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Clarissa Pinkola Estés: 1943—: Writer, Psychologist

Career In Storytelling Emerged

Estés was 25 when she began to write, although it would take nearly another 25 years before her first work would be published. Estés disciplined herself to write every day. She wrote down the stories that she heard, but she also wrote down other things, such as poetry that interested her. Over the many years that she was writing, she was also sending sections of the manuscript to publishers, but all she received in return were rejection letters. Then, when she was 45 years old, things took a turn for the better both privately and professionally. She met and married her second husband, a master sergeant in the Air Force. Shortly after, in 1989, Estés spoke about Carl Jung to a radio audience in Denver. Her approach on the radio was particularly engaging and popular. Very quickly her ease of speaking led to a contract with Sounds True Recordings to create audio tapes of her writings. Estés recorded a new tape every few months, and within a few months, Estés' tapes were the company's best selling product. Estés would eventually combine these tapes into a six-volume set called the Jungian Storyteller, and much like the individual tapes the series was financially successful.

Publishers began to hear about her success in selling audio tapes, and within a few months, at least six publishers were bidding on the rights to publish her book. With her audio tapes, Estés had a built-in audience for her book, but before it could be published, there was a lot of work to be completed. Estés had to revise and trim the first section of the more than 2500 pages that she had written into a more manageable length. It took her six months to get the book ready for publication. Estés' first book, Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype, was not an instant best seller, but within a few months, through word of mouth and excellent reviews, Estés' book was selling beyond anyone's initial anticipation. It held a place on The New York Times best-seller list for more than 70 weeks.

Because she was not able to attend college until she was in her twenties, Estés' writing style is a unique meld of influences, reflecting both her upbringing in an uneducated working class home and her later extensive university education. The result is an easy-to-grasp prose style that appeals to readers. She wrote as she spoke, in a relaxed first person narrative that combines the language of scholarship with the relaxed narrative style of a storyteller, which is how Estés most often identified herself. Women Who Run With the Wolves is made up of stories that she had heard and collected over several decades. Estés re-reads these stories from a woman's perspective. She looks for the hidden meanings in the story and not the conventional meanings assigned by the stories' much earlier male readers. Especially interesting are the stories that she now reads without the overlay of religious convention, such as the myth of Bluebeard. Without the overlay of Christianity, the pagan story of women's strength becomes an inspiring myth for women and not a story that denigrates women. Estés quite simply stripped away the interpretations that clouded the stories.

In a 1993 review of Women Who Run With the Wolves, written for the Montreal Gazette, Linda Helser reported that some readers were using the book in discussion meetings, in which they read a section from the book and then told something from their own lives that the reading recalled. Estés engagement with her readers has not gone unnoticed by the academic community. In "Covenants, Liminality, and Transformations: The Communicative Import of Four Narratives," a lengthy 2002 article that examined the works of several authors, including Estés, authors Marc D. Rich and Karen Rasmussen suggested that Estés' short story, "Guadalupe: The Path of the Broken Heart," is the kind of work that created "a covenant between the narrator and reader." The covenant is created when the reader takes an active role in the text. This is what has happened to Women Who Run With the Wolves; women readers created discussion and study groups and then related their personal experiences to Estés' narrative.

However, not all women embraced the book. Some feminists were apparently disappointed that Estés seemed not to embrace their cause more completely. In a 1993 review written for The Vancouver Sun, Marke Andrews addressed this issue and noted that, "The fact that she hasn't come out and called for matriarchy to replace patriarchy has put her at odds with some feminists." Estés responded to this complaint by suggesting that matriarchy is not the answer to all the problems that women faced. Andrews quoted her as saying that, "A culture of decency that has regard for humans, regardless of gender and regardless of ethnic-ity—that is more the idea to move toward. Rather than an idea of gender. Because there are women who have as much meanness as any man, and there can be men as nurturing as any woman."

Estés continued to write following the success of Women Who Run With the Wolves. The Gift of Story: A Wise Tale about What Is Enough is a rewriting of the O Henry story, The Gift of the Magi, now set in Hungary during World War II. A third book, The Faithful Gardener: A Wise Tale about That Which Can Never Die, included stories she had heard as a child from her Hungarian uncle, a World War II slave camp survivor. These stories also center on the burning of European forests during the war.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Trevor Edwards Biography - Accepted Wisdom from His Mother to Francisco Franco (1892–1975) BiographyClarissa Pinkola Estés: 1943—: Writer, Psychologist Biography - Childhood Embraced By Storytelling, Self Exploration Lead To Nature And Education, Career In Storytelling Emerged