Actress Mary-Louise Parker now respected writer
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 favors 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 honors are reserved for her late father, John Morgan Parker, a veteran of World War II 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 favorable 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 thank-you notes. That's all there is — just a bunch of thank-you notes."