Sam, I Am
What happens when a girl becomes a woman? What happens when a literary wunderkind steps into her full adult power? Allegra Goodman, National Book Award Finalist, shows--and shares--all.
Allegra Goodman, who grew up running around barefoot in Hawaii, published her first story in Commentary in June of 1986, just after her freshman year at college. Over the next three years, while earning her BA, she would publish five—count ‘em, five!—more stories in Commentary. These short stories were not written for any class or for college credit, mind you. (Goodman took no fiction writing classes at Harvard aside from playwriting.) They were written during her summers in Honolulu, and by the end of her senior year, in 1989, she’d written enough of them for her first collection of short stories, Total Immersion, to have been published on the day of her graduation.
Fast forward to 1991. I remember living in Moscow, working as a photojournalist that year, when a colleague arrived with a rare and precious New Yorker magazine with one of Goodman’s stories in it, which I gobbled up. In many ways, that story was one of the germs of my own literary aspirations. I’d always wanted to be a writer but was too afraid to make a go of it. Seeing Allegra’s name in that distinctive New Yorker font gave me the first tiny glimmers of courage to try. She was a year younger, and though we did not know one another at college, I was definitely aware of her and her prodigious talents even back then. I remember thinking to myself, reading that magazine in Moscow, If Allegra can do this at her age, Deb, what the hell is holding you back?
Then, in 1998, when Goodman’s stunning, National Book Award finalist Kaaterskill Falls was published, I gobbled that up, too. By then I was a young mother of two—a baby girl and a toddler boy—and working as a producer at NBC News but still harboring an intense if still-secret desire to chuck it all and write. When I finished Goodman’s novel, I placed the book down on the coffee table and stared up at my baby daughter, asleep in her bouncy seat. What compromises will she have to make, I wondered, to go from girl to woman?
Enough, I thought. It’s time to write your own damned book. Thus, Shutterbabe was born.
I’d been so brave as a young girl. So willing to try new things and speak up and run free. Then adolescence and womanhood stole some of that bravery, as it does to so many of us born with uteri. Or, better put, the transition from girl to woman stole my voice. Made me smaller. Goodman’s character, Sam, whom we meet between the ages of 7 and 19 in her latest novel, Sam, struggles with the same. It’s a gorgeous novel, beautifully told. Then again, I’d expect nothing less from this former wunderkind, now fully-formed woman at the height of her literary powers.
I reached out to Goodman and asked her both to come up with and to answer three questions she wished people would ask her about writing, instead of the ones she usually gets. She gamely obliged. Below, both her questions and answers, written exclusively for Ladyparts.
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