Susan Shapiro is the bestselling author/co-author of 12 books including the acclaimed memoirs “Five Men Who Broke My Heart,” “Lighting Up” (Random House) and “The Bosnia List” (Penguin Books.) Her new writing guide “The Byline Bible” just came out from Writer’s Digest Books. She’s an award-winning writing professor at the New School where she’s taught nonfiction since 1993. You can follow her on Twitter @susanshapironet or on Instagram @profsue123
Who is your favorite villain, and who is your favorite protagonist in literature?
My favorite modern day villain -or anti-hero- is probably Alexander Portnoy in Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint - who I fell for in high school. (Though I hated Mickey Sabbath in Sabbath’s Theater, who Alexander may have grown up to be.) For some reason, I really identified with Jasmine in Bharati Mukherjee’s evocative 1989 novel “Jasmine,” maybe because when I read it I was going through different kinds of emotional transformations.
When did you know you were a writer?
Family lore has it that my father used to sing me poems instead of lullabies when I was a baby. By two I was walking around the house reciting Robert Louis Stevenson’s “I have a little shadow” by heart. My dad- a conservative midwest doctor - made the mistake of putting down his medical book, kissing my forehead and telling me I was smart - unwittingly sealing my fate.
What are you currently working on?
I’m doing fun events with my students for my new book The Byline Bible, a writing guide that incorporates 25 years of teaching creative nonfiction at the New School and includes 60 great short pieces my students published from my classes - in top places like the New York Times, Washington Post, New Yorker and Tin House. I’m actually doing a charity event with my former star student Renee Watson tomorrow night, 9/21, at the Union Square Barnes & Noble.
How has your writing process changed over the years?
I started out writing and studying confession poetry that led to personal essays on the same topics that became four memoirs my parents hate. My rules for class are “Write about your obsessions” and “the first piece you write that your family hates means that you found your voice.”
Describe your writing style in one sentence.
I’ll paraphrase Arthur Miller and say: the only thing worth writing is the unspeakable.
Five Questions, by Nicole L. Drayton. Nicole is a writer, screenwriter and independent filmmaker based in Brooklyn, NY. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Liberal Arts from The New School, and currently works for the university in the MFA Creative Writing office.