We chatted with Jessica Hopper, who presents her new book, The First Collection Of Criticism By A Living Female Rock Critic, at an Author Talk at 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 10 in the Chicago Authors Room on the 7th floor of the Harold Washington Library Center.
Q: You've been writing about music since you were a teenager. At what point did you realize that rock criticism was lacking in female/feminist voices?
A: When I was a teenager, I was presented with a lot of examples of feminist rock criticism, so I didn't really know of a lack. I read Rock She Wrote at 16, so I saw a historic lineage right there—hundreds of pages worth. There was a feminist critic at the local weekly when I was growing up so I perhaps mistakenly thought there were more than there were just because I knew the names of dozens of them. What I understood more is that their work was maligned, that women were taken less seriously in their artistic and critical pursuits—that you had to be doubly good to even have hopes of your work counting to some people. But I was supported from the get-go in my writing, so I was fortunate in that way.
Q: Your latest book, The First Collection Of Criticism By A Living Female Rock Critic, came out in May of this year. Can you discuss its provocative title?
A: I was told for years I could not put out this book and that it would be a failure for a million reasons, but they all equaled out to the argument that there were no precedents for it—though there are about a dozen-plus collections of rock criticism by my male peers or antecedents—some of them bestsellers. And so what I was really being told was that I needed a gendered precedent. And so that’s what the title is about. I don't want anyone coming up now, any of the women who should by all means have books and collections to be told there is no precedent, so sorry your book cannot exist.
Q: How has living, working and seeing music in Chicago shaped your work?
A. It's absolutely facilitated it—being part of such a thriving and interesting community, a smaller pond than New York—one where you can find fairly affordable housing when you are young and getting your footing as an artist, or in my case, a freelance writer—that is what allowed me to do the work I have done.