by Suzanne Daub
There are some discoveries that turn the world inside out, even for a writer proficient in the exploration of family ties, memories, and what makes a meaningful life. Writer Dani Shapiro made such a discovery in 2016, and she turned a jarring, lifechanging revelation into a book that she gave the simple yet sweeping title of Inheritance.
This Monday, August 5, Author Dani Shapiro will meet readers, chat, and sign her books at Mitchell’s Book Corner, 54 Main Street, from 10:30 am to 12 noon.
Shapiro is an awardwinning novelist, memoirist, essayist, journalist, and teacher who has recently added podcaster to “the inner crowd of what makes me up.” She has been described as a “public contemplative,” a designation that she considers apt: “I think it describes my recent work… thinking of what makes humans tick.” Of the five memoirs and five novels she has written, she says that Inher-itance, published this January by Knopf, was the hardest to write: “because I had to find a way to distance myself from events…find a way to have enough narrative distance so that I could craft it into a story that would resonate with readers: something universal that would move readers.” And, though she considers her favorite among her books to always be the most recent one she’s written, she did explain that Inheritance “is the story that explains all the other stories and the things I didn’t know that was driving all the other stories.” She also commented that she is “very proud of the book just before…” which is Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage.
Shapiro wrote Inheritance after a family secret was revealed as a result of receiving surprising results from an Ancestry.com DNA test. When asked if she is happy that she learned the truth, she replied ““Absolutely! It was painful, shocking, upsetting, but it was also the truth, and I really do think that the truth sets you free—it is liberating.” She went on to explain “I guess what I do think is that we are living in a period of time when science has outpaced our ability to deal with what we are learning. Bioethics programs are full of people thinking about this…there are aspects of the law that have to deal with this.”
A fan of podcasts, this past February, Shapiro started her own seasonal podcast series called “Family Secrets.” The idea for this new endeavor “came in an organic way out of Inheritance: out of having discovered a family secret —that I was the family secret—and having written a book about it. Some of my other books had thematically centered around secrecy and the corrosiveness of secrecy.” During her book tour for Inheritance, people started shared their family secrets with her. “I’ve been on book tour for Inheritance since January, and I’ve been meeting a lot of people making discoveries. Some of the stories are miraculous and beautiful… some are hard and painful. I believe children deserve to know as much about their identities as they can…It is a course correction… down the road I think that keeping secrets like this will seem insane.”