The latest collection of short stories from Magan Mayhew Bergman features characters drawn from history–women who, as the title suggests, were almost famous. Bergman celebrated the launch of the collection Almost Famous Women on a frigid night at BookCourt in Brooklyn.
She jokes that her husband convinced her to have an extra shot of bourbon before the reading to stay warm. Her accent betrays her southern origins–but she does not hide her disdain for the cold. The bitterness of a New York City January seems to take her by surprise.
“Nobody tweet that she’s drunk,” Bergman says, jokingly as she flips through the book looking for a story to read.
The stories are drawn the lives of real women who are marginalized by history. She includes lesbians and wives and women who must defy their historical roles. She says she is getting two emails a day from people offering up women like those featured in her book with other oversized stories.
Part of the project included winnowing away a list of slightly famous women. Some were too famous for the book and in other cases she simply had too many. She hints at having more than enough nearly famous women for more books.
“I”m in love with Rachel Carson,” Bergman says of the famed American marine biologist and conservationist.
This story collection wasn’t one Bergman expected to write. “I didn’t want to write this book at first,” she said. But she happened to be teaching a class at Bennington and she and the students were discussing the idea of the “abstract notion of truth.”
Playing with history felt appealing when she considered those terms. She also considered that many of the stories about women from the early twentieth century involved young women drinking and dancing and galavanting. She felt that wasn’t necessarily an authentic experience.
So many women were taking risks–lesbians, for instance–and pushing the boundaries of what was allowed of women.
“I would try to talk about these women at parties and people would run away,” she says.
She realized that she could approach the stories from two angles. She had the ability to see both the academic side of the narratives as well as the empathetic side. She explains that her strength is in empathy, even of minor characters she might read about.
Writing for Bergman is a combination of a few things: a little bit academic, a little bit imagination and a little bit of the sixth sense.