Dani Shapiro

In today’s episode, guest Dani Shapiro talks about her recent New York Times best-selling memoir, Inheritance, and how she’s been circling around family secrets for her entire life. She reveals how the secret she never knew, until recently—that the father who raised her was not her biological father—is likely the thing that made her a writer. In this deep conversation with co-hosts Brooke and Grant, Dani delves into the “unthought known,” the impact of those things we withhold, and how the particular family secret of parents not revealing a child’s identity to them is nearly an obsolete idea due to genetic testing sites like 23andMe.


Dani Shapiro is the author of the memoirs, Inheritance (a New York Times bestseller), Hourglass, Still Writing, Devotion, and Slow Motion, and five novels, including Black & White and Family History. Dani’s essays and journalistic pieces have appeared in numerous publications including The New Yorker, Salon, n+1, Tin House, and Vogue, and have been widely anthologized. She contributes regularly to The New York Times Book Review and has been broadcast on This American Life. In February of 2019, Dani launched an original podcast “Family Secrets” in collaboration with iHeart Media. The podcast features stories from guests who—like Dani— have uncovered life-altering and long-hidden secrets from their families’ past.

Writing Action: Uncovering the “Unthought Known”

Might you have an “unthought known,” as Dani speaks to in this interview? Is there something that feels unsettled, that you’ve been circling around your whole life? Is there a family secret that you loosely know about but which feels too scary to verbalize aloud, or too messy to dive into? This is a free-write and nothing more, a space in which you might ask yourself: Is there something from my past that’s waiting to be uncovered? Do I want to uncover it? Would there be resolution and/or healing in finding out the truth? For some writers, uncovering the “unthought known” can become a form of obsession, the thing they circle around over and over and over again in their writing. In the memoir classes I teach, I see that writers often feel ashamed of their obsessions. They’re made to feel bad by others for circling around the same topic again and again and again. And yet this has every indication of an “unthought known” trying to surface. Do you have an obsession in your own writing? Do you understand how and why it keeps surfacing? Is there an unthought unknown that you might try to surface? See what you can suss out on the page in this exercise—a next step toward a deeper truth.

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