By Pamela Jacobs
In Susan Shapiro’s acclaimed debut romantic comedy, Five Men Who Broke My Heart (Random House), she spilled all the sordid secrets of her former flames. But there was one story she could never tell–until now. This August, her latest novel, What’s Never Said (Heliotrope), divulges a previously hidden autobiographical tale of heartache set in her student days at NYU.
Now a popular writing teacher herself at The New School and at her old alma mater, it seems she won’t rest until she’s also gotten every talented, aspiring writer in NY published as well.
That’s how she ended up as the co-author of her last book, the award-winning Bosnia List (Penguin), a memoir about a 30-year-old Bosnian-born Muslim American who returns to his homeland after his family was forced to flee during the ethnic cleansing of the Yugoslavian war. Shapiro (a NY Jew who rarely ventures above 14th St.) was a patient of the Bosnian Muslim refugee-turned-Greenwich Village physical therapist, Kenan Trebincevic.
During a PT session, she wouldn’t pay attention to the exercises, too busy grading her writing students’ papers.
Trebincevic sarcastically asked, “What’s the assignment? What I did on my summer vacation?” Shapiro said, “No, my first assignment is to write about your most humiliating secret.” He laughed and said “You Americans, why would anybody do that?” She answered, “Because it’s healing and my students want to get into the New York Times and publish books.” Trebincevic wound up with a New York Times essay as a result. Then she offered him a deal: “You fix my back, I’ll fix your pages.”
Trebincevic isn’t the only New Yorker who counts Shapiro as his mentor/professor/publishing guru. There are 15,000 writers who have attended her writing clases at the New School and NYU, workshops, and seminars over the last two decades. She recently launched her own widely popular “Instant Gratification Takes Too Long” private classes that speed up the whole process. (Disclaimer: I owe my start in publishing to one of Shapiro’s classes.)
She brags about her students Seth Kugel, the New York Times Frugal Traveler who’s writing his own book for Norton, and Christine Kenneally, the Austrailian author of The Invisible History of the Human Race (Viking) who first published a book review in her class, and just came back, as her book received a rave on the Book Review’s cover. Shapiro even plans to go book touring with her student Aspen Matis, whose beautiful memoir, Girl in the Woods (upcoming from Harper Collins) has been blurbed by Lena Dunham, bought by HBO, and is dedicated to Shapiro.
Getting her students published is as important to her as getting her own work published–and she’s got a whole lot of writers’ careers to show for it. But it’s her own career that’s truly unstoppable. From her debut memoir, Five Men Who Broke My Heart (Delacorte Press), deemed ™a promiscuously readable guilty pleasure of a memoir∫ by Elle Magazine and seen on the Today Show, to Unhooked, the New York Times bestselling addiction book she wrote with the shrink who helped her quit smoking and drinking, Shapiro’s work runs the gamut from hilarious to heartbreaking, with a good dose of helpful thrown in. Her ten books, though varying in style and subject, are all delightfully readable and impossible not to devour.
The upcoming What’s Never Said is no exception. The sexy story of Lila Penn, a 19-year-old girl who falls for her college professor, Daniel Wildman (20 years her senior), is another example of Shapiro’s knack for being timely and provocative (considering the recent Harvard ban on romantic relationships between students and faculty.)
But it’s more than timely; What’s Never Said, as it follows the years post-relationship and spans the globe, seeing Lila’s professor bed and then forget her, examines the insanity and insecurity, pleasure and pain of romantic relationships. With her sharp, witty voice and ability to simultaneously make you laugh, cry, and cringe, Shapiro once again delivers a literary guilty pleasure that’s wise, funny and engaging.
To what does Shapiro owe such success? Now that she’s quit all her addictions, she says she’s become addicted to book deals. Or maybe it’s all the good karma from filling thousands of published pages with her students’ work, or the fact that Shapiro–the quintessential sharp-as-a-tack, know-it-all-in-a-good-way New Yorker–writes about what we’ve all thought and felt. Either way, the hits just keep coming from New York’s favorite author/mentor/mensch, and her fans, students, and protégés like it that way.
Follow Susan Shapiro on Twitter at @susanshapironet.
MORE FROM SUSAN SHAPIRO
Ever the literary matchmaker, Susan Shapiro couldn’t publish another book without offering opportunities for others to benefit. So if you’d like to meet the author in person as well as top Manhattan agents, editors, fellow authors, and shrinks, don’t miss these upcoming events in August–the month when Manhattanites go crazy because their writing teachers and shrinks go away.
BEST ONLINE EDITOR PANEL at the Writer’s Digest convention in Midtown, August 1 from 2-4 pm
SPEED DATING FOR LOVE CHARITY EVENT at Housing Works, August 3 from 7-8:30 pm; www.housingworks.org/events
THE SHRINKS ARE AWAY READING at St. Marks Bookshop, August 4 from 7-8:30 pm
THE SECRETS OF BOOK PUBLISHING at the Strand Bookstore, August 5 from 7:30-8:30 pm; www.strandbooks.com/event/sue-shapiro
BRING AN EX FOR JUST DESSERTS LAUNCH PARTY at Kimbell Studio, 78 5th Avenue (13th Street, 10th floor), August 7 from 5:30 -7:30 pm