I first met adult adoptee Professor Marianne Novy of the University of Pittsburgh through my grassroots organisation, Adoptee Rights PA. She was referred to me by a fellow activists so that we could work together on contacting some legislators to attend an event about adoption policy that Marianne was working on. Marianne and I have engaged the public together with two projects since then. First, I spoke at a film festival she coordinated. Later, we presented a workshop on Adoptee Rights at the Three Rivers Community Foundation’s Convergence for Social Justice. Since meeting Marianne, I have come to greatly respect her and her work. I am delighted that she agreed to be interviewed at LGA.
About Professor Marianne Novy
I was raised in a closed domestic adoption (spent one month with my birthmother) and didn’t talk about it for a long time. Since 1971 I have taught English at the University of Pittsburgh, and in the late 1970s I met my birthmother. I was more struck by our differences than our similarities, but I maintained a relationship with her until her death a few years ago. I was always interested in literature that had some relevance to adoption, and eventually I began to write about this and look for others with similar interests: I published a collection of essays, mostly by others, Imagining Adoption: Essays on Literature and Culture, in 2001, and then in 2005 a book I wrote, Reading Adoption: Family and Difference in Fiction and Drama.
What is your primary work, focus, or interest when it comes to the topic of adoption?
I want to help end sealed records and to promote discussion of adoption from adoptees’ points of view, so adoptive parents will have more sense of their children’s needs and will be less threatened if those needs include some information about their birthparents, or meeting them. Since I am a literature professor I hope that I can promote the awareness and teaching of memoirs, novels, poetry, plays, and movies that give insight about adoption and help other adoptees contribute to the discussion, and also scholarship that will help the understanding of adoption in other ways. This includes giving more attention to birthparents as well.
Are you working for change in adoption? What are the positives and/or negatives that you see?
The open records project is very difficult. It is hard to get legislators on our side on this issue in Pennsylvania. (My view is that they identify with birthparents who want privacy because of their own experience–or fears– in campaigns).
I am glad that people are more open about adoption now than when I grew up, but this does not necessarily mean that others want to know more about adoption from the adoptees’ points of view. My classes on Adoption and Literature do not reach many people. I am trying to broaden the interest by developing a new course, Changing Families in Literature, which will also deal with families that are racially mixed for other reasons than adoption, with families headed by gay men or lesbians, and other nontraditional families.
What your favorite adoption-related project that you’ve worked on, if any?
I co-founded the Alliance for the Study of Adoption and Culture. We have held four conferences which have brought together academics in many fields, adoption activists, writers, filmmakers, and others to exchange views. We expect to have our next in the spring of 2014. We have published three volumes of our interdisciplinary journal, Adoption & Culture. In the last one I published an article, “New Territory: Memoirs of Meeting Original Family by Seven Adopted American Women.”
I also started the Pittsburgh Consortium for Adoption Studies. Last year we had a small adoption film festival, showing among others Secrets and Lies, my favorite adoption film.
Do you have any favorite books, authors, speakers, or any other adoption-related person that you really admire? Tell us about that.
Ann Fessler’s The Girls Who Went Away gives a great picture of the birthmothers who relinquished from the 1940s to the 1970s, and so does her movie, A Girl Like Her. On birthmothers, I also admire the research of Elizabeth Samuels, who has studied the contracts they signed. A film I love is Deann Borshay Liem’s First Person Plural, about her attempt to understand how she can have both an American and a Korean family and identity. Deann’s third book on Korean adoption will be out in a year and should be great. I’d also like to give a plug to Emily Hipchen, the editor of Adoption & Culture and of the adoptee memoir Coming Apart Together, and to Libby Hultberg Ferda, who has a great adoption memoir written and soon to be published. I admire well-known activists such as Pam Hasegawa and Joyce Maguire Pavao and all the others, adoptees, birthparents, adoptive parents, who never give up in the struggle for open records. But let me also recommend an English adoptee memoir, Jeremy Harding’s Mother Country, and a novel about a transnationally adoptive family, The Love Wife, by Gish Jen, who is not an adoptee but imagines two very believable ones of 8 and 15 as well as their parents.
What do you have to say about adoption?
- Adoptees’ experiences vary enormously, but one thing I believe I share with many others is that meeting my birthmother and getting information about my birthfather left me with a lot to work out. As happens with most but not all, it improved my relationship with my adoptive mother (my father had died), but it still left me with the question of what I would do to acknowledge the relatives and the knowledge I had gained. Finding my birth family did not tell me who I am, and I don’t think it told me much about where my talents or interests came from. The relatives I met have many good qualities, but they are not much like me. Some adoptees do find more affinities with their birth families, but others still wondering should be prepared to find that the outcome of a search may be more a relationship to real people–a good thing though it can be difficult–rather than finding yourself. The major change, for me, apart from visiting them in Wisconsin, has been writing and teaching more about adoption, but I think the relationships I developed with my birthmother and my brothers also have given me a little more flexibility in dealing with people different from either those I grew up with or those I work and socialize with now. Also I have gained some understanding of people with other relations to adoption.
- People who are transracially adopted have a lot more to deal with than I did, and it is very important for their parents to be understanding. I learned a lot about this from Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, whose writing and activism I also admire.
- Economic support for poor people to keep their children is at least as important as economic support for people who adopt. If adoption is necessary from the birthmother’s point of view, a continuing relationship through open adoption is better if it is possible.
- Adoptive parents should recognize the complexity of their children’s situation and should try to give them a positive or at least sympathetic view of their birthparents and their ancestry.
A big thank you to Marianne for agreeing to be interviewed.