Zackary Drucker is an artist, producer, and trans woman living in Los Angeles. She's a co-producer on the Golden Globe and Emmy-winning Transparent and a recent cast member on E! docu-series I Am Cait. As an artist, she has been featured in some of the top international museums and galleries. As an advocate for the trans movement, she promotes the power of knowledge within female communities around the world and achieves it all with beauty, grace, and intelligence. Cheerfully confident, Zackary answers all of our questions as we dig a bit more into her reading habits. And we have no doubt she will help change the world.
Photos by Lauren Pisano
Girls At Library: What was the first book the turned you into a life long reader?
Zackary Drucker: I read a lot as a kid and I remember my parents read to me every night. I was really fortunate as an adolescent to be in a supportive environment with parents who believed in reading. But if I think about my adolescence, To Kill A Mockingbird is the first book I really remember analyzing and deconstructing, and understanding in a more complex way. I remember having a more critical process while reading the book. So even though I had been reading all throughout my childhood, I think that was a turning point in understanding the layers and complexity of a narrative.
GAL: You already somewhat described this, but what is the power of a story, the way fictional narrative has impacted you and your life?
ZD: I think stories have the power to change our perception. A good story will expand our culture’s notion of difference and increase understanding in the world. There’s something completely immersive about a story. I think that so much of the digital era deadens our imagination and being able to absorb yourself in a world through a story, through the eyes of a protagonist, transports you into a completely psychological space, right? So it’s the original entertainment,
that and visual art.
GAL: Has there ever been a book that has turned into a movie that has been accurate to what you visualized in your mind?
ZD: Oh, never. You know, as an avid reader and cinephile, a filmmaker, and an artist, I understand the sort of schisms between text and image. But I think that I’ve had a special appreciation for writers who are able to create an abstract experience, which is why I love the writing of Kathy Acker so much. She’s kind of a punk rock, post-modern writer who very much came out of the art world in the way that she wrote. She was the first person to directly appropriate text from other people’s writing. She would sometimes combine text with illustration. And it was from all these different perspectives and point of views — all these different worlds kind of collapsing onto one another. There is a literary aspect to good filmmaking and it goes both ways — there should be a strong visual imperative in literature as well.
GAL: About how often would you say that you read?
ZD: I wish that I had more time to read. I usually read books that are recommended to me, or books that friends have written. I also buy books, even if I can’t read them immediately I think there is a value in a bookshelf with unread books. Last month I bought Patti Smith’s new book M train, Carrie Brownstein’s Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, and I repurchased some of my favorite books that I’ve given away over the years, like Viktor Frankl’s Man's Search For Meaning which is a psychoanalytic evaluation of Frankl’s experience as a Holocaust prisoner and what it’s like to survive a death camp. I started reading Train to Pokipse recently, that my friend Rami Shamir wrote. It’s so vivid. I’m also reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking, which is incredible.
I read The New York Times and the LA Times on Sunday. I tend to go through that over the week. I also read a daily email from my friend Austin Dale called the Trans Daily Digest, which includes all the articles in which trans politics or trans people are being featured or discussed. I read the news a lot and I pride myself on being up to date on politics and current events but I don’t watch the news. I prefer to read the news and do it on my own time. The times when I read books is on airplanes, which is often, I’ve been flying 3 round trip flights a month lately.
GAL: Wow! Yes, that’s really the only place I can read; truly immerse myself in something and focus.
ZD: We’re so distracted. Our attention span is so compromised. I always think of The Time Machine, which is a book — and also a film —where in that world, books became obsolete and people no longer knew how to read. I believe that people, and women particularly, being literate is the mark of a culture that is invested in the future. Any culture that is preventing women from obtaining adequate education is a world that is actively trying to drag us into the past. Knowledge is the only thing that no one will ever take away from you. Our social order is patriarchal, through thousands of years of civilization, though there have also been times of greater gender equality. I wonder if ultimately misogyny of the new millennium is about a reaction to women gaining more power — more legislative power, and more social power.
GAL: Are there any books on any of these topics that you find that have been the most interesting to read?
ZD: Absolutely, through my education in undergrad I read a ton of the original feminist texts. Simone de Beauvoir, Marilyn Frye, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Emma Goldman. I think those were all enormously influential. My mother is a feminist and instilled feminist values in me as an adolescent.
GAL: Have there been any trans authors or book about trans culture that have been helpful to the community?
ZD: Oh totally. As a teenager I found Kate Bornstein’s Gender Outlaw, which changed my life, and Riki Wilchins’ Read My Lips: Sexual Subversion and the End of Gender, as well as books by Leslie Feinberg such as Trans Liberation and Transgender Warriors, as well as essays by Patrick Califia.
GAL: It would be an amazing day when these are required reading for everyone in school!
ZD: It would be an amazing day. I think a lot about the parallels we see in the trans civil rights movement with other social justice movements, so it’s always been equally important for me to me revisit texts that came out of other moments of escalated resistance and awareness.
GAL: Do you find it important to hold a book or can you read on a device no problem?
ZD: [laughs] I only read books, I don’t have a device! I don’t have a tablet. I’m not against them all, they’re environmentally efficient, but as long as books are being printed I would much rather hold a book in my hand. "And when you drop a book it doesn’t break!" My Grandma Flawless Sabrina always says that.
GAL: Do you read news only on paper as well?
ZD: I do try to read on paper. At work (I’m a producer on Transparent), it’s always easier to read a script that is on the page, because you can write on it and go back through it. If it’s on your screen… it’s always difficult, trying to write on screen.
GAL: Right, there’s this dimension you can’t cross. You can’t touch it.
ZD: Yeah, there totally is!
GAL: So you said you read books friends have written, or friends’ recommendations. Do you get them from anywhere else?
ZD: My mom probably reads more than anyone I know. And she doesn’t believe in buying books. She goes to the library.
GAL: We love that!
ZD: Yes, she’s at the library every week and she literally gets out the maximum number. I think she gets like 10 books a week and she goes through them all. Often times I’ll get recommendations from her. We’re interested in a lot of the same things and I give her a lot of my books when I’m done reading them.
You can give someone a book as a present and there’s no guarantee they will read it but if you give a book to my mother there’s a guarantee she will read the book from cover to cover.
She reads fast, too, and not hastily!
GAL: Do you have a preference to fiction or non-fiction?
ZD: I don’t have a preference; I like both at different times.
Non-fiction can be equally as compelling. I love hybrids. I love historical non-fiction: Gore Vidal’s Burr is one of my favorite books because it creates this picture of what the U.S. was like after the revolutionary war and it’s based on historical figures and real research. I love Joyce Carol Oates’ book Blonde. It’s first person narrative based on Marilyn Monroe’s life. It imagines what would it be like to be Marilyn Monroe and her feeling about the world she was living in. She’s such an enigmatic character in our culture. It’s 900 pages long but you can’t put it down — it’s a page-turner! There are such vivid scenes in that book and it starts in her early childhood, with the Santa Ana fires sweeping through Hollywood! It’s so vivid.
GAL: What’s your favorite spot to read?
ZD: This room! This is my designated office and reading study. I have a studio out back as well so this tends to be the more erudite side of my mental activity.
GAL: Do you have a current or forever-favorite book?
ZD: No, not one specific book that takes the cake but I do love memoirs. The book I was holding in the photo’s about Edie Sedgwick is so fascinating because it’s told through the eyes of all the people around her. It’s often these contradictory anecdotes where one person will say “Edie was like this” then the next person will say something that is completely the opposite. It’s fascinating because you understand the creation of the mythology around a person, a legend. And how information and misinformation and subjectivity functions, how different people can have different experience of a person.
I love the authors I’ve mentioned. James Baldwin. Michelle Tea, Kate Bornstein, Joan Didion, I love my cousin Jonathan Ames, I love all his books. David Wojnarowicz, Jean Genet, Georges Battaille, Eileen Miles. I’m leaving so many people out, I’m already embarrassed thinking about all the people that I’m leaving out. I love Cookie Mueller’s Walking Through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black (which has a review on the back of the book by John Waters!)
GAL: I must say, if it’s something John Waters has interest in, I have interest in it!
ZD: Amen! He has such a great sense of humor, and he’s so smart. I am crazy about John Waters, I always have been. My life would not be the same without his work.
GAL: We have a friend who has a “Sanity Shelf” dedicated to books she returns to again and again, to reread for pleasure, knowledge, and solace. What books would be on your Sanity Shelf?
ZD: The Portable Dorothy Parker, The Queen’s Vernacular by Bruce Rodgers, Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur, How to Become a Virgin by Quentin Crisp, Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger, Transgender History by Susan Stryker, The Lesbian Body by Monique Wittig, SCUM Manifesto by Valerie Solanas, Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion, Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein, Whipping Girl by Julia Serano, Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center by bell hooks.
GAL: Please name three or a few books you recommend reading.
ZD: I think that these books should be required reading:
When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America by Paula Giddings. It’s a history of America from a black feminist perspective.
The Cornel West Reader by Cornel West
Écrits: a selection of Essays by Jacques Lacan