Message from the Artist: Rachel Kushner

This will be my second public event with Piper Kerman, tag teaming, or whatever it is we will do. The first was this past October, in Cleveland. I had heard about Piper from friends of mine who had been on panels with her and everyone said the same thing: she’s amazing, and earnest, and cool. Respectful and real. She turned out to be all those things, and also, she laughed at my jokes. Even though writing memoirs and writing fiction are so different, we had an easy dialogue, and similar ideas about justice, about the future. Listening to her speak, in a classroom where we appeared together, and then in front of a large audience, I learned some basic things about how to persuade others gently, how to use tact to make a point. At least I observed Piper demonstrate these, expertly.

The next morning, we were on the same dawn-hour flight. Piper was downstairs at our hotel first, completely put together, organized, not spilling coffee and rubbing her eyes, as I was. On the plane, she was across the aisle and one row behind me. We chatted and then I let Piper work – she was preparing a speech to deliver to women judges in Los Angeles, my city and a bastion of punitive judicial conservatism. I promptly fell asleep for the entire four of five hour flight. I was glad to be asleep because I was stuck next to a grown man in shorts (I’m against criminalization generally but for the banning of shorts worn by grown men on airplanes). This grown man in shorts was watching Fox news as the plane prepared for takeoff. He was on his second bloody mary when he started chuckling loudly about the death of congressman Elijah Cummings. He chuckled hatefully with his whole body. I put on headphones and willed myself asleep.

When I woke up, just before we landed, I looked back. Piper was still diligently working. When we were off the plane, I said, “I think the guy next to me probably watched Fox news the whole time I was asleep.” “He did,” she said. “But he also had an NRA magazine he was flipping through.” Meanwhile, Piper had worked on her talk about judicial reform without breaks for the entire flight. She went off to deliver it. I went home, and thought, “What a woman.”

I’m glad I’ll get to see her again soon, at Royce Hall.

—Rachel Kushner