An Interview with Ellen Meister, Author of Farewell, Dorothy Parker

Ellen Meister author photo low resYou must be familiar with Farewell, Dorothy Parker’s writer Ellen Meister. How can you not be? She is such a nice person, a brilliant and thoughtful author, blogger and creative writing professor at Hofstra University School of Continuing Education. Ellen has written four novels: Farewell, Dorothy Parker, The Other Life, The Smart One, and Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA, including several essays and short stories. Currently, she is working on her fifth novel, tentatively titled Dorothy Parker Is Dead and Living in the Algonquin.

In this interview with us, Ellen talks about Farewell, Dorothy Parker, its popularity and the experiences she have had while writing this book.

You’ve been a Dorothy Parker fan since your teen years.  How were you first introduced to her work?

In high school, I read about the Algonquin Round Table–the group of wits who met daily for lunch during the 1920s–and was struck by the irreverence of Dorothy Parker’s quips. I simply had to know more about the woman who said things like “It serves me right for putting all my eggs in one bastard” (after terminating an unwanted pregnancy) and “Ducking for apples–change one letter and it’s the story of my life.” I was young enough to think that my generation invented sass, so it was a revelation, and I simply had to know more. I picked up a copy of “The Portable Dorothy Parker” and have been hooked ever since.

At that age, what about her voice appealed to you?

Once I got over the fact that people actually enjoyed sex in the 1920s (did I mention that I was young?), I was bowled over by Dorothy Parker’s pithy but profound insights into heartbreak. It all felt so fresh and so personal.

Why did you want to bring Dorothy Parker to life in a novel?

At the risk of sounding hallucinatory, there’s a part of me that has always carried Dorothy Parker around on my shoulder, wondering what she would make of the modern world. Now that I’ve written the book, I’m amazed that it took me so long to come up with the idea for it.

In FAREWELL, DOROTHY PARKER, movie critic Violet is better at expressing and defending herself in her film reviews than in real life.  Can you relate?

Absolutely. It’s always been easier for me to find my real voice on paper. The page cannot judge me.

Your Dorothy Parker Facebook page

<https://www.facebook.com/DorothyParkerQuotes> has over 100,000 followers, and more every day. 

Are you surprised by its popularity?

I always suspected there were legions of Dorothy Parker fans out there, and finding so many of them has been a singular joy. Best of all, the page has become a community–a place where smart, literate people can connect to enjoy a national treasure.

Parker left her entire estate to Martin Luther King, Jr., though the two never met.  What was their connection?

Throughout her life, Dorothy Parker had a profound commitment to fighting injustice, so it was natural that the civil rights movement would capture her heart.

What do you think was Parker’s proudest moment in her long career?

In 1927, Dorothy Parker was arrested for protesting the conviction of Sacco and Vanzetti, Italian immigrant anarchists who were accused of murder and received an egregiously unfair trial.  (The judge in the case had been quoted as saying, “I’m gonna get those anarchist bastards good and proper.”) Though the protest was unsuccessful and the men were executed, I believe Parker took more pride in her efforts to save them than in any writing success.Farewell DP paperback cover

Were you surprised by anything you found in researching this book?

I was surprised that so many of the quotes attributed to Dorothy Parker have little or no evidence to support that she was the actual source.

You have said that capturing Parker’s language “nearly wiped me out.”What was most difficult about it?

Her language was so precise and her wit so razor sharp that I had to excise half of the funniest lines and rewrite the other half a hundred times. It increased my appreciation of her immeasurably!

If Dorothy Parker tweeted you today, what do you think she’d say?

Since I was careful to cast Mrs. Parker in a full light–portraying not just her acerbic wit, but her devotion to fighting injustice and her big, beautiful damaged heart–she would probably tweet: *Don’t believe a word of it.*

What is your favorite Dorothy Parker quote?

Probably, “”If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

What’s it like to visit the legendary Algonquin Hotel, Parker’s favorite haunt? 

For me, connecting to the rich history of the Algonquin is almost magical. As soon as I enter, I experience a rumble of joy that’s like a bass beat I feel all over.

Parker and her Algonquin Round Table cronies were the epitome of the roaring twenties zeitgeist.  What do you think is driving the resurgent interest in the 1920s?

In our stressful political and economic climate, it’s natural to be nostalgic about the era. From here, the 1920s look like one big party–cool and young and free–innocent of the darkness about to descend on the nation in the form of The Great Depression and later, World War II.

Dorothy Parker died forty-five years ago, yet people continue to be fascinated by her.  How do you explain her longevity?

She had a timeless genius. Humor so rarely holds up through the decades, but hers does. It’s a testament to her talent and vision that her wit seems as fresh and funny now as it did almost a century ago.

You teach creative writing at Hofstra University Continuing Education. What’s your best advice for aspiring writers?

Don’t be in such a rush to get published; give yourself time to hone your craft and find your voice. It’s a long process. And read, read, read.

Ellen, thank you so much for this wonderful interview.

If you would like to know more about Ellen, visit her website at www.ellenmeister.com.

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