Is Dani Shapiro the New Oprah for Writers?
Interview with host of webcast on creativity and writing, "Office Hours"
Posted Feb 26, 2018
Dani Shapiro is the bestselling author of five novels and three memoirs, including the writer’s bible for creating a satisfying and practical creative life, Still Writing. So, why would she venture into uncharted territory with her Facebook webcast appropriately titled, “Office Hours with Dani Shapiro,” which just ramped up for a second season?
“Quite honestly I would have gravitated more toward the podcast format, but Facebook approached me with an invitation I couldn’t refuse: to be part of a small group of show creators for their new video platform,” Shapiro says. “It was a provocation and a challenge. One evening my husband turned to me and said, ‘Someone (in the literary world) is going to do this, so why not you?”
The first season featured Shapiro doing what she does best (besides writing): tackling questions from writers about craft and creativity. She’s inspiring and supportive, a teacher and a friend… kind of like Oprah, but without the “favorite things” or car giveaways.
The settings for the show have varied — from her home office, to Facebook offices in New York and Los Angeles, to the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. Questions for Shapiro are posted on the show’s Facebook page, and she tries to choose topics that a) seem like they’ll have relevance to a broad variety of writers, both seasoned and aspiring, and b) questions she’ll have fun answering.
“I want to be able to dig deep and say things that haven’t necessarily been said before,” she says. “There’s so much conventional wisdom and recycled advice out there,” she says. “I’m always trying to dig deep and have provide information that’s fresh and useful.
Shapiro entered the first season excited but without huge expectations. It was a creative experiment for both her and Facebook that turned out extremely well. The show currently has more than 19,000 followers on Facebook with an average of around 45,000 views for each of the initial 12 episodes. The final episode of the season, taped at the Facebook office in Los Angeles, has 120,000 views, which is testament to the growth of the show.
“I didn’t know what to expect, and I’ve been delighted by the response,” Shapiro says. “The response is truly what has kept me going, because it isn’t easy for an introverted writer to face the camera, alone, and speak into the void. The sense that it isn’t a void, and that there are so many people who are finding it useful, is thrilling.”
The audience is comprised of all sorts of creative types, not just writers. “It’s hard to make something out of nothing,” Shapiro says, “whether you’re a writer, a photographer, a painter, a potter, or an entrepreneur.”
The second season of “Office Hours” recently ramped up, and will feature Shapiro in conversation with other artists and creative thinkers, as well as audience questions. The first episode, live from the Facebook offices in New York City, featured an interview with Debbie Millman, a personable writer, designer, educator, artist, brand consultant and host of the podcast "Design Matters".
Of course, the obvious question for Shapiro is: will this webcast morph into a book?
“That has never occurred to me,” she says. “Which doesn’t mean anything at all — just that it isn’t how I think or work. My blog on the creative process was never going to become a book, until there was a clamoring for it, and I realized I had a book in me about the creative process, so eventually that became Still Writing. So I’d have to say… Who knows?”
The one true thing that Shapiro learned from the first season of her webcast is this: “How hungry we all are — all people who labor in solitude to do this work — for connection and community.”
Dani Shapiro is the bestselling author of the memoirs Hourglass, Still Writing, Devotion, and Slow Motion, and five novels including Black & White and Family History. Her stories and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, Elle, and many other publications. She was Oprah Winfrey’s guest on “Super Soul Sunday” and regularly lectures and teaches around the world. Her new show on Facebook, “Office Hours,” has garnered hundreds of thousands of views. She lives with her family in Connecticut.