Still Writing/Dani Shapiro: Reflections

Monday, June 10, 2013

When I set out to write Handling the Truth, I burrowed in with the books that I have always loved—built a minor cathedral with printed paper, stiff spines, glue. Memoirs, specifically. Books that had taught me something or reinforced something, that exemplified, were exemplary.

One of those loved books was Dani Shapiro's Devotion, a memoir that, as I wrote here years ago, felt pure to me, spun from a sacred, silent place. Dani's book became one of the nearly 100 books I celebrate in the pages of Handling. Her prose offering an essential lesson in quiet generosity.

When I learned that Dani was publishing a book called Still Writing, I knew that something significant was about to make its way into the hands of writers all around the world. I trusted that she would write with both clarity and beauty, that she would open her heart, that she would not hide, that she would elevate writing advice to profoundly intelligent writing insight. All this she does, seamlessly, in a book that is destined to be a classic.

Reading Still Writing is like sitting with a best friend who gets you—really gets you. Someone in whom you might confide, someone with whom you might look out upon a garden space, silently. Yes, you hear yourself saying, I have been there. Yes, I've felt lost, too, uncertain, crushed, but also moved, privileged, calmed, finally certain in the midst of making a book. Wisdom, honesty, and reach abide in Still Writing. But so does companionship.

As one who teaches as well, who writes about words, who sometimes writes her own stories, I felt so aligned with Dani as I read that I'm afraid I sometimes spoke out loud while reading. I loved many passages. Let me share just one. It's the sort of advice I've tried to share with many writers throughout the years. But Dani says it better:
There's nothing wrong with ambition. We all want to win Guggenheims and live and write in the south of France, or some version thereof—don't we? But this can't be the goal. If we are thinking of our work as a ticket to a life of literary glamour, we really ought to consider doing something else.
Still Writing will be published in October by Grove Atlantic.

Dani and I will appear together on stage, for a conversation about the writing life—Still Writing/Handling the Truth—at the First Person Arts Festival in November in Philadelphia. Details here. 


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