An Interview with Irma Kurtz

“The unshockable queen of advice.” Cosmopolitan

Born in New Jersey, Irma Kurtz has been Cosmopolitan’s agony aunt for the past forty years. After taking a degree in English Literature, Irma travelled around Europe before finally settling in London. There she joined the brand-new Cosmopolitan magazine and launched its iconic agony-aunt column, which she then also wrote for the American edition. Irma has written two novels and several non-fiction books, including the critically acclaimed About Time: Growing Old Disgracefully.

Photo by Huntley Hedworth
Photo by B. White
Photo by B. White

10 Questions

1) What led you into writing?

The only other work for which a degree in English Literature qualified me back in 1950’s America was waiting on tables. To become a jobbing pen was preferable to serving burgers; enlightening and challenging, writing for my living has kept me on the road.

2) What was your earliest career aspiration?

I was in my teens and as countless other girls longing to find a role to play, I wanted to be an actress. When the Broadway scout who auditioned me said I could succeed on stage only if I quit university to concentrate on acting, it came to me in a flash that whoever I was bound to become could not abandon what she was learning of others and herself. So it was back to the drawing board!

3) Can you describe your latest book My Life in Agony in thirty words?

This book unrolls what being an Agony Aunt for four decades has revealed to me of how we behave in general and the results of choices, my own included.

4) Do you have any plans for your next book?

Yes. But I cannot tell what it is until it starts to write me.

5) What has been the most exciting moment in your career?

A stranger stopped me on a busy street to thank me with tears in her eyes for my reply to her letter regarding the sudden death of her mother. I suggested she make of her own life a creative memorial in tribute to the mother she feared she had disappointed.

6) What are you reading right now?

One pleasure of growing old is rereading. I am currently rereading The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann.

7) If you could have dinner with any three people, past or present, who would they be?

Cleopatra, Frank Sinatra, and myself when I was, say, age twenty-two. For no good reason except curiosity about our table manners.

8) Which period in history would you most like to have lived through?

Given our recent delivery into relative liberty, no modern western woman would be comfortable in the restrictive past. So may I live through the next period of history to come, instead of one that’s over and done?

9) If your house was on fire, which three books would you save from the flames?

A. The album containing photos of my son as a toddler. B. My first real book: Alice In Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll with illustrations by John Tenniel. C. Herbert Grierson’s edition of The Poems of John Donne.

10) What do you do to relax?

I take meandering walks that discover their destination as they go along. I nip into cinemas alone in the afternoon to watch movies while scoffing popcorn.

Find out more about My Life in Agony: Confessions of a Professional Agony Aunt