Pri­vate ac­tress Parker opens up on printed page

Es­say col­lec­tion in­cludes de­tails of near-death ex­pe­ri­ence

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - ARTS & LIFE - By Hil­lel Italie

NEW YORK — The lat­est round of raves for Mary-Louise Parker is not for her act­ing, but for her writ­ing.

Parker’s Dear Mr. You, a col­lec­tion of lyri­cal and of­ten emo­tional es­says about men ad­dressed to ev­ery­one from for­mer (and un­named) lovers to fam­ily mem­bers, NASA and a Sept. 11 fire­fighter, has been highly praised by crit­ics. Es­say­ist Les­lie Jami­son, mem­oir writer Mary Karr and poet Kevin Young are among those who have ap­peared with her dur­ing her pro­mo­tional tour.

Parker is a prize-win­ning ac­tress who has never wanted to be treated like a celebrity, or like a celebrity au­thor. Dear Mr. You was orig­i­nally sub­mit­ted to pub­lish­ers with her name with­held by lit­er­ary agent Eric Si­monoff, whose clients in­clude Pulitzer Prize-win­ning fic­tion writ­ers Jhumpa Lahiri and Ed­ward P. Jones.

“I was im­me­di­ately in­trigued by the prose,” said ed­i­tor Colin Har­ri­son of Scrib­ner, which ac­quired the book. “It was star­tling, elec­tric — it beck­oned, it pro­voked, it zapped up the en­ergy level of the reader.”

Drink­ing cof­fee at a Brook­lyn cafe on a warm win­ter morn­ing, the 51-year-old Parker clearly favours talk­ing about writ­ing over the dis­cus­sion of act­ing, or, es­pe­cially, her per­sonal life. (She lives in Brook­lyn with her two chil­dren, one of whom she had with the ac­tor Billy Crudup). While a Golden Globe win­ner for the TV se­ries Weeds and HBO film An­gels in Amer­ica and a Tony win­ner for Proof, she has for years been con­tribut­ing es­says to Esquire, The Riveter and other mag­a­zines.

She is an ad­mirer of po­ets Mark Strand and Philip Levine among oth­ers, and of short story writ­ers Lor­rie Moore and Deb­o­rah Eisen­berg. But high­est hon­ours are re­served for her late fa­ther, John Mor­gan Parker, a vet­eran of the Sec­ond World War and the Korean War who later worked as a bank man­ager and a jus­tice of the peace, among other jobs, and took “nearly freak­ish” pride in his chil­dren and grand­chil­dren. In Dear Mr. You, Parker calls him the “wiz­ard of all fa­thers” and re­mem­bers his ad­vice to her soon be­fore his death, in 2010: “Just write, keep writ­ing, prom­ise that you will.”

Here are high­lights from the in­ter­view:

On writ­ing and pri­vacy: “I am ap­par­ently hard to read — not to peo­ple I know — but I hear the same com­ments of­ten through my life. I guess I feel I can’t ig­nore them — ‘What are you think­ing?’ ‘Are you up­set?’ — when I am not up­set at all.

“When I do open up, I really open up and am very thor­ough about what I choose to re­veal… It also seems very free to know I was the ar­chi­tect of it and I won’t be mis­rep­re­sented. I can be as truth­ful as I want to be. I’m say­ing it in the way I choose to present it.”

On sub­mit­ting her work to pub­lish­ers with­out her name on it: “I was ter­ri­fied, but when it seemed like peo­ple were favourable to­ward it I felt val­i­dated in a way I hadn’t really felt be­fore... Peo­ple get a lit­tle more emo­tional when it comes to ac­tors, and this (book) had none of that be­hind it. I felt al­most as if noth­ing else hap­pened, at least I had that mo­ment peo­ple found it in­ter­est­ing and valu­able.

On a near-death emer­gency and hos­pi­tal­iza­tion, de­scribed in her es­say Dear Doc­tor: “It’s not that I saw God, nec­es­sar­ily, but I was in an­other space. I was not fully con­scious. I was hal­lu­ci­nat­ing. I was speak­ing gib­ber­ish. I was in shock, sep­tic shock, and the ques­tion is, ‘Where do you go? Where does your con­scious­ness go when that hap­pens?’ ”

On the sense of grat­i­tude in many of her es­says: “When you’re read­ing my book, I’m putting my thoughts in your head, and why would I want to put in some­thing neg­a­tive? Not that there isn’t some im­mense pain… But I didn’t want there to be an in­dict­ment of any­one, or try to elicit sym­pa­thy for me in any way. It’s a bunch of thankyou notes. That’s all there is — just a bunch of thank-you notes.”

BEBETO MATTHEWS / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

Ac­tress and au­thor Mary-Louise Parker sub­mit­ted her book to pub­lish­ers with­out her name on it.

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