Susan Shapiro is used to exposing her heartbreak for the sake of art. She’s written 11 books (several of them memoirs), including one called “Five Men Who Broke My Heart,” in which she meets up with her five ex-boyfriends “High Fidelity”-style asking each one what went wrong. “I spilled all the secrets of my past love, but there was one story I could never tell,” Shapiro tells us. “Until now.”
A worst nightmare come true
Shapiro’s twelfth book, “What’s Never Said,” is about a poetry student who has an affair with her professor. Years later, she attends a book signing he is giving, anxiously awaiting how he will react to seeing her. Only when he does see her, he doesn’t remember who she is.
While the book is fiction, Shapiro says it is based on her own life; those exact events happened to her, though she attests the professor in question did in fact know who she was, he just chose to ignore her. “I freaked out. I literally could not believe it,” she says. “I wrote a short fiction piece about it and took it to my writing group. The basic reaction was, ‘You should have gotten old and bitter a long time ago because this rocks.’”
“Heartbreak is way more interesting to write about than falling in love,” Shapiro says. “It’s kind of a funny problem [for me] because I’ve been extremely happy with the same guy for 25 years, so that’s problematic. Luckily he gave me hell early on.”
Shapiro, who is a professor at New York University and The New School, encourages her students to use their shameful secrets as writing fuel as well. She regularly assigns her students to write about their most humiliating secret, usually just one class into the semester. “I really don’t want to have to wait through 10 weeks of boring assignments,” she says. “I want to know who somebody is right away.”
The result is astounding. “In my first class, out of 12 people, eight got published and four got $1,000,” she says. Some of the past topics range from writing about being secretly gay, turning into a jerk after sentenced to life in a wheelchair, or dating a man accused of raping a Harvard student. Many of Shapiro’s students land book deals and Shapiro talks as excitedly about her students’ upcoming published works as her own. “Now I have a rule where students who get $5,000 or more for a published work they wrote for my class have to take me out to dinner,” she says. We doubt any of them mind.
Not your average book event
To celebrate the release of “What’s Never Said,” Shapiro is hosting a “Speed Shrinking For Love” event at Housing Works on August 3. She describes the event as similar to speed dating, but instead of potential love matches, attendees link up with therapists, astrologists, tarot card readers and respected love gurus. The event info is below:
Speed Shrinking For Love Charity Event
Aug. 3, 7 p.m.
Housing Works NYC
126 Crosby Street
Shrinks Are Away Reading
Aug. 4, 7 p.m.
St. Mark's Bookshop
136 E. 3rd Street
Follow Emily on Twitter: @EmLaurence