Thursday nights are typically reserved for critique group meetings, but I had tickets last night to hear Dani Shapiro, memoirist and novelist, at Barbara DeMarco-Barrett’s Pen on Fire Speakers Series in beautiful Corona Del Mar.
Barbara DeMarco-Barrett (L) and Dani Shapiro (R) take questions from the audience
DEVOTION, Dani’s new memoir, has been receiving fantastic reviews, and this was one of the best author interviews I’ve ever heard. Barbara had an easy rapport with Dani, which helped set the stage for a wonderful dialogue with the audience. The interview was recorded, so at some point, you’ll be able to access it as a podcast on Barbara’s website. In the meantime,here’s a handful of the many gems Dani shared with us last evening:
1) Memoir writers must simultaneously address issues of craft and samskara (stories we’ve written into our bodies and subconscious minds). Dani advises her students to resolve matters of inner landscape before embarking on this journey, but admits that’s not always possible.
2) During the writing of DEVOTION, Dani met a Buddhist, a rabbi, and a yogi. "The book forced me into those experiences," she said. "Those experiences informed the book, and at some point, book and experiences became one and the same." I’ve had similarly serendipitous encounters along my own writer’s path, so I found myself nodding and smiling when she talked about hers.
3) To remain true to their stories, memoirists must write from "the impulse of memory," not "the impulse of imagination."
4) Memoirists weave together selective portions of their lives into a thematic quilt. Autobiographers, on the other hand, stitch together each of their life experiences in chronological, linear fashion.
5) To an audience member’s question about naming names in one’s memoir, Dani spoke candidly about the short- and long-term effects of her own decisions (some painful, some surprising). She summarized her position by saying, " It comes down to truth and love." I would have liked to spend more time on that last question, given its philosophical and practical implications.
Be sure to check Barbara’s website for the podcast–I know you’ll appreciate hearing these comments in their fuller context when it’s posted.