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Interview: Author and Teacher Amy Friedman on Shame, the Power of Memoir, and Inner Truths

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As a member of the WOW! (Women on Writing) Blog Tour Partnership Program (a community of bloggers who participate in doing book reviews and/or author interviews as part of Book Blog tours organized by WOW!) I had the opportunity to interview Amy Friedman on her contribution to the nonfiction anthology Dancing at the Shame Prom: Sharing the Stories that Kept Us Small. (The link takes you to the book review on Blogcritics.)

Amy is a longtime teacher, author, journalist, and editor, with writings ranging from fairy tales to bittersweet memoir. She shares her thoughts on shame, the power of fear and truth, and the transformative freedom of “speaking one’s truths aloud.”

How were you approached for your contribution to the anthology Dancing at the Shame Prom: Sharing the Stories that Kept Us Small?

I’ve known [coeditors of the anthology] Amy [Ferris] and Hollye [Dexter] for a few years—Hollye took a memoir writing class with me a while back, and Amy and I met when I discovered there was another Amy F on Shewrites.com (in its earliest days, when only 40 or 50 people were involved in the site). At the time Amy’s Marrying George Clooney was on pre-order. I pre-ordered and fell in love with the book, which began a correspondence that has turned into a lasting friendship. I think we’re all mutual admirers of each other’s work, and because they knew a great deal about my memoir in progress at the time, they knew the subject matter I would likely deal with.

What drew you to the project?

To be honest, it took me a while to figure out what precisely I would write, and for a while I thought I might have to write about the shame of not feeling shame—that sounds, well, perhaps preposterous, but I’m rebellious, and whenever people have tried to make me feel shame (as certainly happened during all the years I was married to a man in prison and certainly happened to the girls I raised, daughters of a prisoner). But shame permeates our world—I knew the book would resonate with a great many people, and the process of thinking about the subject led me on a long, difficult journey.

Who is your target demographic for Dancing at the Shame Prom?

I never think about that question, not ever. I actually think it’s a dangerous question for writers to consider. Writers need to write those stories that knock at their hearts and heads and souls. They can’t worry about what others want to hear. So, well, I don’t. Besides, I’m always surprised by what resonates for people. Always surprised.

Please take us through your process of writing “The Men Who Stayed Too Long.”

Oh, man, if I took you through the process, we’d be here for months. But in essence the process for everything I write begins more or less the same. I ponder the idea, I toss things out onto the page (handwritten—I write first drafts of everything by hand). I play. I read what I’ve written. I wonder about what on Earth I was thinking. I try to find the meaning inside the stories and snippets that appear on the page. For a short essay—2000 words or less—I don’t think a writer can contain more than one big idea, maybe one and a half ideas. I half-feel as if my essay for The Shame Prom fails because I think it tackles a few too many ideas. But I also have learned how to eventually let things go, so I won’t ponder that idea here.

Everything in your essay felt like it dovetailed into one central idea. The major thing I walked away with from “The Men Who Stayed Too Long” was your concept that when we are ashamed of ourselves, we try to hide in our opposites, and in the fantasies of the person we wish we could be. How did that attitude affect your life and your sense of “self”?

I believe that’s true, and I’ve seen it manifested both in my life and in the lives of loved ones—we all, I think, imagine what perfection looks like. Take, for instance, imagining what the life of a perfect writer must be, how that person probably works, thinks, lives. It’s impossible not to think about it (in part interviews lead people down those paths, of course). I’ve long fantasized having the success of those writers who are everyday names, who write anything they wish and hand it over to an editor and the editor says, “Yes! Here’s your paycheck!” I lived (and published) in Canada for over twenty years and was not famous but was at least, well, a little known. When I was in my late 40s I moved back to the United States and suddenly I was a “nobody” as a writer, and it took me three or four years to climb out of the slough of despair (and shame) that created, to find my way back to writing because it’s what I love, what I do. I think there’s a constant struggle to look oneself in the eye and say, “This is who I am, and that’s just fine.” I don’t think that struggle ever ends; at least it hasn’t for me.

About Joanna Celeste

Joanna Celeste is at heart a storyteller, writing reviews, short stories, poems, articles and the occasional novel-in-progress, as well as interviewing others to discover their point of view, in the celebration of story. She welcomes emails from her readers at joanna_celeste [at] ymail.com, though she is currently booked for reviews through to January 2014. Visit her at http://joannaceleste.com
  • http://www.authorhamlett.com Christina Hamlett

    Excellent questions set forth here, all resulting in a very informative read.

  • http://joannaceleste.com Joanna Celeste

    Thank you, Christina. I’m glad you enjoyed the interview.

  • Diane Smith-Merrill

    Wonderful interview!!

  • http://joannaceleste.com Joanna Celeste

    Thank you, Diane! It was a joy to interview Ms. Friedman.