In her latest, fascinating book, CREATIVE COUPLES: Collaborations That Changed History, bestselling author Angella M. Nazarian chronicles and celebrates 15 iconic couples who’ve made an impact in our world. An excerpt and Q&A with AFLW cofounder Michele Raphael, in which the author gives a glimpse into potent pairs, including musicians Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed, writers Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne and legal powerhouses Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Marty Ginsburg, and shares insights into how lessons from their partnerships can guide us during this time of change and uncertainty.
On their first date, they met at the Audio Engineering Society Convention, by the microphones section. They geeked out on looking at amps, cables, and electronics. Of course, Laurie was not under the impression they were on a date all. It was only after they went to a movie and dinner and walk that evening that she caught on. Shortly thereafter, the pair became inseparable, collaborating and performing together, while also engaging in civic and environmental activism.
“I was his partner in life and work,” Laurie shared in her speech, accepting Reed’s posthumous honor of being inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “We talked about love and work, ambition and sorrow, patience and dog training. We did meditations of our own about sound and about light and about time. We talked about making something beautiful and supremely ugly…. We talked about music and song writing…We looked for magic, and went on pilgrimages, and we went swimming and cared for each other when we were sick, and we invented private worlds with countless crazy characters; we built houses, played music and did tours.” For 21 years the two forged a creative partnership that was spiritual, fulfilling, and uncommon.
The couple (Joan and John) were both adamant that they did not compete with one another. And clearly, John, whose reputation had grown more slowly than Joan’s, basked in his wife’s popularity. When they went to restaurants, John was noted to lean back in his chair to give the gawkers and fans a better view of his celebrity wife. He would frequently rave to friends, producers, and anyone for that matter that would be of hearing distance about his wife’s writing talents
Excerpted from CREATIVE COUPLES with permission from the author
Q&A Between Angella Nazarian & Michele Raphael
Michele Raphael: What inspired you to writeCREATIVE COUPLES? Particularly, what was it about the concept of partnerships that felt especially important to spotlight?
Angella Nazarian: I have written two books on women’s leadership and lead a women’s leadership nonprofit platform called Visionary Women, and I think the next step toward our growth as a society and as women leaders is to bring men into our conversations and discuss ways in which we can become allies for growth for one another.
After all, when you take a deeper dive, many of the significant innovations of the 20th century had come through the joint efforts of men and women working together synergistically. This comes to show that life, work, gender and relationships are often intertwined and inseparable.
MR: In a feminist landscape, how does the concept of coupling go hand in hand with each partner achieving their creative goals? Are there examples of pairs in your book who did that?
AN: The central question for me as I was doing research on CREATIVE COUPLES was to understand how two high-achieving individuals can forge a relationship that could be beneficial to both. What I saw in the case of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and her husband, Marty Ginsburg, was that there was this foundational value that each partner will at some point in a long-term relationship sacrifice or compromise his or her personal goals to benefit the other. For example when Ruth and Marty were both going to Harvard Law School, Marty went through intense chemotherapy for his cancer. It was Ruth that would attend his classes, take notes and help him with his papers. And when Ruth was a candidate to become the Supreme Court Justice, it was Marty’s persuasive back-channel lobbying that got Ruth’s name added to the list of potential candidates.
Being in a long-term working relationship is a dance and every once in a while we need to calibrate our steps to move to a new rhythm.
The literary couple Joan Didion and John Dunne were also especially good at this dance. Throughout the course of their 40-year marriage, they created a relationship in which each knew of the other’s abilities and talents and created the space for both their joint and individual work.
MR: What was your original goal for the book? Now, in the midst of a global pandemic and an ongoing social revolution, has that changed?
AN: Writing has been a way of answering questions for myself and the goal for me was to gain a deeper understanding of the complexity of relationships and the many ways men and women relate to one another through work and relationships. What is their source of attraction and what keeps a relationship productive and alive and what is the measure of its success?
These questions and conversations will always be important to us.
MR: Are there lessons for readers from stories of couples featured in your book, as they relate to persevering during unprecedented times of fear, struggle, turmoil and uncertainty?
AN: Once quarantined, many couples have had to interact with each other 24/7 with very few distractions. This time has been an opportunity to take stock and see how we react to pressure, confinement in relationship. Some of the nagging issues in couples’ lives have even been magnified during this time. The lessons learned from the relationships profiled in my books is that relationship building is constant, we have to come to the table again and again to recalibrate our values and identities within the framework of the relationship. We as individuals have to grow and respond and pivot to change in order to keep a relationship healthy and alive.
Isn’t this what we all are striving to do during the pandemic? We may have been sheltering at home or more still in our lives, but our lives have not stopped. We are pivoting, recalibrating our lives and values, and changing the way to we do things to keep forging ahead.