The Literary Life: Dani Shapiro

Narratives are powerful things. You live your life, make decisions, do your day-to-day work largely based on narratives you assume are true: narratives about the world, narratives about your obligations, your work, your family, and in author Dani Shapiro’s case, narratives about your identity.

Her latest memoir, Inheritance, examines how the narrative about her identity got shattered when she received the results from a DNA test she took. She found out that the man who had raised her, the man she assumed was her father, was not actually biologically related to her. On the podcast The Literary Life, she describes how it turned both her life and writing upside down. When host Mitchell Kaplan asks Shapiro, “If you had found out about what you found out in this memoir, how would it have changed the previous books that you wrote?” Shapiro replies, “None of those books would’ve existed.”

Later in the podcast, she goes on to say that her work, indeed, much of her writing career, has been trying to “piece my father together.” The revelation that the person she assumed was her father wasn’t actually related to her was both a disruption to her search, as well as the culmination of it. It confirmed many latent doubts; it also brought up new questions. She had a different narrative to examine, one that was both new and had been there the entire time. Shapiro’s story underscores how important narratives are in our lives and how they shape the constantly changing nature of our identity.

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