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.