Only As Good As Your Word: Writ­ing Lessons From My Favorite Lit­er­ary Gurus

Susan Shapiro
  • Review
By – February 24, 2012

Susan Shapiro’s enjoy­able mem­oir track­ing her devel­op­ment from a lone­ly Mid­west­ern ado­les­cent to a pro­fes­sion­al free­lance New York writer and teacher offers a refresh­ing view of the writ­ing life. She attrib­ut­es much of her suc­cess to the influ­ences of her men­tors. Her cousin Howard Fast, her New York­er boss Helen Stark, writ­ers Ian Fra­zier, Ruth Gru­ber, Michael Ander­son, and Har­vey Shapiro, became her truest fam­i­ly and her tough­est critics. 

So lit­tle has been writ­ten about men­tor­pro­tégé rela­tion­ships in con­tem­po­rary lit­er­a­ture it is dis­ap­point­ing that Shapiro did not choose to treat her sub­ject with more depth, espe­cial­ly giv­en her wealth of per­son­al expe­ri­ence. She opt­ed instead for an infor­mal tour of lit­er­ary New York, where she found­ed a long-stand­ing writer’s work­shop, was a mov­ing force behind a soup kitchen writ­ing project for the home­less, and taught writ­ing at NYU and the New School. Look­ing back, she acknowl­edges that her great­est tal­ent may have been in gath­er­ing extra­or­di­nary men­tors to assist her career and her projects. To her cred­it, she has made a habit of men­tor­ing oth­ers even when their careers eclipsed her own. As the old Yid­dish say­ing goes: If you put some­thing in, you can take some­thing out.

Lisa Pearl Rosen­baum’s debut nov­el, A Day of Small Begin­nings, was pub­lished by Lit­tle, Brown and Com­pa­ny in Novem­ber, 2006. She lives in Los Ange­les, California.

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