Monday, November 29, 2010
Interview with Alice Eve Cohen and book giveaway
**Giveaway is now closed**
Alice Eve Cohen has done it all...raised a family, taught college courses, written plays and children's television shows, performed solo on stage and written a memoir. "What I Thought I Knew" (reviewed here) won the Elle's Lettres 2009 Grand Prix for Nonfiction, it was selected as one of Oprah Magazine’s 25 Best Books of Summer, and has been optioned for a television movie by Lifetime. She holds a BA from Princeton University and an MFA from The New School, and is the recipient of fellowships and grants from the New York State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. In a nutshell, Alice is amazing! Her memoir is amazing, as well. Today, she stopped by Chick Lit Central on her blog tour and answered some of our questions. Plus, one lucky reader from the US or Canada gets to read "What I Thought I Knew" courtesy of BookSparks PR.
MP: What was the most difficult part of sharing such an intimate part of your life in "What I Thought I Knew"?
AEC: Before the book was published, I was deeply concerned about my family’s response, since it was their story, too. To a certain degree, my fears were warranted. It took my husband almost a year to warm up to the idea of our very intimate family story becoming so public. He and I both worried that the book would be upsetting to my daughter, who is the central character, and who was only eight when it was published. As it turned out, she was very eager to read it, because it was about her, so we talked to her in advance about the events in the book. The book then became an opportunity for us to grow closer as a family.
MA: What inspired you to write about your health/pregnancy situation?
AEC: For years, I was unable to talk about my experience, because of my terribly conflicted feelings about my unexpected and difficult pregnancy. Ultimately, I had to tell the story or I would implode. I also thought that perhaps my tale might bring comfort to readers as they reflected on their own life trials and their best efforts to do what is right.
I hope readers will enjoy the book as an exciting and moving story filled with suspense, surprise twists, vivid characters, and unexpected humor. I’ve been told it’s a page-turner, which delights me. (Spoiler alert—it has a happy ending.) I also hope it invites discussion about the topical issues embedded in the events of the book—including the problems with our country’s health care system.
As this is a memoir, I’ve written as honestly and candidly as I can about my personal odyssey and about the complexities of motherhood. In my story, there were times when I didn’t recognize myself, times that I feared for my daughter’s life and for my own. Somehow, my family, my marriage, my children and I all survived and thrived, despite (and maybe because of) the storm we weathered together.
I imagine that the book will speak to anybody who has been through difficult times—which of course includes just about everyone. Since writing the book, I have felt hugely relieved, and deeply gratified that readers enjoy and relate to it.
MP: How do you like to spend your time when you are not writing?
AEC: Bicycling, jogging, reading, going to plays and movies, hanging out with family and friends.
MA: You had mentioned to me in the past that the Jewish High Holidays have a significant role in “What I Thought I Knew.” Would you care to elaborate on that?
AEC: When I was writing the book, I was surprised to find that the Jewish holidays kept emerging as turning point moments in my odyssey. On Rosh Hashanah, I was sent for an emergency CAT scan for an abdominal tumor…and discovered that I didn’t have a tumor at all; I was six months pregnant. The next week, on Yom Kippur, I was in the office of an abortion doctor, discussing the option of a late term abortion. On Rosh Hashanah, seven years later, after years of being unable to write, I suddenly started writing the book, and I finished the first draft on Rosh Hashanah, one year later. To a surprising degree, questions about Judaism, religion, and faith became central themes in my book.
MA: Have you been contacted by anyone who said that sharing your story helped them in their own situation?
AEC: Yes! I’ve been very gratified to hear from readers who felt that my story helped them understand their own experience, gave them the courage to talk about their situation, or opened up a door that allowed them to think about something in a new way.
MA: You have written for Nickelodeon and PBS in the past. What was the shift like for you between writing for children's shows and writing for an adult audience?
AEC: I’ve always loved writing for both children and for adults, and I continue to do so. My first published book was a middle grade children’s novel, and I’ve written plays and solo shows for both adults and for kids. I’m currently working on a book for kids as well as a new memoir for adults. While the subject matter is generally different for adults and for kids, the basic elements of storytelling are the same. I enjoy working simultaneously on projects for adults and for kids, because they allow me to channel different sides of my imagination and my sense of humor.
MP: You currently teach in New York City. Is that where you grew up? What is your favorite thing about New York?
AEC: I grew up in the suburbs outside of New York City, and never thought I’d end up living in the city. I always loved being outdoors; if anything, I thought I’d end up living in a more rural area. But in college, my artistic goals changed from visual art to theatre, I became more and more involved in theatre, and I learned that NYC was the ideal place to find like-minded theatre artists. Ironically, my favorite thing about New York City is Central Park—the ease with which we city dwellers can immerse ourselves in nature in the middle of this huge metropolis.
MA: How did you get into performing solo theatre?
AEC: After graduating from college, I was immersed in writing, composing, and performing experimental theatre. I co-founded a performance company called Practical Cats, Inc., with a wonderful collaborator—dancer/choreographer Anne Hammel. After creating a number of duets and ensemble works, Anne and I each became interested in solo performance, and in the particular challenges and opportunities it presents. I’ve been teaching solo theater to college students and adult education students at The New School for eleven years. Each year, I am blown away by the depth and originality of my students’ solo works. I’m wearing my producer’s hat right now, planning the upcoming performance of my students’ solo works-in-progress.
MP: I read that you are an advocate for Arts in Education. What resources are available for those looking to get involved and join the crusade?
AEC: I was a teaching artist for twenty years, and I’ve taught and performed in literally hundreds of public schools, in New York City and throughout the country. I’ve also been a consultant and writer for The Center for Arts Education (CAE), which is the largest advocacy organization in the field. If you are interested in getting involved and “joining the crusade,” as you say, go to http://www.cae-nyc.org/ and click on “Advocacy.” If you’re not ready to join the crusade, but you want to enhance the arts-in-education experiences in your child’s school, CAE offers many wonderful resources, including a parent handbook that I created for them, available to parents, for FREE, in nine different languages, at: http://www.cae-nyc.org/resources/cae_publications/parent_guide_pre_k_second_grade
You can also contact your local or state arts agency, find out what local artists and performers work with children and with schools.
Special thanks to Alice Eve Cohen for answering our questions. Also to Crystal Patriarche and Lisa Steinke at BookSparks PR for arranging the interview and providing the book for the giveaway.
How to win "What I Thought I Knew":
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US/Canada only. Giveaway ends Thursday, December 2nd at midnight EST.