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A Conversation with Mary-Louise Parker

“I wanted to put something out there that informed me or haunted me.”

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Mary-Louise Parker’s critically acclaimed debut book, Dear Mr. You (Scribner), is a collection of (fictional and nonfictional) letters to the men in her life — relatives, mentors, lovers and more — in which the actress (Weeds) explores a variety of literary styles. In advance of her July 27 visit to Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures (in conversation with WESA’s Josh Raulerson), she spoke with City Paper by phone.

Artists are often questioned when they try a new medium. Did you get any such feedback?
I wrote for Esquire under David Granger. A very close friend of mine once said they’d seen a piece and asked who wrote it for me. Another friend of mine gave me a backhanded compliment around the time that I sold Dear Mr. You. I didn’t want it to inhibit my writing confidence. People think they can identify and classify others.

If I was going to write the book everyone expected me to write, there would have been things in [it] that I found salacious. I wanted to put something out there that informed me or haunted me. In this one, there are heroic, everyday men doing this or that. I have a son and I want him to read about these kind of men. As a woman, if you speak with any sort of clarity or passion, you’re basically screaming. I feel like I let people walk all over me sometimes.


Reading these letters, I didn’t feel like you were being walked on. It’s like you’re taking ownership for each relationship.
I wanted these letters to be about the people. In deciding to write “Dear Cerberus” with a mythical creature and in that fairy-tale-like style, I made myself this perfect little heroine-protagonist and made him a monster. I took it to cartoon levels so it wouldn’t be something that was asking for sympathy.

While the memories were personal, it seems easy for readers to project their own memories and thoughts into each letter.
I want the reader to be able to project and inspire. They can go over the topography of experience with the person they think of. There’s so much forgotten sweetness. You get back into the minutia of the actual experience, finding little things in the sand. It’s surprising when you go back for the second whirl.

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