literary realm back in 2002, when she published her stunning memoir, Borrowed Finery. This accomplished author revealed a past filled with neglect and cruelty. Her parents abandoned her and only occasionally returned to her life, bringing with them their erratic behaviour and alcoholism. An extraordinary, elliptical, haunting account of her childhood, it was named one of the best books of 2002 by the New York Times.

In one of Fox's novels, a character says "I was born and thrown away." Fox believes the same of her own life. But the woman who was once considered trash by her parents persevered and became a literary treasure.

Borrowed FineryBorrowed Finery
by Paula Fox

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"Born in the 1920s to nomadic, bohemian parents, Paula Fox is left at birth in a Manhattan orphanage, then cared for by a poor yet cultivated minister in upstate New York. Her parents, however, soon resurface. Her handsome father is a hard-drinking screenwriter who is, for young Paula, "part ally, part betrayer." Her mother is given to icy bursts of temper that punctuate a deep indifference. Never sharing more than a few moments with his daughter, Fox's father allows her to be shuttled from New York City, where she lives with her passive Spanish grandmother, to Cuba, where she roams freely on a relative's sugarcane plantation, to California, where she finds herself cast upon Hollywood's seedy margins. The thread binding these wanderings is the "borrowed finery" of the title of this astonishing memoir of one writer's unusual beginnings, which was instantly recognized as a modern classic."

Read more at Picador.

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