When Susan Jane Gilman vacuums, she wears a tiara and blasts the Sex Pistols. Gilman, a writer who combines the politics of Gloria Steinem with the sass of Sex and the City, has recently entered the feminist canon with her first book, Kiss My Tiara: How to Rule the World as a SmartMouth Goddess.
Gilman, a former New Yorker who now lives in D.C. (and who is also a former contributor to the Washington City Paper), describes her book as “Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot meets The Rules.” But, unlike the latter, her book is no how-to-land-a-husband tome. In chapters such as “Wisdom From Dickville,” Gilman instructs women to redirect PMS rage toward Congress, to harass their harassers, and to order dessert unreservedly. In “Fish Who Need Bicycles,” she dispenses Dr. Laura-style dating advice: “‘Bad boys’ may be sexy during our rebellious years in high school, but we should outgrow them as quickly as a Ricky Martin lunch box.” To Gilman’s great dismay, her book sits on bookstores’ self-help shelvesnot unlike The Rules. “Self-helphow uncool is that?” she asks.
Gilman says her intention was to write an entertaining book that women could read for inspiration in a range of circumstancesfor comfort after crappy dates, for motivation before life-altering decisions. But Kiss My Tiara has reached a wider audience than she expected. “Men are loving this book,” she says. “I don’t know if it’s because it…talks about sex or just because they like a good laugh.”
Gilman has been writing professionally for more than half her life. At Manhattan’s Stuyvesant High School, Gilman learned creative writing from her English teacher, Frank McCourt, who would later write the Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir Angela’s Ashes. He encouraged her to send one of her pieces to the Village Voice, which it published when she was only 16. Though Gilman has won several literary awards for her novels, short stories, nonfiction, and poetry, she put fiction on hold to write Kiss My Tiara. “A short story can transport you to another place,” she says. “I wanted a book that would really help women deal with the here and now.
“Some people write books because they’ve found the answers,” she continues. “I wrote this book because I struggle with these issues all the time. I’ve low-balled myself on salaries. I’ve slept with inappropriate men for stupid reasons and then bragged about it. It doesn’t come out of sanctimony so much as a kind of bemused ineptitude.” Margaret Foster
Gilman will read from Kiss My Tiara: How to Rule the World as a SmartMouth Goddess at 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24, at Politics & Prose. For more information, call (202) 364-1919.