Laura Zigman is a woman of many talents. From writing fantastic novels like Animal Husbandry, which was made into the film “Someone Like You” starring Ashley Judd, to hosting her own radio show “Hash Hags,” Laura shares her unique point of view and sense of humor. Laura will be coming to the Amherst campus to talk about her experiences as a writer, a journalist, and the inspiration for her 72 xtranormal videos. GBSP caught up with Laura and asked her what inspired her career.
GBSP: What role did literature play in your childhood?
I read a lot when I was young. Much more than I read now (sadly). I was always reading – and I would get obsessive on various topics. In elementary school it was reading all the collections of international folk tales (“Japanese Folk Tales.” “Mexican Folk Tales.” “Russian Folk Tales.”) As a pre-teen I was obsessed with Holocaust literature (#LikeEveryGoodJewishGirl). In high school it was poetry and the lyrics on album covers: I still know every song on Joni Mitchell’s Blue and Court and Spark by heart. (#DatingMyself)
GBSP: Did any parent, teacher, program foster a love of books and literature?
My mother was a big reader. And she read everything. She was a school teacher and she had the whole summer off and she spent most of that time reading. We spent whole summers at the beach in the late 60s, part of a big group of families who rented on the South Shore of Massachusetts. While the women sat in their beach chairs at the water’s edge talking about recipes, my mother always had a giant plastic-covered hardcover library book in her lap: Mario Puzo, or Jacqueline Susann, or Frederick Forsythe. She read serious books too, but the summer revolved around trips to the beach library.
GBSP: What was your favorite book as a teenager? Which writers inspired you?
The Diary of Anne Frank and Night, of course. I followed my mother’s love of beach reading and was obsessed with The Godfather for a while, and The Exorcist, and The Thorn Birds. In high school, in senior year, we were forced to read The Sound and The Fury. I say “forced” because it was like reading something in a foreign language that made no sense. Until it made sense. It was the first book I’d read that showed me that writing really had no rules. You don’t want to use quotation marks? You don’t have to! You want to write stream-of-consciousness prose and have the story and voices fit together like broken shards of mirrored glass? Do it!
GBSP: Did you always want to be a writer?
I think so. I wasn’t one of those kids who had two novels written by third grade, but I started writing in junior high school – in seventh and eighth and especially ninth grade – when I was unhappy and sad and depressed and it was definitely something I felt compelled to do and that made me feel better. I had a close group of friends but I always felt like an outsider, like I didn’t fit in, like I was different from most people and would never feel truly at home anywhere. Part of that was because I wasn’t blond and I wasn’t a jock and my hair didn’t do that thing where it fanned back in “wings.” Another part was because I came from a sad family – I’d had a sister who died when I was three and the trauma of that shaped my parents’ lives – and thus, mine, too – forever. Music was really important to me back then – like I said before, I spent hours and hours and hours reading the lyrics off album covers – copying them in notebooks; memorizing them – songs were really like poetry then – and when I started to write I was lucky enough to have incredible teachers who encouraged me to keep at it.
GBSP: If you could give one piece of advice to young writers, what would it be?
Don’t strive to be “an author.” Strive to be a writer. There’s a big difference. Commerce and art are different things. Sometimes they overlap but sometimes they don’t. Write about what matters to you, what confuses you, what causes you the deepest pain, what gives you the most joy. Writing can save your life, whether or not you ever get published.