Ten Minutes with Dani Shapiro
A Master Memoirist
Photo by Kwaku Alston
Dani Shapiro, a Litchfield County resident for some 15 years, owns the memoir genre hands down. Having published three exquisite volumes, tracing her growth from a young girl to the woman and writer she has become, she recently published Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage. It reveals the beauty and rawness of making a life and a family yet maintaining one’s singularity—the precarious balancing act of being a woman, wife, mother, and writer. We talked with her about family, writing, and life in Litchfield County.
In an earlier interview you said that your son and your husband were off limits as subjects for your writing. What made you change your mind?
It never occurred to me that I would write about our marriage. I wanted to write about marriage, specifically what it is to be with someone with no exit strategy over the duration. In order to do that I had to be able to write about my own marriage. I asked Michael and he was fine with it. But the whole time I was writing about it I was petrified. The biggest challenge was to tell some kind of raw and deep truth without betrayal.
You haven’t written a novel in several years. Will you ever go back to writing fiction?
I imagine that I will. Each time I’ve been between books and waiting for the next novel, something else has emerged. I have in the last number of years written some short fiction. But I haven’t been seized by characters that I would have to live with for a while.
Which is more difficult—writing fiction or memoir?
Each is really challenging and each has its joys and its burdens and its complexities. The characters have to appear; one’s own life is there. It’s very much crafting something out of a life but the material itself in terms of knowing what happened is already there as opposed to the material in fiction needing to reveal itself.
What was it like being one on one with Oprah on Super Soul Sunday?
It was right after Still Writing had been published. My agent called to say that Oprah wanted to have me on her show but she wanted to talk about Devotion and the journey of writing that book. We sat and talked for about 75 minutes. She is an extremely powerful human being, who knows just who she is and what she is made of. I felt I was in very good hands.
You have described yourself as a writer who teaches and not a teacher who writes. Can you explain what that means?
I love to teach and one of the reasons is because it’s fuel that is propelled by my life as a writer. I was taught by some amazing teachers who were writers. But I felt a certain jadedness, exhaustion, and bitterness in those who were primarily teaching young writers while their own work was languishing. I wanted to do everything I could to never feel that way about my students. And I never have.
You do most of your writing at home—are you ever distracted?
I have often said that from the cappuccino maker to my desk is only 65 to 70 steps. Yet in those steps I can completely mess up my day. I can just decide that something else needs doing. It’s resistance and everyone who writes suffers from it. The busier I am the more disciplined I am. It’s not like I have endless time and I’m going to get that time back.