Friday Speak Out!: HENLIT: Whether They Realize It or Not, Millions of Boomers Are Waiting For It

Friday, July 25, 2014
by Jo Barney

When did I stop writing about the angst of torrid love, motherhood, wandering husbands, and terrible bosses? About the time, probably, that I got bored with the angst and became a hen.

The transition was subtle, in me and in my writing. Not that I didn’t still pay attention to love, children, work, but the women I began writing about had concerns and problems that reflected my growing uneasiness in a world that worshipped youth, in literature as well as in life.

So, one of my characters decided that romantic love was not a real entity, but something conjured a few centuries ago to complicate the reasons for marriage. She opted for good conversation over a 2012 bottle of white wine. Another character rejoiced when her children grew up and she discovered a world beyond report cards and teenage sex, including a little of her own.

One of my favorite women told her prick of a principal to go f**k himself and walked out of a career built on files of old lesson plans. Her next stop was a tent in Rwanda and she didn’t care what might come after that.

In contrast, if a chick hates her boss, she’ll probably piss, screech, toss her head, flap wildly, and stomp out of the roost. A hen will just waddle away, exit the yard through a hole in the fence, leaving behind only a ruthless peck or two of revenge.

At least, that’s what my characters do because after a little foundering, my old hens often realize that they can take control of the rest of their days, uncertain in number as they might be. Unlike young chicks who have little awareness that an end may be right around the next pile of corn, they know there might not be another pile of corn. Appreciate the one in front of you, the life you are living right now, they tell each other, clucking and nodding.

Like giving time and thought to the path they’ve been following for years. Older women set on nests full of memories, turn over the eggs, ponder, exalt about small, clicking cracks, or, when a memory turns out to be a dud, they toss it out. And they sometimes cluster near the water bowl, or most likely glasses of white wine, in twos or threes, cackling softly about the uncharted territory that lies ahead.

I am guessing that the millions of baby-boomer women who are way past being chicks have settled into their hen lives and are looking for books about people like themselves--intelligent, flawed, problemmed, seeking, mature individuals who can make their ways through the hole in the fence when necessary.

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Jo Barney writes about older women, something she knows a lot about nowadays. While it wasn't always that way, her latest three novels star: an older woman who removes graffiti in her neighborhood (Graffiti Grandma), four women in their 60's reliving their pasts and coming to grip with the reality of the present (Uprush) , and a seventy-year-old who wakes up from an unloving marriage and to a dead husband ( Not There Yet, 2015). Her writing emerges on the old adage, "Write what you know about," expanded to "Write what you don't know about and lie awake at night thinking about." She would add, "and can laugh with friends about."


Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!



Sioux Roslawski said...

Jo--First off, congratulations on the two "babies" you have given birth to, and for the one that's coming out in 2015.

Secondly, great post. I think life is much sweeter when we're hens and no longer chicks. We know what's important and what's not. We don't give a flying fig about other's opinions (when those other people are not close to us or if they're just dense).

Thanks. Yes, there are lots of women ready for books like this and characters like this. Good luck with your books.

BECKY said...

Hi Jo ~ I loved your post! So true, humorous, and thought-provoking. I love your sense of humor! For a split second when I read "HENLIT"...I thought, "Huh?" (Yes, I can be quite dense at times!) But then immediately "got it." When we outgrow Chick Lit, we emerge into Hen Lit. Best of luck with all your books...those out now and those yet to arrive.

Margo Dill said...

I love the term HEN lit-- there's your brand! And although I'm still a chick, well a mature chick, your characters sound amazing!

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, yes! At 58, I'm definitely one of the hens and enjoy reading about characters like me. Oh, and I am a "character!" Great post!

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