Interview with Emily Bingham, author of Irrepressible

13 Jul 2015

Tell us a little bit about your new release, Irrepressible.

My great aunt Henrietta Bingham was almost never mentioned while I was growing up in the 1970s and 80s, but when I heard that she’d spent time in London among the Bloomsbury crowd (the coterie of intellectuals and artists that formed around Virginia Woolf and her sister the painter Vanessa Bell) I took notice. And when my grandmother said in an aside during an oral history I did with her in the 1990s that she was incredibly sophisticated and alluring, but “an invert, you know,” I was intrigued. Born in time to catch the Jazz Age wave, she danced the Charleston and Black Bottom and deployed her legendary sexual and social magnetism to cover up the demons that plagued her, collecting besotted lovers of both sexes from Bloomsbury artists to tennis champions, royalty, and theater stars along the way. Tallulah Bankhead once confronted her, grabbing the pearls around Henrietta’s neck: “You promised these to me!”

If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would you choose and why?

Well, I’m a little stuck in the 20th century right now. I’d like a dinner party that included Henrietta Bingham, Noel Coward, Sigmund Freud, and … Lorrie Moore. Coward was friends with Henrietta and of course possessed of an unparalleled wit. Freud because I just would like to feel his aura and his mind at work. Lorrie Moore because of her exquisite sensitivity to human feeling.

What’s the last book you read?

Lily King, Euphoria.

What are you currently craving?

Currently craving time with my kids and getting back to cooking.

What fictional literary world would you most like to visit?

Wonderland–as in Alice.

If you had to pick one place to vacation for the rest of your life, where would you choose?

Umbria, Italy.

What’s on your writing desk?

A “Nostalgia” essay for Vogue and a song biography of Stephen Foster’s “My Old Kentucky Home.” How did the wrenching lament of a slave being sold down river become a celebration of hoop skirts and “Southern Heritage” with capital S and H.

What’s your favorite quote from Irrepressible?

Quote from me: “Pharmaceuticals have their own cold poetry.”

Quote from Henrietta’s lover, John Houseman (Academy Award-winning actor) that just the memory of riding in a car with her, a silver flask full of bourbon on the seat between them, seeing her strong and beautiful hands on the wheel, looking over into her violet eyes, would produce “orgasms of uncontrollable weeping.”

Do you have a favorite local bookstore we can give a shoutout to?

Carmichael’s in Louisville!

Do you have a motto, quote or philosophy you live by?

“Curiouser and curiouser”–Lewis Carroll and simply “Dig deep.”

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Emily Bingham is the author of the new book Irrepressible.

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Irrepressible: The Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham

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Taylor

Taylor loves books with a heavy dose of absurdity, hilarity, and beautiful prose. She is a marketer, adventurer, nature-lover, Hufflepuff, wannabe world traveler, and advocate of laughter.