“One of the most enchanting writers of our time.” —Brainpickings
“Through Shapiro’s grace and instruction, she makes the reader share her unswerving belief that the act of writing can transform and shape our vision of ourselves and of the world.” —Salon
An acclaimed literary novelist and nonfiction writer, Dani Shapiro is the bestselling author of four memoirs, Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage (Knopf, April 2017)—about the frailty and elasticity of our most essential bonds; Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life (Grove, 2013); Devotion; and Slow Motion: A Memoir of a Life Rescued by Tragedy.
Shapiro is a highly sought-after speaker who is equally at home on the large stage as well as an intimate classroom. Her recent essays on the lures and dangers of the internet and social media have stirred up controversy, gone viral, and are now being taught in many universities—along with her most recent book Still Writing, a searching meditation on the artistic process which is both a lodestar for aspiring scribes and an eloquent memoir of the writing life.
Her books Devotion and Slow Motion were the subject of an hour-long conversation between Shapiro and Oprah (aired on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday in 2013); the two books taken together tell the story of Shapiro’s tumultuous upbringing in an Orthodox Jewish community, her subsequent rebellion, the tragic death of her father in a car crash that brought her to her senses, and ultimately—in midlife—her very modern search for a faith that felt relevant and meaningful. Slow Motion details her slide into drug and alcohol addiction during her twenties and the rebirth she experienced in early adulthood, “illustrating how one tragedy can prevent another one from happening” (Library Journal). In Devotion, prompted by her son’s questions about God, mortality, and the afterlife, Shapiro explores her spirituality with the help of a rabbi, a yogi, and a Buddhist—giving us an insightful and penetrating memoir that thousands of readers have identified with.
Shapiro’s work has appeared in the New Yorker, Salon, n+1, Virginia Quarterly Review, Granta, Tin House, One Story, Elle, Angeles Times, and has been widely anthologized. She contributes regularly to The New York Times Book Review and is a contributing editor at Condé Nast Traveler. In 2000, she co-wrote a screenplay based on her memoir, Slow Motion, with her husband, journalist and screenwriter Michael Maren, and a portion of Slow Motion was broadcast on This American Life.
Shapiro received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, and has taught in the graduate writing programs at Columbia and New York University. A renowned workshop leader, she runs writing retreats worldwide, and is the co-founder of the Sirenland Writers Conference in Positano, Italy. When not traveling for teaching or speaking, she lives with her husband and son in Litchfield County, Connecticut.
Dani Shapiro is the bestselling author of four memoirs: Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage, Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, Devotion, and Slow Motion; and five novels including Black & White and Family History. Shapiro’s work has appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, Tin House, One Story, Elle, New York Times Book Review, Los Angeles Times, and has been broadcast on “This American Life.” Her recent essays on the lures and dangers of the internet and social media have stirred up controversy and gone viral, and are now being taught in many universities. She is co-founder of the Sirenland Writers Conference in Positano, Italy and a contributing editor at Condé Nast Traveler.
HOURGLASS (Memoir, 2017)
The best-selling novelist and memoirist delivers her most intimate and powerful work: a piercing, life-affirming memoir about marriage and memory, about the frailty and elasticity of our most essential bonds, and about the accretion, over time, of both sorrow and love. Hourglass is an inquiry into how marriage is transformed by time–abraded, strengthened, shaped in miraculous and sometimes terrifying ways by accident and experience. With courage and relentless honesty, Dani Shapiro opens the door to her house, her marriage, and her heart, and invites us to witness her own marital reckoning–a reckoning in which she confronts both the life she dreamed of and the life she made, and struggles to reconcile the girl she was with the woman she has become. What are the forces that shape our most elemental bonds? How do we make lifelong commitments in the face of identities that are continuously shifting, and commit ourselves for all time when the self is so often in flux? What happens to love in the face of the unexpected, in the face of disappointment and compromise–how do we wrest beauty from imperfection, find grace in the ordinary, desire what we have rather than what we lack? Drawing on literature, poetry, philosophy, and theology, Shapiro writes gloriously of the joys and challenges of matrimonial life, in a luminous narrative that unfurls with urgent immediacy and sharp intelligence. Artful, intensely emotional work from one of our finest writers.
STILL WRITING (Memoir, 2013)
“One of those rare books that is both beautiful and useful. Still Writing is an exploration of the writing life, lit up by Shapiro’s luminous voice.” —Susan Orlean
“Everything I know about life, I learned from the daily practice of sitting down to write,” Dani Shapiro tells us. From the best-selling author of Devotion and Slow Motion comes a witty, heartfelt, and practical look at the exhilarating and challenging process of storytelling. At once a memoir, meditation on the artistic process, and advice on craft, Still Writing is an intimate and eloquent companion to living a creative life. Through a blend of deeply personal stories about what formed her as a writer, tales from other authors, and a searching look at her own creative process, Shapiro offers her gift to writers everywhere: an elegant guide of hard-won wisdom and advice for staying the course. “The writer’s life requires courage, patience, empathy, openness. It requires the ability to be alone with oneself. Gentle with oneself. To be disciplined, and at the same time, take risks. “Writers—and anyone with an artistic temperament—will find inspiration and comfort in these pages. Offering lessons learned over twenty years of teaching and writing, Shapiro brings her own revealing insights to weave an indispensable almanac for modern writers. A Brain Pickings and Flavorwire Top 10 Book of 2013.
DEVOTION (Memoir, 2010)
“I was on the verge of tears more than once in the course of Dani Shapiro’s impeccably structured spiritual odyssey. But Devotion’s biggest triumph is its voice: funny and unpretentious, concrete and earthy—appealing to skeptics and believers alike. This is a gripping, beautiful story.” —Jennifer Egan
Settling into the responsibilities and routines of adulthood, Dani Shapiro found herself with more questions than answers. Was this all life was-a hodgepodge of errands, dinner dates, e-mails, meetings, to-do lists? What did it all mean? Having grown up in a deeply religious and traditional Jewish family, Shapiro had no personal sense of faith, despite her repeated attempts to create a connection to something greater. Set adrift by loss-her father’s early death, the life-threatening illness of her infant son, her troubled relationship with her mother-she recognized the challenge at the heart of her anxiety: What did she believe? Devotion is a spiritual detective story, a literary excavation to the core of a life. At once poignant, funny, intensely personal, and completely universal, it is the story of a woman whose search for meaning in a constantly changing world ultimately leads her home.
SLOW MOTION: A MEMOIR OF A LIFE RESCUED BY TRAGEDY (Memoir, 1998)
“Absorbing, sweetly stinging… Shapiro’s book succeeds as a gracefully written story of reckoning inspired by tragedy, and the long reach of familial roots.” —Wall Street Journal
Slow Motion details the tumult and rebirth Dani Shapiro experienced in early adulthood, illustrating how one tragedy can prevent another from happening. Things didn’t look good when, relying on drugs and alcohol to drive her through life, Shapiro dropped out of college to become an actress and continue her love affair with her best friend’s stepfather, a flashy New York attorney. Then, a tragic car accident that left both her parents in critical condition supplied a much-needed impetus for change. As Shapiro nursed her parents, she rebuilt her own life, eventually returning to college, establishing herself as a writer, and embracing the traditional Orthodox Jewish upbringing she had previously rejected. —Library Journal
A MEMOIR IS NOT A STATUS UPDATE (essay excerpt from New Yorker)
In the middle of my writing day, I sometimes take a Facebook break. I know I shouldn’t do this. I counsel my writing students not to do this. But writing is a solitary business, and—well, let’s face it, Facebook is tempting. It’s right there. A lonely writer can be connected with a whole range of humanity without ever leaving her desk chair.
I wonder what would have become of me if I had come of age as a writer during these years of living out loud. My parents were in a car crash in 1986 that killed my father and badly injured my mother. If social media had been available to me at the time, would I have posted the news on Facebook? Tweeted it to my followers as I stood on line to board the flight home? Instead of sitting numbly on the plane, with the help of several little bottles of vodka, would I have purchased a few hours of air time with Boingo Wi-Fi and monitored the response—the outpouring of kindness, a deluge of “likes,” mostly from strangers? And ten years later, would I have been compelled to write a memoir about that time in my life? Or would I have felt that I’d already told the story by posting it as my status update?’
EVIL TOUNGE (essay excerpt from Plougshares)
1. According to the Talmud, only three sins in Jewish law are so serious they are forbidden under any circumstances, even to save a life. These are murder, idol worship, and adultery. But in many interpretations, there is a fourth sin, equal to, if not worse than, these: lashon hara—literally, “evil tongue.” It is said of one who is guilty of lashon hara that God declares, “He and I cannot exist in the same world.”
19. According to Rabbi Moses M. Yoshor, whose seminal biography of the Chafetz Chaim was first published in Yiddish in 1937, there is a basic principle in medicine that a discolored, unclean tongue is a symptom of some abnormal, disturbed condition of the body—the physical state. This is also true in spiritual dimensions. A tongue that is “discolored” and unclean is an indication that the internal system of the person’s spirit is not functioning properly.
STILL WRITING (excerpt)
I’ve heard it said that everything you need to know about life can be learned from watching baseball. I’m not what you’d call a sports fan, so I don’t know if this is true, but I do believe in a similar philosophy, which is that everything you need to know about life can be learned from a genuine and ongoing attempt to write.
At least this has been the case for me.
I was having tea with one of my smartest friends when she asked me if I had arrived at an answer. Did I believe in God? I knew this friend was an atheist. She had been dubious about my search from the beginning. “Why,” she wanted to know, “would you take on such a thing? I mean, is this something you’ve thought a lot about? You’re not a religious scholar.”
There is nothing trickier than trying to talk about personal belief. Add on top of that trying to talk about personal belief with a very smart atheist. But I had some things to say. And wasn’t that the whole point, really? To opt back in? To form—if not an opinion—a set of feelings and instincts by which to live?
LINKS TO ONLINE ESSAYS & OTHER WRITING
• “When You Write a Memoir, Readers Think They Know You Better Than They Do” from New York Times
• “What Do You Do When the Internet Hates You?” from ELLE
• “Supernova” from Electric Literature
• On the Private Heart by Dani Shapiro
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