Q/A: Julie Powell

Julie Powell, author of Julie and Julia and Cleaving.

Julie Powell, author of Julie and Julia and Cleaving.

“The road to hell is paved with leeks and potatoes.”

—Julie Powell


From sort-of-actress and desk-job employee to author and amateur cook, Julie Powell set a pathway for 21st century bloggers and launched a writing career. From blog, to memoir, to movie—Powell’s ambitious Julie and Julia project, cooking Julia Child’s 524 recipes over 365 days, warranted national attention and her second memoir Cleaving, A Story of Marriage, Meat and Obsession  (2009) ignited mixed opinions.

Unlike some negative criticism from her book Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen (largely from those who didn’t understand that Powell was a writer rather than a professional cook), Powell’s 2009 novel Cleaving was met with some “eyerolls and raised eyebrows,” Jennie Yabroof from Newsweek writes. Allison McCarthy from GlobalComment.com, however, defends the author’s subject of marriage, sex and the metaphors of meat, writing that “much of the criticism Power has received…relies on all-too-familiar sexist tropes of female authors as mentally unstable and unworthy of serious consideration. Apparently, women aren’t supposed to publicly express the same adulterous desires that prolific male writer often describe, at least not without being savaged by critics.”

Despite the conflicting responses to her memoirs, Powell continues in her “engaging and humorous” voice, tackling next the art of fiction writing with her husband.

Powell has appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” CBS’s “The Early Show,” “The Martha Stewart Show” and “Food Network’s Iron Chef America.” Her writing has been published in Bon Appétit, Food and WineHarper’s BazaarThe New York Times, and the Washington Post.

In an interview with the Jackalope, Powell describes her writing pleasures, her current projects and her upcoming visit to SFUAD Sept. 15-17 (Powell will read and sign books in O’Shaughnessy Performance Space at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 16).


Jackalope Magazine: What craft of writing do you most enjoy or do you find comes most naturally to you (i.e. dialogue, description, form, etc.)?

Julie Powell: I always thought that my strength was in carefully observed small moments, the magic in the quotidian. Or, rather, I wanted that to be my strength, because it’s what I most love in the writing of others. But lately I have been really enjoying writing dialogue—I don’t know that I’m terribly good at it, but I love trying to capture the idiosyncratic ways people say things and don’t say things to each other. And if fills up lots of space on the page!


JM: What are some projects you’re currently working on?

JP: I have several different projects, in various stages (but, all early.) I’m working on a sci-fi novel for young adults with my husband, Eric, a mess of a post-semi-apocalypse romance novel about body dysmorphia that has been rolling in my head for a decade and rather makes me want to stab myself in the eye, and television/web series about neurotics and their dogs. We’ll see what pans out.


JM: What would you say blogging offers that is different than other forms of non-fiction?

JP: Blogging, at least when I was doing it back in the dark ages, really unlocked something that had been holding me back as a young writer.  For a couple of reasons. First, there’s this way that blogging speaks to projects and obsessions that keeps you writing. A little bit, every day, not very honed, not very finished. Secondly, it’s a more cooperative form. Writing can be very isolated and isolating, but with a blog, you interact with your readers in real time. They give feedback, they debate, they tell when you’re off base and when you’re onto something. It makes writing much less lonely and for me it helped hone my voice as writer. But I’d never blog without a project, personally.


JM: What were the circumstances of your invitation to the Santa Fe University of Art and Design? And how do you know James Reich, a faculty member in the Creative Writing Department?

JP: James’ wife Hannah is my very oldest friend—we’ve known each other since kindergarten. Actually, James and Hannah appear, in slightly disguised form, in Julie & Julia! She’s Isabel in the book.


JM: What do you hope the students of the university will ‘absorb’ from your visit?

JP: Well, you know, I’m just excited to talk to the students and hear their concerns and interests and how they want to grow and move forward as writers. While I am far from having fully arrived to myself as a writer, I have been where student writers are, and I’ve learned things that maybe can help others out? I’m guessing I’ll be inspired at least as much as an inspiration.

The 2009 comedy-drama, Julie & Julia, based on Powell’s work and the life of Julia Child (starring Meryl Srteep and Amy Adams) will screen to the public this Monday, Sept. 15, 7 p.m. at The Screen. Julie Powell will answer additional questions after the screening.

SFUAD Creative Writing students are free. General admission: $10, Senior: $9, SFUAD Students: $3.