In October 2019, novelist, memoirist, and screenwriter Stephanie Danler traveled to Nashville to appear in conversation with Three Women author Lisa Taddeo, before both headed to Sewanee to read at the Review’s Fall Open House. At the time, Danler was in the thick of editing her memoir Stray, a moving examination about her feral childhood and the emotional damage she suffered being raised by parents who were both addicts. The memoir was set to publish in June; a week later, Danler would learn she was pregnant with her second child. Both the book’s pub date and tour had be moved up to May. So much for best laid plans.
On the day of Danler’s Nashville appearance, she sat down with editor Adam Ross to record this conversation, in which the two discussed the challenges writing a memoir poses versus writing fiction. While Danler’s novel Sweetbitter clearly had an autobiographical component, dealing, as it did, with the life of a waitress in a high-end New York restaurant (Danler worked for years in the business), the book shied away from its protagonist’s backstory. Tess, the novel’s main character, is something of a tabula rasa. In Stray, Danler rends the veil to reveal the tragic and joyful experiences that forged the person and artist she’s become.
The conversation, then, functions as a sort of time capsule—Ross even calls it that—providing the listener with an inside look at the final stages of the editing process as well hearing from Danler about what refinements she was trying to make in order for the book to succeed on its own aesthetic terms.
This episode of The Sewanee Review Podcast was recorded in Nashville at SubtleCo with sound engineer Alex Martin. It is produced by Hellen Wainaina and edited by Alex Martin with music by Annie Bowers. Don’t miss any of our conversations with some of today’s best writers. Subscribe to the Sewanee Review podcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.