Oprah Winfrey wants to hear what Dani Shapiro has to say about writing. That’s why “the Big O” has invited the 51-year-old novelist and memoir writer (left) to appear on her “Soul Sunday” show on October 20 [editor's note: The date of the show has changed from October 27 to October 20].
If you’re an aspiring writer of any kind, you may want to tune in as well: Shapiro’s points on the value of writing — even when you aren’t getting published — will encourage and sustain scribblers across the land.
Not coincidentally, Shapiro will also be promoting her latest book, Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life, which came out on Tuesday. This book — her eighth, since 1990 — reveals “what formed me as a writer,” Shapiro explained via phone from her Connecticut home. “One reporter told me he found Still Writing to be like a prayer book. That was such a beautiful thing to hear!”
Connecting the ordinary and the spiritual is a big part of Oprah’s mission, so Shapiro’s book is a natural fit. But the author didn’t want to produce just another Write This, Not That; instead, “I wanted a significant part of it to be memoir. This is dangerous. How much does the reader want to know? How much does the writer?”
“Theme” is just another word for “obsession,” as far as Shapiro is concerned. “And writing is the best tool for helping our own themes become clear — for letting out own stories emerge so that we can understand them, whether we publish them or not.”
Those last six words may be the most liberating part of her message. The way Shapiro looks at the world, writing doesn’t necessarily need to be connected to publication. At the workshops and writing retreats she leads in places such as the Berkshires and the Amalfi Coast, Shapiro helps students work on novels, memoirs, and short stories. But she also has them write ethical wills, family stories for children and grandchildren, and other “living documents” designed to help each person see her own life plain. “The line of words on the page,” says Shapiro, “becomes the path connecting past and present.”
Shapiro falls silent for a moment. “Talk to anyone who attempts meditation,” she continues, “and they’ll tell you our minds are full of noise…chatter…to-do lists! You have to settle all that down, then reach into the layer underneath. I think writing helps you get to that moment of deep connection with your imagination and memory.”
Sounds like Dani Shapiro and Oprah Winfrey will have plenty to keep them glued to that couch!