Dani Shapiro
January 15, 2009

On Book Parties

Last night, in the freezing West Village, it seemed half of the magazine and publishing worlds trooped out for a book party for this new anthology. I have an essay in the book, a piece called “Inheritance” about my mother and the way she left things when she died. As most of my readers are no doubt aware, when it comes to the writing of creative non-fiction, my mother has been my muse. When she was still around, she regularly said things to me so stunning, so impossible to believe, that it seemed all that was left for me to do was to find a way to write about it. How could I not? The material was too good. And I needed to find a way to understand a very complex, vexing woman.

Here’s the time she fell on the street and ended up in the emergency room:
When I rushed in through the doors of St. Luke’s/Roosevelt Hospital, she looked up at me from her gurney, her face black-and-blue. “Is there blood on my Ungaro?” she asked.

Or the time she called the 92nd Street Y to suggest that she teach a course on Jewish Mothers and Daughters in Literature — her qualification being that she was my mother.

Or many, many times she screamed at me that I was an ungrateful child–that she had given me life.

One of my essays about my mother that was published in a different anthology is called “Not a Pretty Story”, which pretty well sums it up.

I was struck last night, as I often am at book parties, by the strange disconnect between the writers who have, in the solitude of their own writing days, ripped apart the seams of themselves to get at the deepest possible truth of a personal story–and the swirl of champagne and the din of voices, the crowd in their party dresses. Don’t get me wrong. It was a fabulous, glamorous party–unusually so. Hosted by Robbie Myers, the editor-in-chief of Elle, and the wonderful and chic Liz Lange. Flashbulbs popped, the gallery grew warm. I saw friends I hadn’t seen in years. We were out for the evening–us writers who live in our bathrobes–in black velvet, ostrich-fringed cashmere, great shoes. We had written about our mothers, our children, our husbands, our private (made public) sorrow and guilt and fear. And now it was time to celebrate .