Radio Interview on NPR's "To The Best of Our Knowledge"
Writing War Fiction: Helen Benedict on SAND QUEEN
15 October 2011

Radio Interview on Bookwaves, KPFA-FM in Berkeley, CA
Helen Benedict in Conversation with Richard Wolinsky
13 October 2011

"Untold War Stories," by Katie Koch
from The Harvard Gazette
5 October 2011

TV Interview on CBS Los Angeles
Author Helen Benedict Discusses New Book: Sand Queen
29 September 2011

Blog Talk Radio Interview by Columbia Journalism
Professor Helen Benedict and SAND QUEEN
2 November 2011

Video Lecture: Helen Benedict on the Private Wars of Military Women
by Maverick Media
28 September 2011

Helen Benedict on the Private Wars of Military Women from Maverick Media on Vimeo.

Interview with Helen Benedict about SAND QUEEN
"A Conversation With Helen Benedict: Writing Fiction and Non-Fiction" by Len Hollie
The Huffington Post
28 September 2011

Interview with Helen Benedict about SAND QUEEN and THE LONELY SOLDIER
from Art & Document:The Journal of the Center for Documentary Arts at The Sage Colleges
15 August 2011

Radio interview about SAND QUEEN and THE LONELY SOLDIER
from Radio Without Borders
10 August 2011

Radio interview featuring excerpts from THE LONELY SOLDIER MONOLOGUES
from "To The Best of Our Knowledge" on Wisconsin Public Radio
6 September 2007

Video Lecture of HELEN BENEDICT as Keynote Speaker at THE SOLDIERS PROJECT
From the "Women & War Annual Conference," Los Angeles, CA
16 April 2011

Video Lecture of HELEN BENEDICT and KATHLEEN BARRY at John Jay College
"Feminists Challenge Masculinity of War," Cosponsored by World Can't Wait, CodePink, and On the Issues Magazine

Radio Interview about THE LONELY SOLDIER and SAND QUEEN
from South Dakota Public Broadcasting
22 March 2011

Video Interview about THE EDGE OF EDEN

The Edge of Eden from Meredith Melnick on Vimeo.

Radio Interview about THE EDGE OF EDEN
From BlogTalk Radio,
Presented by Columbia University's School of Journalism
3 November 2009

Author Interview about THE LONELY SOLDIER
What made you interested in the subject of female soldiers?

H.B.: It began with the Iraq War. I went to a meeting of Iraq war veterans and met two young women there. One told me nobody believes she was in the war, even though she was shot at every night for a year. And then she said, “There are only three things the guys let you be if you’re a female in the army: a bitch, a ho, or a dyke.” We began to talk, and I quickly saw that women are fighting a double war: against the so-called enemy and against discrimination and sexism from their own male comrades.

How did you find the forty or so soldiers you talked to?

H.B.: Through veterans organizations. Women soldiers are very eager to be heard and understood because they are so often ignored and dismissed, so often not taken seriously. Many approached me because they wanted to tell their stories. They wanted to be heard.

What are the main issues facing women soldiers today?

H.B.: Sexual harassment and assault. Lack of respect, which underlies that same assault. Discrimination. Lack of health and psychological services within the military and in the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Where does this lack of respect for women stem from?

H.B.: Some of it is from society at large, some of it from a military culture that is historically male and misogynist. But much of the discrimination against women also stems from the fact that they are not officially allowed in combat, and so are not seen as “real” soldiers or Marines or sailors. This is deeply unfair, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, where there are no old-fashioned front lines and where women are in combat all the time. The Defense Department allows women to be sent out with infantry battalion as “combat support.” In Iraq, that often means being in the exact same position as combat troops.

Should women be in combat?

H.B.: Women should be allowed to choose any job they wish in the military. Women are adults, and nobody should have the right to tell them what jobs they can or can’t do: they should have opportunities equal to men. Now, not all women will want to be combat soldiers, just as not all men choose the infantry. But it should be the woman’s choice, not the government’s or the military’s. Anything else is infantilizing and discriminatory.

If women are sexually persecuted so much in the military, should they even be soldiers?

H.B.: Women are sexually persecuted in civilian life, too, but we don’t tell them to not to exist! Sexual persecution is caused by certain men and the misogynistic culture of the military. That is what needs to be fixed.

Are women any good as soldiers?

H.B.: Yes! Women have been in armies since the beginning of time, especially in guerilla armies. In the U.S., female troops have been awarded many military honors and medals for valor and bravery.

What can be done to improve matters for female troops?

H.B.: Open combat positions to women. Aggressively pursue and prosecute all rapists and sexual predators in the military, starting both from the top down and the bottom up. Stop tolerating all discrimination and condescension towards military women. It’s a long list -- see the last chapter of my book!

Lastly, what advice would you give to young women contemplating enlisting today?

H.B.: Don’t go in blindly. Decide whether you believe in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and whether you would feel morally comfortable about fighting in these wars. Inform and prepare yourself to deal with sexism in all forms. Check out whether the benefits offered by the military are worth the sacrifices you will make. Know that recruiters lie. Know that you sign away virtually all your rights as a citizen when you enlist in the military. Weigh the pros and cons carefully: Yes, the military will offer you a career, pay, health and tuition benefits (eventually) and give you a path out of your family, home, town. But in return you will belong to a huge, cold, indifferent, inefficient bureaucracy for eight years or more, risking your health and your life.

Author Interview about THE OPPOSITE OF LOVE:
Where are you from and has that affected your writing?

H.B.: I was born in England, but because my parents were American anthropologists, I moved around a lot. I grew up I London and various islands near Africa. This has given me a life-long affinity with outsiders, and the poor and forgotten. This tends to come out in my books, including The Opposite of Love.

When and why did you begin writing?

H.B.: I began writing at eight years old, when I filled several school exercise books with my first “novel,” which I called “The Tiny Adventurer.” As I’m only 5 foot 2 inches, that kind of describes me. I’ve been writing ever since.

What books have most influenced your life?

H.B.: I read all the time as a child, but the books that made me most want to write were the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis, and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. As an adult, I have been particularly inspired by George Eliot, Leo Tolstoy, Emile Zola, Virginia Woolf and James Baldwin: all writers with heart and passion.

Who did you write the book for?

H.B.: I’ve written The Opposite of Love to appeal to teenagers and adults of both sexes. Every adult has been 17, and every teenager knows what it means to feel like an outsider. And all of us struggle with what it means to do good in the world.

What themes do you develop in the book?

H.B.: One theme I explore is how a person of mixed race or nationality can forge an identity in America, which is so racially divided in so many ways. Another is whether taking the law into your own hands to save someone can ever be justified. A third theme is how complicated and difficult it is to be a teenage parent.

What gave you the idea for the book?

H.B.: I got the idea for The Opposite of Love by writing a sequel to my first novel, A World Like This. The heroine of that novel, Brandy, is the mother of Madge, my new heroine. In my first novel, Brandy is 17. In The Opposite of Love, her daughter is 17. I like the idea of following generations in fiction because then the characters I create become as real to me (and I hope to the reader) as friends. It also gives the reader a sense of history. Emile Zola wrote over 20 novels about generations of the same family. I’d love to do that!

Why did you choose to write in the voice of an interracial girl when you are white?

H.B.: The reason I chose to write about a girl of a different race than myself is because I think we all learn a lot about the world by imagining what it's like to be someone else. I have always explored that in my writing. A World Like This entered the life of a teenage convict, and Bad Angel concerned a teenage mother from the Dominican Republic. The great pleasure of reading and writing is to be able to leave your own skin and your own world and enter somebody else’s. It is also what teaches us empathy instead of prejudice.

Without giving away the end of the book, I’ll say that Madge faces a tough decision. Did you struggle with which choice she should make?

H.B. I always write so that the choices my characters have to make are as difficult for me as they are for them.

Although your book Bad Angel crossed over to teen readers, this is your first book written specifically for a YA audience. How did writing for teens differ from writing for adults?

H.B. The main difference was keeping the book all in Madge’s voice. In Bad Angel, I alternated between the voices of two teenagers and one adult. But teenagers are sophisticated, and I respect them as readers just as much as I do adults.

How does your role as a journalist figure into your novel writing? Is the process of researching and writing an article different from the process of researching and writing a novel?

H.B. I consider myself a novelist who knows how to do research, rather than a journalist. Fiction was always my first love. But writing and researching fiction and nonfiction are wildly different. With fiction, you let your imagination roam free first, then fill in the research later so it doesn’t cramp the story. With nonfiction, you do the research first then cobble it together into a story. Writing fiction is like dreaming, writing nonfiction is like putting together a very complicated puzzle.

Brandy and Madge’s aunt, Liz, are British. How do you think that affects the book, if at all?

H.B. Everybody in the book is an outsider of a sort. But most people feel like outsiders sometimes, which is why I like to write about immigrants and oddballs. I feel it speaks to a certain solitude we all feel deep inside. As much as we like to connect to others, we are alone within our skins. This can be sad, and it can be wonderful, and the tension between those two things is the stuff of fiction.
An Author Interview about THE SAILOR'S WIFE

The Sailor's Wife, is set in Greece in 1975, just after the fall of the Colonels' seven-year dictatorship. Joyce, a naive young woman from a Miami suburb, meets and marries a Greek merchant marine named Nikos. He takes her back to his peasant parents on a remote island and leaves her there for more than two years, rarely returning. Joyce finds herself living the merciless life of a Greek peasant woman, at the command of people steeped in religion, misogyny, superstition, and their experiences of war. Yet, for the first time in her life, she feels that she has a purpose. She finds the village community, the urgency of farming, and the love of her in-laws more rewarding than anything she experienced in what she considers her empty, vacuous life in Florida. Yet she is lonely and surrounded by temptations. By following Joyce's struggle to balance duty and love, safety and challenge, ambition and obligation, the novel examines the role of women, the nature of freedom and the tensions between love and independence.

What motivated you to write it?

I got the idea for The Sailor's Wife when I met a young American in Greece who had done what Joyce did - married a sailor she barely knew and moved in with her peasant in-laws to live a hardscrabble life. But as a journalist I'd also met other women who had fallen for men they didn't really know, moved to other cultures and countries with the romantic idea that love would solve all, only to find themselves virtually enslaved. I am struck by how many women I hear of - and know - who made this kind of mistake when they were young, and what they might learn by it. They think love will surmount cultures that are brutal to women, and they are usually wrong. I was also intrigued by the idea of what it would be like for a sheltered American who had lived a comfortable, safe, suburban life to be thrust into a world where everyone has lived through war, dictatorship, and starvation. The Greeks have had a rough history, even in modern times, fighting with Turkey and Cyprus, dividing between Fascists and Communists. During World War II, Greece was occupied by the Nazis and their allies, and most of the country starved as a result. Then right after the war, the country fell into civil war for five years, brother killing brother, young girls going off to fight in the mountains. Six hundred thousand Greeks died at one another's hands. Then in the 1960s and early '70s, there was the dictatorship of the Colonels, who jailed or killed many of their opponents. Greece is a modern, European country, but its experience of modernization has been wildly different than America's. In The Sailor's Wife, I wanted to show how this affects not only Joyce, but also how such hardships have affected her in-laws and husband.

How long did you spend writing it?

I spent about a year and a half writing the book, but I drew on memories of my travels in Greece from much longer ago than that.

What was the most challenging aspect of the research/​writing?

The most challenging aspect of researching and writing this book was taking on a culture foreign to my own. But the reason I chose to write about such a different culture is because I think we all learn a lot about ourselves by learning what it's like to be someone else. I have always explored that in my writing. My first novel, A World Like This, entered the life of a teenage convict. My second, Bad Angel, delved into the experience of a teenage mother from the Dominican Republic. In The Sailor's Wife I hope to make the reader feel what it would be like to follow a dream, move to a remote island, and live the life of an Old Testament peasant.

What other books would you recommend to someone who likes this one, or who is interested in its subject matter?

For people interested in reading about Greece, I'd recommend Patricia Storace's nonfiction memoir, Dinner with Persephone.