The Mancunion

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Review: Carrie Brownstein’s discussion of ‘Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl’

Laura Walsh reviews Carrie Brownstein’s discussion about her memoir at Manchester Literature Festival 2015

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Never have I ever attended a talk by an author at a literature festival by myself. So, it was with slight trepidation that I embarked upon my first experience of this precise scenario. On the 12th of November, I attended a talk by Carrie Brownstein on her new memoir, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, as part of the Manchester Literature Festival 2015. For those who perhaps don’t know, Carrie Brownstein is one-third of the seminal post-riot grrl punk band, Sleater-Kinney. With her unique guitar-playing and strident, highly politicised lyrics, she arduously carved out a path for future female musicians to follow. Sleater-Kinney’s sudden decision to go on a ‘indefinite hiatus’ in 2005 left a legion of loyal fans bewildered and heartbroken. Fortunately, after ten years apart, they reformed and earlier this year released their newest album, No Cities to Love.

This month, Carrie Brownstein released a memoir, which chronicles her life as a member of Sleater-Kinney—from its humble beginnings to its inevitable demise. As this effusive preamble demonstrates, I am a big fan. And needless to say, I was extremely excited, despite some initial awkwardness due to me being by myself (fortunately, this awkwardness was assuaged through implementation of the tried-and-tested method for situations such as these—taking out my phone and pretending to text someone).
As I took my seat in the third row, I marvelled at how close I was to the stage. “I could definitely reach out and touch her from here” was the (creepy) thought that was running through my head. When she walked onto the stage, I spent the first two minutes trying to rearrange my face so that it didn’t reflect the childlike glee bubbling inside me. Unfortunately, I don’t think I succeeded.

The format of the talk was that of a conversation, which was led by Manchester Literature Festival’s Kate Feld. The conversation had covered a variety of topics—from how Carrie had approached the writing process (with a lot of procrastination apparently), to the books that she had enjoyed quite recently (Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara). A particular highlight was when Carrie had described Sleater-Kinney’s music as “not easy listening.” She recounted a time when she was at the hairdresser’s and ‘Dig Me Out’ (one of Sleater-Kinney’s more energetic songs, shall we say) started to play on the radio—she immediately exclaimed, “what’s that racket?!” before realising it was, in fact, her own band that was the cause of the din.

Admittedly, I am probably biased in my assessment, but I found Carrie to be very eloquent and entertaining throughout the talk. She is obviously very well read (as demonstrated by her casually dropping in such words as ‘monolithic’ and ‘highfalutin’ throughout the conversation), and it was interesting to hear her discuss her favourite writers, too. At one point, she described the time when she had met short story writer Lorrie Moore in an elevator and proceeded to bombard her with a multitude of questions and proclamations of adoration. It was comforting to hear a person whom I admired myself, describe their own participation in the culture of fandom.

Once the talk had concluded, the audience was welcomed to ask questions. “This is my chance!” I thought as the microphones made their way through the crowd. I mustered up the courage to raise my hand and, with a voice more unsteady than I would have liked, I asked Carrie about the musical influences behind Sleater-Kinney’s most recent album. Her reply referenced musicians as disparate as the topics discussed in the talk itself—from The B-52’s to Kanye West. When the last question had been answered, a final enthusiastic applause rattled throughout the venue. As I stood up to leave, I caught Carrie’s gaze—she smiled and nodded at me politely. Buoyed by this small interaction, I glided out of the theatre. My first solo venture into the world of literature festivals was an unequivocal success.