Author Interview: Margot Mifflin

Margot Mifflin

Margot Mifflin, author of The Blue Tattoo

Margot Mifflin is the author of, Blue Tattoo and Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo. Books in Common recently asked her a few questions on her Community/Campus Reads speaking engagements, and how her books work as subjects for these programs.

What are some of the “teachable” moments in your books that make them work well for a Community/Campus Reads program?

The Blue Tattoo gives people a sense of the impact of westward migration on Southwest Indians by showing the rich life of the Mohave before whites came through their territory, how they interacted with them in the first encounters, and the devastating effect—continuing today—this had on their culture.

Bodies of Subversion offers a way of discussing women’s body issues from the perspectives of art history, sociology, anthropology, and feminist studies.  I’m always interested to see how the questions express the same curiosity about women’s motivations for getting tattooed, which opens the door to discussions about tolerance and understanding, since their reason range from reclaiming the body after sexual abuse, to celebrating the body in this era of women’s empowerment, to marking life transitions and achievements.

What do you think of the Community Reads structure as a literary event format?  It’s great because it’s open to the public, which allows for moments like … (see below).

Would you share some notable experiences you’ve had at Community Reads events that you’ve participated in? When I was talking about The Blue Tattoo in Yuma, AZ, I met both local Indians whose tribes played a role in the story, and Oatman descendants who came to hear about it. In a sense the story was still alive because these people were there talking about it. One Quechan Indian told me his tribe had a different perspective on a battle I described from the Mohave perspective in my book.  It was like being able to go back in history and retrieve new information, even after the book had been published.  Also, people were very excited about the story because an important piece of it, Olive Oatman’s ransom back to the whites, happened locally.  I think this is the reason this was the best attended talk I’ve given.   (See Books in Common Interview with One Book Yuma)

What other kinds of events – both literary and academic – have you found your books well-suited to or had interesting experiences at? I’ve spoken about it at art museums, universities, book festivals and bookstores, even tattoo conventions  Every venue works, but now that art museums are starting to show tattoo art, I see an increase in interest there.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

(regarding Bodies of Subversion): I notice that in discussions about tattoo art, people  [including Katie Couric!] often get tangled up with the question of whether they would or should have a tattoo or not, which is something I try to discourage. I’m not tattooed, yet I’m interested in tattooing as an under-explored and under-critiqued art form that you see virtually every day.  You don’t have to have tattoos to appreciate the history they carry and the very exciting design evolution they’re experiencing today. Also, they no longer represent countercultural non-conformity, so it’s fascinating to look at them as passkeys to the psyches and passions of the people who wear them now, coming from all walks of life.

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