Pho­tos cour­tesy of Dani Shapiro (left) and T Kira Mad­den (right)

Unearthing my family’s secrets was a world-warp­ing shock,” says T Kira Mad­den, author of Long Live the Tribe of Father­less Girls. She was glad that her first mem­oir was pub­lished the same year as Dani Shapiro’s fifth, Inher­i­tance: it was com­fort­ing to read Dani’s story.”

It’s easy to see why. While the specifics of the two authors’ lives dif­fer — among oth­er things, Shapiro was raised in an Ortho­dox house­hold in New Jer­sey; Mad­den grew up in Flori­da, with a mix­ture of Bud­dhist, Hawai­ian, and Jew­ish beliefs — they share what Shapiro calls an emo­tion­al geog­ra­phy.” Both writ­ers nav­i­gat­ed dif­fi­cult rela­tion­ships with their par­ents, and felt out of place in their child­hood com­mu­ni­ties. Both lost their fathers while still in their ear­ly twen­ties. And for both, a DNA test led to life-chang­ing revelations.

In the fol­low­ing con­ver­sa­tion, Mad­den and Shapiro dis­cuss how their per­son­al expe­ri­ences led them to probe larg­er ques­tions about iden­ti­ty, fam­i­ly, and the art of mem­oir writ­ing itself.

Bec­ca Kan­tor: How did it feel to read each other’s mem­oirs? Were there cer­tain parts that were espe­cial­ly res­o­nant — or illu­mi­nat­ing because they were so different?

Dani Shapiro: Though the details of T Kira’s child­hood were very dif­fer­ent from mine, there was an imme­di­ate sense of recog­ni­tion, an emo­tion­al geog­ra­phy that we shared. But I would say that the dis­cov­er­ies she made through DNA test­ing, and the ran­dom­ness and improb­a­bil­i­ty of ever hav­ing dis­cov­ered what she did — or what I did — was what struck me hard­est. That each of us, both writ­ers and seek­ers, might nev­er have known some­thing so fun­da­men­tal to our own selves.

T Kira Mad­den: I’ve been a devot­ed fan of Dani’s writ­ing for years. When I was a self-destruc­tive twen­ty-some­thing-year-old girl, I found solace and for­give­ness in Slow Motion. When I was griev­ing, when I was ques­tion­ing, when I was falling in and out of love, I found both con­nec­tion and cathar­sis through her books. I even sent her fan mail, years ago, to express my grat­i­tude for feel­ing seen. This is all to say that the tim­ing of my first book — which grap­ples with fam­i­ly, DNA, and shame — and her newest felt serendip­i­tous. Unearthing my family’s secrets was a world-warp­ing shock, an expe­ri­ence to which the peo­ple in my life couldn’t relate — so it was com­fort­ing to read Dani’s sto­ry. Less lonely.

I was par­tic­u­lar­ly moved by Dani’s thought­ful explo­ration of what makes a father a father. The nuances, com­plex­i­ties, and painful plea­sures of that rela­tion­ship. She knows what it’s like to grieve a father and to dis­cov­er not only who that per­son was as a par­ent, but also as a per­son — a per­son with their own flaws, shames, and triumphs.

BK: For me, one of the strik­ing dif­fer­ences between your mem­oirs is struc­tur­al. Dani, Inher­i­tance opens when you’re already estab­lished in your career and have a set­tled fam­i­ly life with your hus­band and teenage son. The DNA test is intro­duced almost imme­di­ate­ly, and the mem­oir is focused on the con­se­quences of open­ing that Pandora’s box. Your pre­vi­ous mem­oirs have also been cen­tered around a par­tic­u­lar event or theme — such as writ­ing, your mar­riage, and your search for faith — rather than a times­pan. Did they devel­op this way organ­i­cal­ly, or has this been a con­scious choice?

DS: I’ve become increas­ing­ly inter­est­ed, over the years, in play­ing with time. Lit­er­a­ture can use time struc­tural­ly in a way no oth­er art form can, and so I chal­lenge myself to col­lapse time, or extend it, in order to get at truths that go beyond the tem­po­ral. It isn’t so much a con­scious choice as it is a dri­ve. As a young writer, a nov­el­ist, I wrote in a fair­ly straight­for­ward chrono­log­i­cal way. In my last cou­ple of books before Inher­i­tance (Devo­tion and Hour­glass are the ones I’m par­tic­u­lar­ly think­ing of), I began to feel that I had moved away from using chrono­log­i­cal time and was instead assem­bling the sto­ries I want­ed to tell as mosaics or puz­zles. But then Inher­i­tance demand­ed more straight­for­ward sto­ry­telling, because it was a sto­ry. I think the sto­ries we tell dic­tate the way they’re told.

BK: T Kira, Long Live the Tribe of Father­less Girls, on the oth­er hand, does chron­i­cle a times­pan: it begins when you’re a young child being raised by a sin­gle moth­er, fol­lows you through a rocky ado­les­cence and tur­bu­lent roman­tic rela­tion­ships, and ends when you’re in a hap­pi­er, more sta­ble place, engaged to your sup­port­ive fiancée. You intro­duce the DNA test late in your mem­oir, and you wait until that point to delve into your mother’s ear­ly years (instead of describ­ing them near the begin­ning of the book). What were your thoughts behind this choice?

TKM: I think my mem­oir is unusu­al in that so much of it unfurled in real time — I con­tin­ued to make dis­cov­er­ies relat­ed to its con­tent as I wrote. I could have restruc­tured the sto­ry after my dis­cov­er­ies, but I quite liked the organ­ic pro­gres­sion of truth and the shred­ding of those truths” — the implic­it revi­sion­ist qual­i­ty of writ­ing from and about mem­o­ry. All the recur­sive threats of non­fic­tion nar­ra­tive. The mem­oir feels like a breath­ing thing because of that messi­ness. Noth­ing is fin­ished in it. Like­wise, noth­ing feels fin­ished, or com­plete, in my life.

Noth­ing is fin­ished in my mem­oir. Like­wise, noth­ing feels fin­ished, or com­plete, in my life.

T Kira Mad­den, right, with her sis­ter and her mother 

Pho­to cour­tesy of T Kira Mad­den 

BK: Your mem­oir also cov­ers many dif­fer­ent themes — writ­ing, sex­u­al­i­ty, sub­stance abuse, parent/​child dynam­ics, and recon­nect­ing with lost sib­lings. Did you ever con­sid­er address­ing these top­ics in dif­fer­ent books, in the way Dani has?

TKM: I nev­er set out to write a book of non­fic­tion, and cer­tain­ly not a book of non­fic­tion orbit­ing all of the top­ics and years my book cov­ers. I went from writ­ing a nov­el about grief to writ­ing a non­fic­tion essay about my father; after los­ing him, my nov­el band­width felt pau hana, so with what called to me. One essay about my father became a few essays about my father, and then those became essays about my moth­er, and, even­tu­al­ly, about me. It’s an unwieldy, unfo­cused book. But I feel proud of the choice to step away from it with­out adding false varnish.

BK: For both of you, dis­cov­er­ing unknown rel­a­tives seems to have been all the more mean­ing­ful because you had dif­fi­cult rela­tion­ships with at least one par­ent grow­ing up. Could you tell me about how the results of the test changed your per­cep­tions of her­itage and fam­i­ly more broad­ly? Did read­ing each other’s mem­oirs also change these perceptions?

TKM: I think writ­ers are — or should be — always after empa­thy, with what­ev­er capac­i­ty we have to hold that empa­thy. My book is about the great mys­tery of both my par­ents, and why they lived (and are liv­ing, in my mother’s case) with the secrets and choic­es they’ve made. When I learned about their secret” chil­dren, it cer­tain­ly made me under­stand and feel for them more deeply. I now have a bet­ter, if still imper­fect, sense of what shaped them, for bet­ter and for worse.

DS: I spoke with Rab­bi David Wolpe while I was writ­ing Inher­i­tance, and he sug­gest­ed to me that we all feel oth­er” — and that, by virtue of my dis­cov­ery, I had gone to the fore­front of oth­er­ness and returned with some­thing to teach. I gave that a great deal of thought. What am I learn­ing? I won­dered again and again. I’m in the midst of such a pro­found, pow­er­ful dis­cov­ery — what is it teach­ing me about fam­i­ly, nature, nur­ture, oth­er­ness, secre­cy? One of the ideas I’ve come around to is that the peo­ple who raise us — whether we love them or grap­ple with them or both — are our fam­i­ly. And so the dad who raised me is still my dad.

I do, how­ev­er, have a dif­fer­ent per­cep­tion of my ances­try, because ances­tors are genet­ic, bio­log­i­cal con­nec­tions, not emo­tion­al ones. I’d felt tied to my Shapiro ances­tors as a result of the sto­ries I had always been told about them, and because of this, they will psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly always be a part of me. In actu­al­i­ty, how­ev­er, I have a whole oth­er set of ancestors.

I’d nev­er ful­ly under­stood myself until my dis­cov­ery. The pieces didn’t add up, and I didn’t know why. And now I do. Half of me is descend­ed from Ashke­nazi Jews from East­ern Europe, and the oth­er half is descend­ed from West­ern Euro­peans who came over on the Mayflower. I’m a mon­grel — and I always felt like one.

I’d nev­er ful­ly under­stood myself until my dis­cov­ery. The pieces didn’t add up, and I didn’t know why. And now I do.

BK: In prac­tice, you were raised as only chil­dren, although you both knew that your fathers also had chil­dren from pre­vi­ous mar­riages: T Kira, you have two half broth­ers whom you weren’t allowed to talk about, much less talk to. Dani, you had a strained rela­tion­ship with Susie, whom you believed to be your old­er half sister.

When you take the DNA tests, you both dis­cov­er half sis­ters with whom you feel an almost imme­di­ate con­nec­tion. In fact, T Kira, when you were a child, you saw your half sis­ter on TV in a beau­ty pageant. Not sus­pect­ing that she was relat­ed to you, you nev­er­the­less thought she looked exact­ly like one of your cousins. Dani, you also dis­cov­er that you have two half broth­ers and a half sis­ter — and you learn that you and Susie are not in fact relat­ed at all.

For me, this brings up the nature ver­sus nur­ture ques­tion. Do you think some innate sim­i­lar­i­ties with your new­ly dis­cov­ered sis­ters made it eas­i­er for the two of you to bond? Or was it that you were open to and eager for this con­nec­tion? Do you think you would have formed the same bond with your sis­ter had you grown up together?

DS: This is such thorny, inter­est­ing ter­ri­to­ry. When I met my new half sis­ter, she did feel famil­iar to me. I liked her. We have quite a lot in com­mon. Is that because we share a bio­log­i­cal father? Or just coin­ci­dence? If I’d met a new half sis­ter and hadn’t liked her, would I have dis­missed the bio­log­i­cal con­nec­tion as irrel­e­vant? I think so many of us have close rel­a­tives with whom we don’t feel a com­mon­al­i­ty, and con­verse­ly, we have friends who feel like fam­i­ly. So it’s very hard to parse this. I just feel grate­ful to have forged this new and love­ly con­nec­tion. My half sis­ter and I had very dif­fer­ent upbring­ings cul­tur­al­ly, geo­graph­i­cal­ly, even in terms of fam­i­ly uni­ty and hap­pi­ness — hers was a much hap­pi­er fam­i­ly than mine. I can’t imag­ine hav­ing grown up with her because it feels so impos­si­ble. As for Susie, the half sis­ter with whom I thought I shared a father, she will always feel like my half sis­ter because we shared a chunk of life togeth­er, strained or not.

Dani Shapiro

Pho­to: Michael Maren

TKM: There is some­thing wild­ly pro­found about encoun­ter­ing shared fea­tures — my teeth, my big toes, my hair, my mother’s voice — on some­one else for the first time. There’s a pull there, a con­nec­tion. But I also know — espe­cial­ly as a gay woman who can’t con­ceive chil­dren with my part­ner in the het­ero­nor­ma­tive, tra­di­tion­al” way — that biol­o­gy only goes so far. My sis­ter belongs to her fam­i­ly, and my broth­er belongs to his, because they were raised and nur­tured with­in their fam­i­lies’ val­ue sys­tems. When my part­ner and I have or adopt or fos­ter chil­dren, they will be ourchil­dren because of our com­mit­ment to them. Yes, there are strik­ing sim­i­lar­i­ties between me and my sib­lings — phys­i­cal­i­ty aside — but who knows how much of that is a self-ful­fill­ing prophe­cy? The truth is, we were raised very, very dif­fer­ent­ly, and we’re all very dif­fer­ent peo­ple — though per­haps there’s some­thing to be said for the fact that we are all mixed-race peo­ple who were raised in white spaces. We were all raised with ques­tions of iden­ti­ty. I think we share the same rela­tion­ship to priv­i­lege and struc­tures of pow­er, and those struc­tures have cer­tain­ly shaped us.

BK: On that top­ic, both of you describe the chal­lenges of being of mixed her­itage, and the fact that you were also often per­ceived as non-Jew­ish based on your appear­ance. In her mem­oir, Dani asks, What did it mean, to not look’ Jew­ish?” What are your reac­tions to this question?

TKM: Look at Dani and look at me; we’re both Jew­ish. Peo­ple find com­fort in try­ing to iden­ti­fy the right con­tain­ers for a per­son, an ide­ol­o­gy, a belief.

DS: We now under­stand that telling a per­son that she doesn’t look” like who she believes her­self to be is polit­i­cal­ly incor­rect. But peo­ple cer­tain­ly did not know this when I was younger, and it was very con­fus­ing to be told that I didn’t look” Jew­ish. Through­out my child­hood and young adult­hood, I tend­ed to stand up to this by recit­ing my Jew­ish cred” and being almost aggres­sive in my response. It made me angry, because it was such an ill-informed and bound­ary-less thing to say.

But it also all oper­at­ed on me on a deep­er lev­el, by mak­ing me feel that I didn’t belong. That some­how, I was oth­er. And this came into play when I would try to join a shul, or be part of a Jew­ish orga­ni­za­tion — this feel­ing of not belong­ing always came up.

We now under­stand that telling a per­son that she doesn’t look” like who she believes her­self to be is polit­i­cal­ly incorrect.

BTK: Did your sense of Jew­ish iden­ti­ty change when you received the results of your DNA test? If so, how?

DS: Para­dox­i­cal­ly, know­ing the truth of my genet­ic iden­ti­ty has allowed me to put all my ques­tions to rest. I don’t look” Jew­ish because I look like my bio­log­i­cal father, who is of French-Eng­lish-Swedish-Irish descent. End of sto­ry. It there­fore allows me much more play and free­dom with my own pow­er­ful sense of Jew­ish­ness, which has always been a huge part of me. Now, when I’m at a Jew­ish insti­tu­tion, or speak­ing at a pri­mar­i­ly Jew­ish gath­er­ing, I feel I belong more than I ever have, because those miss­ing puz­zle pieces have snapped into place. I know the truth of me, and that knowl­edge is very powerful.

BK: T Kira, in your book, you men­tion cel­e­brat­ing Hanukkah, Christ­mas, and Chi­nese New Year. You also imply that you went to school with a lot of Jew­ish kids. What was your rela­tion­ship to Judaism and Jew­ish iden­ti­ty grow­ing up, and has it changed over time?

TKM: Some­thing I’m so grate­ful for is that my par­ents taught me about dif­fer­ent belief sys­tems and nev­er made me iden­ti­fy as one thing. I learned Hebrew prayers when I learned how to talk, and at the same time I learned the names of every Hawai­ian god and god­dess. Lat­er, I was taught the cen­tral ideas of Bud­dhism. I went to church after school, prayed over my food, and lit can­dles for my dead ances­tors and also greet­ed them as rein­car­nat­ed insects. Know­ing my moth­er, she prob­a­bly made half of it up. I love that about her — her myr­i­ad imag­ined realities.

I think the pres­sure to choose one defin­ing thing was all pres­sure I put on myself, because that’s what I saw in my peers; I wor­ried I couldn’t be tru­ly Jew­ish if I believed in Pelé, the vol­cano god­dess, or because I didn’t have a bat mitz­vah. I even made fake bat mitz­vah T‑shirts for myself at sum­mer camp, because I want­ed to feel more legit­i­mate” with my friends.

Now, as an adult, I can appre­ci­ate ele­ments of dif­fer­ent faith and belief sys­tems. I also rec­og­nize Judaism as a cul­tur­al real­i­ty, a famil­ial real­i­ty, rather than some­thing deter­mined strict­ly by blood lin­eage. Yes, my moth­er is Chi­nese — raised in a Mor­mon house­hold on the island of Oahu — but I was raised in Boca Raton, Flori­da with the most Jew­ish grand­moth­er and a drei­del table­cloth col­lec­tion. I’m Jew­ish. And Chi­nese Hawai­ian. And gay. I’m all of these things.

BK: Dani, you’ve point­ed out that DNA tests are often mar­ket­ed as recre­ation” — fun and harm­less. T Kira, you were actu­al­ly giv­en your DNA test­ing kit as a Christ­mas present. But, as both of your books show, tak­ing a DNA test can have reper­cus­sions that are far from inconsequential.

What are your thoughts about the larg­er ram­i­fi­ca­tions and ethics of DNA test­ing? Do you have con­cerns about how eas­i­ly acces­si­ble the results can be to oth­ers online?

TKM: My job as a writer is to deeply con­sid­er per­spec­tives and desires out­side my own — to spend time with oth­er peo­ples’ feel­ings. That said, when I first received my DNA test results, I thought, of course this is my busi­ness. This should have always been my busi­ness. Secrets like this should have nev­er exist­ed in the first place. But, then there’s the writer in me. I felt for my moth­er when her secrets were blown up because of a web­site. And I felt for my grand­par­ents. And my dead father. And my sis­ter and broth­er, and their par­ents and fam­i­lies. The rip­ple effect, all because of this spit-tube tech­nol­o­gy. I can’t pos­si­bly under­stand the pain that result­ed in my mother’s choice to give her chil­dren up for adop­tion. Those chil­dren being kept a secret feels dark­ly unfair. But my unearthing those secrets in the way that I did feels unfair, too. I guess I’m try­ing to say: I don’t know.

DS: In the months since the pub­li­ca­tion of Inher­i­tance, I’ve trav­eled to more than thir­ty cities, and have spo­ken at hun­dreds of events where I’ve met peo­ple who have made recent dis­cov­er­ies about their parentage/​lineage; par­ents who kept aspects of their children’s iden­ti­ties hid­den from them; sperm donors; doc­tors who believed they were doing the right thing by pro­mot­ing secre­cy. One thing that’s clear is that we’re in a com­plex moment — a time when sci­ence has out­paced our abil­i­ty to con­tend with what we dis­cov­er. How are we meant to metab­o­lize what we’re learn­ing? Who are we to each oth­er once we learn of pre­vi­ous­ly unknown bio­log­i­cal con­nec­tions? What is our respon­si­bil­i­ty to each oth­er now that we’re fac­ing the unin­tend­ed con­se­quences of recre­ation­al DNA test­ing? I have been speak­ing in bioethics depart­ments at uni­ver­si­ties, where there’s a great deal of focus on all the pos­si­ble ram­i­fi­ca­tions of DNA tests, includ­ing those involv­ing pri­va­cy and iden­ti­ty. Much good can be done with the pow­er of these tests — and also much that is terrifying.

BK: Turn­ing to the process of writ­ing itself, what were the dif­fi­cul­ties you faced in com­mit­ting your most per­son­al expe­ri­ences to paper? And return­ing to the idea of secrets: how did you deal with the chal­lenge of writ­ing about rel­a­tives and oth­ers in a way that’s hon­est yet also respect­ful of their privacy?

TKM: I’m still try­ing to under­stand and nav­i­gate the ethics of non­fic­tion. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care, that ques­tions like these don’t keep me up at night. But I can say that I’m writ­ing from my great­est attempt at hon­esty, of want­i­ng to give every per­son full light and shad­ow, of want­i­ng the peo­ple I love to feel I’ve done right by them. We writ­ers will always fail at ful­ly cap­tur­ing anoth­er per­son because no two peo­ple expe­ri­ence the same ver­sion of real­i­ty. But I do my best to dis­guise peo­ple when I need to dis­guise them, and show them my work when that feels like the right thing to do, and to own the short­com­ings of hav­ing a sin­gle lens and con­scious­ness. Is writ­ing about anoth­er per­son ever ful­ly con­sen­su­al or fair? No, I’m not con­vinced. But my inten­tions are always to com­mu­ni­cate, to lis­ten, to heal.

DS: I’ve writ­ten mul­ti­ple mem­oirs, so I’ve been grap­pling with these issues for a long time. I think the key is in the grap­pling. I doubt very much that I would have writ­ten Inher­i­tance if my par­ents, par­tic­u­lar­ly my father, had still been alive. Even so, I strug­gled with reveal­ing some­thing that he had so clear­ly want­ed to remain secret. The many child­hood pho­tographs of my dad and me that have appeared along­side reviews and inter­views always give me a pang. I look at that hand­some young father who har­bored a secret in his heart, and imag­ine him see­ing a flash of the future in which his secret would be plas­tered all over news­pa­pers and magazines.

And yet, this is my sto­ry too — per­haps my sto­ry most of all. It is lit­er­al­ly the sto­ry of my life. So ulti­mate­ly, I felt I had per­mis­sion, the right.

BK: You both also teach writ­ing. How does your own mem­oir writ­ing inform how you teach?

DS: My writ­ing life and my teach­ing life are very con­nect­ed. I learn from doing, and I bring to my stu­dents lessons involv­ing both prac­tice and craft that I have strug­gled with myself.

I wor­ried I couldn’t be tru­ly Jew­ish if I believed in Pelé, the vol­cano god­dess, or because I didn’t have a bat mitzvah.

TKM: I think the most impor­tant role I play as a teacher is giv­ing my stu­dents per­mis­sion. They don’t need my per­mis­sion for any­thing, but some­times they just want some­one to say it’s okay to chase one ques­tion for the rest of your life, and it’s okay to write into your cor­ners of shame, and it’s okay to be weird, and gross, and bor­ing if you’d like. And it’s won­der­ful to fail. I’ve writ­ten many unpub­lished books and one pub­lished one, and I read every day — and the only thing I know is that what fails and what suc­ceeds on the page looks dif­fer­ent for every per­son. So why not try every­thing, mar­vel at the mis­takes, and fuck the tra­di­tion­al rules” that were only ever meant for one kind of writer?

BK: Dani, look­ing back at your pre­vi­ous mem­oirs, one can see that they hint at unre­solved issues that you weren’t even aware of at the time. For exam­ple, you refer to Susie as your half sis­ter,” which in ret­ro­spect we know isn’t accu­rate. Have you ever want­ed to revise pre­vi­ous mem­oirs to reflect knowl­edge you acquired later?

DS: When I first made my dis­cov­ery about my dad, I did have that feel­ing — that all my oth­er mem­oirs were some­how wrong” and would need to be anno­tat­ed or revised. But ulti­mate­ly I think this belies what mem­oir real­ly is, which is the rela­tion­ship between the self and the sto­ry at a par­tic­u­lar moment in time. Mem­oir cap­tures life between the cov­ers of a book — the life the writer remem­bers and under­stands as she writes. So in fact, I end up feel­ing that my body of work is like a trail of bread­crumbs, and any­one inter­est­ed in the role of the uncon­scious in the cre­ative life might want to explore those ear­li­er books to see just how much that I didn’t know was embed­ded in the work. I now find it quite excit­ing. I write in Inher­i­tance about the unthought known,” and when I revis­it my ear­li­er work, I see the unthought known everywhere.

BK: T Kira, your mem­oir also leaves cer­tain top­ics unre­solved. By the end of the book, you’ve con­nect­ed with your half sis­ter. But you’ve also learned that you have a full broth­er, who was giv­en up for adop­tion when you were two — and the read­er is left uncer­tain as to whether you ever have any con­tact with him. Can you ever imag­ine want­i­ng to revise your mem­oir in the future?

TKM: I can’t, no. I’m think­ing right now of Joan Didion’s essay On Keep­ing a Note­book,” in which Did­ion sug­gests that it’s not the con­tent in the note­book that mat­ters — it’s the ver­sion of the girl, or woman, who wrote that con­tent down. What I wrote in my book, and in all of my pre­vi­ous writ­ings, felt true to me at that moment in time. It reflects what I knew then and the writ­ing mus­cles I had then. I cher­ish that doc­u­men­ta­tion, flawed and all. How do we real­ly touch that which we once believed, with­out present-day wis­dom cloud­ing over? Art’s the only way.

BK: How did you decide where to end your book — how do you decide where one chap­ter” of your life ends? Do you envi­sion con­tin­u­ing the sto­ry in sub­se­quent memoirs?

TKM: I stopped because it was time to print the book. I wrote the final words on the Fri­day before our Mon­day print dead­line. That’s unusu­al, but my pub­lish­ers knew I was in a unique sit­u­a­tion (with the end­ing con­stant­ly chang­ing in real time). I’d writ­ten a tidy and beau­ti­ful and joy­ful end­ing months before, about find­ing my sis­ter and liv­ing hap­pi­ly ever after, but my men­tor, Rick Moody, said, I know you, and this isn’t true to you.” He was right. The real­i­ty was that I’d recent­ly found out about my broth­er. And that was unre­solved, and scary, and the most painful rev­e­la­tion of my life so far. I knew the messier end­ing — the sud­den mys­tery of my broth­er — was the less pret­ty, less sat­is­fy­ing, but cor­rect choice for me.

As for the future, I hope I’m able to write books for as long as I’m alive. I’ll cer­tain­ly try. So far, I’ve nev­er once been at a loss as to what to write about; I’ve always had a top­ic or per­son or mem­o­ry call­ing out to me.

DS: For me, Inher­i­tance feels like the end of a par­tic­u­lar body of work. I had always been dig­ging for secrets, cre­at­ing nar­ra­tives that explained myself and my par­ents, and then final­ly I came to the stun­ning real­iza­tion that I was the secret — the secret was me. So I don’t know what will come next, but I don’t imag­ine it will be a con­tin­u­a­tion of this sto­ry. I end the book with one of my favorite words in the Hebrew lan­guage—hineni—and I address it to my dad. And now I think I’m done with that mate­r­i­al, at least in the ways I’d been approach­ing it all my writ­ing life.

Bec­ca Kan­tor is Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor. She received an MA in Cre­ative Writ­ing from the Uni­ver­si­ty of East Anglia and a BA from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia. A Philadel­phia native, Bec­ca spent a year in Esto­nia on a Ful­bright schol­ar­ship, then lived in Eng­land and Ger­many before mov­ing to New York. She is cur­rent­ly work­ing on her first novel.