SSN Interview: Dani Shapiro
JDH: I've certainly read good books about angry children and angry parents before, but no author explores anger with the psychological complexity you do in [your novels]. Even your piece from Story in 1993 explores anger—a mother irritates a daughter by intruding on her while she's getting a bikini wax. What are your thoughts on anger?
DS: I’ll resort to another favorite quote. Edward Albee once said this: “For the anger and rage to work aesthetically, the writer’s got to distance himself from it and write in what Frank O’Hara referred to in one of his poems as ‘the memory of my feelings.’ Rage is incoherent. Observed rage can be coherent.” I’ve thought of that quote often, over the years. You can substitute pretty much any intense emotion there—grief, elation, heartbreak, desire—and it’s true that it is impossible to write out of the immediacy...
I’m glad you brought up that short story, “The Way Women Laugh”, which was published a long time ago in Story Magazine. It was, by my estimation, my first decent story. Talk about the shimmer around the edges—that story was borne out of a moment when my own mother did in fact walk into a room in a spa where I was getting a bikini wax. If you’re a writer, and your mother walks in on your bikini wax, you’re pretty much gonna write about it. I was blessed with a mother who gave me tremendously good fodder as a writer. She was a difficult mother in almost every other way, but she supplied me with many years worth of material—which is probably how I managed my own rage toward her. You might even say that I turned her into my muse—the way Ruth turns Clara into hers. Though nakedness in writing and nakedness in image-making are completely different animals. As is taking on one’s mother—versus taking on one’s daughter.
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