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'Broadway': A Mother's Wistful Quest For Stardom

by NPR Staff
Jan 24, 2012 (Weekend Edition Sunday)

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Alan Shapiro has authored 10 volumes of poetry, two memoirs and a book of criticism. Broadway Baby is his first novel.

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For most people, taking in a Broadway show offers the chance to take a few hours and depart from reality into a more exciting, glamorous world. But for Miriam Bluestein, Broadway is more than just an alternate world. It's a permanent refuge from the rest of her life.

In his debut novel, Broadway Baby, Alan Shapiro examines a portrait of a family with Bluestein as a Broadway-seeking matriarch. The story follows Bluestein as she attempts to realize her dreams of musical stardom while struggling with the frustrations of an overbearing family. Although Bluestein never fulfills her goal, she vicariously lives out her fantasy through Ethan, one of her three children who shows some promise for Broadway.

Shapiro tells NPR's Rachel Martin that even though the characters in the novel are connected through theater, they have difficulties with physical and emotional intimacy.

"One way of reading the whole book is a journey toward a moment of intimacy, which she [Bluestein] does have toward the end of the book," Shapiro says. "She learns how to be close to somebody, which she was never really able to do adequately or without at the same time pushing them away."

Shapiro says writing the book transported him to another world that he describes as "deeply pleasurable."

"Writing is a way of being happy even if what you're writing about is how unhappy you are," he explains. "Not in a therapeutic sense but in the sense that you get to convert things that you have to in life, perhaps, passively suffer into something that you can actively make on the page and so it can give you some sense of agency, power."

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