Katie Couric, GOING THERE

Katie Couric, GOING THERE

“I’ve been the beneficiary and the lucky recipient of this extraordinary life that I never anticipated in a million years.” Journalist, newscaster, and co-founder of Katie Couric Media, Katie Couric, joined Zibby for an event with the Temple Emanu-El Streicker Center to discuss her memoir, Going There. Katie shares stories about her beloved parents, how she met her second husband after losing her first husband to cancer, and why she decided now was the time to publish her life story. The two also discuss Katie’s incredible career and how she’s tried to adapt with the changing media landscape, and then they takes questions from the audience.


Gady Levy: Good evening, everybody. I’m Gady Levy. I’m the director of the Temple Emanu-El Streicker Center. I’m super excited to welcome you to a program that’s somewhere between a book fair and speed dating, as strange as it might sound. I could introduce this evening by talking about the long devotion of Jews to reading or about our being the people of the book. What tonight is really about is the joy of discovering new stories, seeing the world through a different lens, and about losing yourself in someone else’s reality. We are honored to welcome a group of women and men who make that possible, thirteen authors of novels and autobiographies, self-help guides, and screenplays of the tales of Persian Jewish immigrants, gay American dads, family reunions in the Catskills, and the healing power of forgiveness. Before you meet the first of them, I also want to make an announcement that next week we will be hosting Tony Kushner and we’ll be hosting Lin-Manuel Miranda if you’d like to join us again. Let me tell you a little about the structure of the evening. We will begin tonight by lighting of the Hanukkah candles, third night of Hanukkah, led by our senior rabbi Joshua Davidson with Zibby and Katie helping light the hanukkiah.

We will then join in a conversation between Katie Couric and Zibby Owens. They will take your questions. If you’re joining us virtually, you can submit your questions via the chat function. For those of you in the room, we will set up microphones that you can use to ask your questions. After the discussions, Katie and Zibby will introduce the eleven authors that are with us tonight for what we think of as reading speed dating to hook you up with books that we think that you will love. Each author will speak for a few minutes. Their books are going to be on sale. They will be available for book signing following the event downstairs. I hope I made everything clear. As I said, tonight is Hanukkah. We’re going to start with lighting of the menorah. Also, in Hanukkah, we give gifts. We love doing this gift. I don’t have my glasses with me, but I’m going to ask a question. If you know the answer, don’t yell it. Just raise your hand. If you have the right answer, you will get all the books as a gift from the Streicker Center. Ready? I need someone to figure out who answers first. No googling. Do not google. When is Katie Couric’s birthday? Take a guess. Okay, tell me. Wait, no, no, you’re an author. You heard it right now. I asked in the green room. That’s not fair. Tell me.

Female Voice: January.

Gady: Yeah, January what?

Female Voice: Seventh.

Gady: What?

Female Voice: Seventh.

Gady: How do you know? Come on down and get all the books. They’re yours. I have a whole introduction here of Zibby and on Katie. I will just say the following. We all know Katie Couric. We all love Katie Couric. We woke up every morning to have coffee with her when she co-anchored The Today Show from 1991 to 2006. Then we followed her when she became the first solo female anchor of a major news network nightly news broadcast. Tonight, she’s going to get personal, and as you read, very personal with her new book and behind the scenes of what’s going on with the media in a brutally honest, often heartbreaking new book, Going There. She’ll be chatting with Zibby Owens who has been helping women figure out what to read for three years in her award-winning “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read.” The editor of a new collection of essays about women trying to balance children, sleep, friendships, and career, she recently added publisher to a long list of accomplishments. It’s time to start. Ladies and gentlemen, Rabbi Davidson, Katie Couric, and Zibby Owens.

Rabbi Joshua Davidson: We join in the two blessings, the first over the candles and the second over the Macabee’s victory. As Gady said, I’m a rabbi, not a cantor, so you have to help us. Happy Hanukkah, everyone. Now Zibby Owens and Katie Couric.

Zibby Owens: Hi, everybody. Thanks for coming tonight. Hi, Katie.

Katie Couric: Hi, Zibby. Hi, everyone.

Zibby: Thanks to everybody who’s watching virtually. We have to talk right into our microphones for the virtual thing, so don’t think that we’re doing anything too odd or whatever.

Katie: Yes, we have to really speak loudly. Hi, everyone. I like the sound of my voice in this mic.

Zibby: You sound great.

Katie: Thank you.

Zibby: We’re just going to take the mics with us. We’re just going to ring around all night. It’s so exciting to get to talk to you about your book, Going There. We are going to go there tonight a little bit. I really wanted to know, why did you decide to go there? Why did you decide to write this book? Why now, especially at this point in your life?

Katie: If not now, when? I’m sixty-four. I’ll be sixty-five on January 7th. Impressive, whoever knew that. I’ve done a lot in the news industry. I’ve worked at every network except for Fox. Know your audience, right? I’d worked at Yahoo! I had done a syndicated talk show for a couple of years, worked at Yahoo! because I saw how the landscape was changing. Then in 2018, my husband and I decided to start a media company because we saw how the landscape was so fragmented. Digital content was becoming more and more important. Television news was declining. That was the case even when I went to CBS. I had this moment in my life, Zibby, where I had much more freedom. I wasn’t beholden to any corporation or any boss. I was really happy not to work for the man anymore, but work for myself. Well, I do work for my husband, kind of. He’s the CEO. I’ve been the beneficiary and the lucky recipient of this extraordinary life that I never anticipated in a million years. It’s been full of high points beyond my wildest expectations and, of course, some low points having lost both my husband and sister to cancer. I have had this incredible ride.

I thought, why not write about it? Not only as a gift to my daughters, but also, I thought there might be some life lessons in those pages about persistence, about resilience, about getting kicked and getting back up and not taking no for an answer. I actually love to write. I enjoy writing. I love words and language. I always have. For all of those reasons, I thought this would be a good time for me to put pen to paper or fingertip to iPad keyboard and start to write about my life. It was really fun and really hard in places. I loved doing it. I know it probably sounds conceited, but I really love my book. Once in a while, I’ll read it. John’s like, “Are you reading your book again?” I’m like, “Yeah, I really like it.” Also, a gift for my daughters. They were six and two when my husband died. They never got to know him, and so I wanted him to come alive in a way in this book. I really enjoyed it. I thought while I still remember, I better write it down.

Zibby: It’s great because you have both the news side of your whole life — you track that in great detail. That was very interesting, especially being a woman and changing and pivoting so many times and doing all these different things. You also track your whole private life, which — maybe this is creepy of me — I found really interesting.

Katie: That’s super creepy. I’m kidding.

Zibby: It is. I’m very creepy.

Katie: I’m kidding. It’s not creepy. I wrote about it.

Zibby: I wait outside her apartment every night and just look in her windows. No. I was especially struck by your relationship with your dad because it seemed really meaningful. Tell us a little bit about that. He was sort of the bookends of this book, if you will, with your epilogue to him at the end and all the ways where there all these moments where you look to him for his approval. Just tell me about the influence of him in your life.

Katie: My dad was a journalist. He grew up in a small town called Dublin, Georgia. He went to Mercer in Macon, Georgia. He was the editor-in-chief of his college newspaper and then went on to work for the Macon Telegraph and The Atlanta Constitution. Later, he worked for United Press, both in Tallahassee, I think he was the bureau chief in Florida, and then moved with our family before I was born to the Washington, DC, area. I think my dad was an extremely erudite person. He could talk fluently about any topic from the Spanish-American War to F. Scott Fitzgerald. I wish I had those moments back because at the dinner table, my dad would start to pontificate about something and I would always go, , like a bratty kid. I was the youngest. I just so regret that I wasn’t more of a sponge for everything he had to teach me. Having said that, he was extremely influential. We had to bring a new word to the dinner table every night. There were four of us. He just encouraged me. I think he saw that I was a good writer. I was a procrastinator. All these traits, I think he saw as traits that would really work in news because I had to work under deadline. I was also extremely outgoing as a kid. I never met a stranger — I’d go up to —

Zibby: — Shocked.

Katie: I know. It’s a shock. I would go up to kids at football games when I was ten. My sisters were both cheerleaders. I was too, of course, please. I would say, “You’re Barbara McLoughlin, aren’t you?” The girl would say, “Yeah, how did you know that?” “I saw your picture in my sister’s yearbook.” I was that weird, creepy kid. I think my dad saw all these traits and really encouraged me to go into journalism. While I was in journalism, he was just my North Star. I could always talk to him about interviews I did and ask him, “Was I too heavy-handed when I interviewed David Duke?” We would talk after The Today Show. He would give me his two cents. Once, I had to do a condom demonstration. He said that was too far. “You went too far, Katie, on that.” It was the AIDS epidemic. We were trying to be educational. I always think my dad was my — I was very close to my mom too, but he was sort of my heart and my — well, I don’t know. He was my soul. My mom was my heart. They were both incredibly influentially. My mom was a very creative person. She used to be a cartographer for Rand McNally. She did layout for Coronet magazine, which was, I believe, the precursor to Esquire. They met in Chicago when my dad was in the navy.

They were just incredible parents. They really emphasized the importance of education. They were very encouraging without being too pushy. They weren’t helicopter-y. They gave us all our freedom. The four kids ended up being pretty accomplished people. My sister Emily, before she died of pancreatic cancer, was running for lieutenant governor with Mark Warner in Virginia. She was a real rising star in the democratic party. My sister Kiki — Clara, but I call her Kiki — is a landscape architect. My brother Johnny is the CFO of a company. I feel like whatever they did, they emphasized the right things and gave us room to make mistakes. They always expected us to be leaders and to excel academically. I was sort of the goof-off. My sisters, they were all really smart and accomplished. My mom was Jewish. Hello, can we not talk about that? Hello, I’m a member of the tribe. I couldn’t light the candles, but I’m learning. That’s something in the book that’s interesting that I talk about, the fact that — I’ve talked to my relatives who are Southern Jews in Birmingham, Alabama. My mom’s family settled in Alex City, Alabama. They had a department store, and then later in Atlanta. I write a lot about that because my mom was never very open about her Judaism. I wish she had been.

Growing up in Virginia and in the era when she grew up, there was a lot of anti-Semitism. I’m not sure if that was something that agreed with my paternal grandmother who was quite religious. I’m so proud of my Jewish heritage now and always have been, but I didn’t realize it until I was ten years old and saw a menorah in my uncle’s bookcase. I was like, . All I could think of was that Tom Lehrer song about “National Brotherhood Week.” If you’re a certain age, you might remember that he wrote a song. It was all a satirical show on Sunday nights. I was way too young to be watching it, but he wrote a song called “National Brotherhood Week.” It’s, “The Protestants hate the Catholics, the Catholics hate the Protestants, and everybody hates the Jews.” That’s all I could remember. When I saw that menorah, I was like, oh, my god. I wish she hadn’t felt like she had to be quiet about her faith. They were German Jews. Assimilation was so important. I talked to my cousin Henry who I mentioned lives in Birmingham. I said, “Why do you think my mom was so secretive about that?” He said, “We were citizens first and Jews second. It was an important part of our identity. They closed the store on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It wasn’t first and foremost because we wanted to assimilate.” Maybe that had something to do with it. That was an interesting thing to explore in the book for me.

Zibby: I think you might be able to get a bat mitzvah date in like 2026. Let me know. You’ll be behind my daughter.

Katie: My daughters went to camp. Their last name is Monahan. Most of the girls at their camp were Jewish. Carrie would come home and say, “I want to have a not mitzvah.” She felt left out.

Zibby: The thing about your mom that was so moving — you wrote really beautifully about both your parents at the end of their lives and how you came to terms with that. After your mother died when you called up the newspaper and said, okay, I need you to write an obituary for my mom, they said, tell us about her. You were like, she was this amazing homemaker, and this and that and the other thing. There was silence on the other line. You were like, why? Why does that not get written up? Why is that any less than other people’s accomplishments? Yet here you are as a woman and a mother doing all these other things. It seems imbalanced in a way. Tell me about that.

Katie: When my dad was sick — he had Parkinson’s. My brother Johnny and I were at the hospital. He was just not getting better. He had sundowner’s and was hallucinating a little bit. I walked into the hallway. I was just crushed. I’d bring my little speaker and play Benny Goodman and Frank Sinatra and all these things. It was just devastating for me to lose my dad and my mom and everyone else I’ve lost. I said to my brother Johnny, “We probably should write Dad’s obituary.” He said, “Oh, Katie, don’t worry, he’s already written it,” which was so thoughtful of him, in a way. I think because of his journalism background, he put something together. I called the reporter at The Washington Post. That was the paper my parents and I grew up on and my dad would read at the kitchen table every morning. I talked to the reporter. He was so nice. I said, “I’d like to submit. Can you help me with this obituary?” He was perfectly nice. I didn’t it want to be “my dad” because I’m one of four kids. Whenever somebody would say, are you Katie Couric’s father — I remember at the garage, someone asked him that. Maybe it was the pharmacist. He said, “No. Actually, she’s my daughter.”

We put this obituary in. There’s a really nice picture of my dad from the navy. When my mom died, I called and asked for the same guy who was so nice. He said, “Tell me about her.” I was like, “She was a really good artist. She volunteered at Planned Parenthood. She worked in the gift department of Lord & Taylor when I was older. She raised four incredible kids.” It was silence. It made me realize that parenting is just still so undervalued in our culture. There are so many people, honestly, who I think deserve obituaries. When I read The New York Times and the notices — it’s weird when you start reading the obituaries, especially when you see their ages and you start freaking out. You’re like, holy shit. Am I allowed to say that here? Anyway, so I think that we just don’t celebrate — it made me realize — I’ve worked my whole life, Zibby. I know there’s sometimes tension between parents, moms especially, who decide to stay home and raise their children and women who are “doing it all.” As if. It just made me really understand and appreciate everybody making the choices that are right for them and how grateful I was to my mom.

Zibby: That’s so nice. You wrote a lot about this whole tension of being a mom and being a working mom, when you were there, the events that you missed, how you felt about that. In fact, you even said, when you found out you were pregnant the first time, you were not happy about it. I feel bad cursing. You can curse.

Katie: Don’t curse. That’s okay. I think I said some expletive. The trajectory of my career, my career was just starting to take off. It was clear that I was sort of being groomed to take over The Today Show after this Jane Pauley-Deborah Norville debacle that was very poorly handled by the management. They sort of pushed Jane out at thirty-nine thinking she was too old or losing younger viewers, which was ludicrous. It was not ideal timing. Of course, now in hindsight — I remember seeing that T-shirt when I was in my twenties that said, oh, my god, I forgot to have children. I didn’t want that to be me. I really wanted to have a family too. It turns out I was really so lucky. Jay and I had Ellie and then four and a half years later had Carrie. Jay was diagnosed with colon cancer at forty-one. I’m just so grateful that there were two happy accidents who became my incredible daughters. I feel very blessed.

Zibby: I feel like I know your daughter after all your wedding pictures. I feel like I was there, which is amazing. One other thing you did in your memoir that I don’t see that often is all the space you gave to your childcare providers and the relationships you had. There was one pretty contentious relationship there where one of them kind of went off the rails.

Katie: I wouldn’t call it contentious. I would call it batshit crazy.

Zibby: Okay. I said you can curse.

Katie: I had a crazy, crazy nanny. It was scary. It’s funny in the book. I give her an assumed name, which I shouldn’t have because she came out and talked to the tabloids after the book came out anyway. She just had severe emotional problems. The fact that an agency placed her with us — this was my first child. I was in the middle of this incredible work experience, getting this job on The Today Show, when I was four or five months pregnant. She was older. Jay thought it would be good to have an older person, more experienced. He was living in Washington working at a law firm. He thought that someone experienced would be great. It was a really weird situation because she kind of grew roots very subtly into our home. I’m not a psychiatrist, but I think she had borderline personality disorder. After a few weeks, she wanted me to hug her before she went to bed, and I did, which is so screwed up. She didn’t have a family. I remember going to the grocery store with her when I was on maternity leave.

By the way, it’s such a strange relationship you have with your child’s caregiver. I always want to be respectful and really value that person and compensate them well. I remember her saying, “I don’t want to go away on the weekends. I want to feel like I’m a part of a family.” I was like, “You can be a part of our family” instead of, mayday, mayday, mayday. Something may be wrong here. It was just the two of us and Ellie. I was like, well, she’s alone. She has no friends. She doesn’t really have a family. What’s the harm of giving her a hug before she goes to bed? I have boundary issues anyway. This one was just severe. She worked for us for three years. We finally had to fire her. Then she went crazy. She called the tabloids. She sent pictures of me in a bathing suit to Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert, like, “Aren’t I cute? Love, Katie.” I was like, what? Oh, my god, it was just so crazy. It’s amazing how many women have these stories because it’s such a bizarre relationship. It’s so intimate — they’re around when you’re getting out of the shower — and so important because they’re taking care of the most important thing in your life. Yet you have to have these barriers. It’s really hard. Later, I was very lucky. I write a lot about Lori Beth, who was truly a coparent for me after Jay died. When she came for the interview — we had done a segment on falls on The Today Show. I had this long thing of blond hair. I decided I would keep it on just because I thought it was so fun and funny. She thought that I was incognito. She couldn’t understand why I was saying hi to everyone. She was very confused by the whole thing. She was wonderful. I feel so indebted to her. I write about how she taught Carrie when she was eight to recite “My Life is Like a Loaded Gun” by Emily Dickinson at the dinner table. As I said, My Little Pony, it wasn’t. She was really smart and really caring. Hi, Diana. I just feel really, really blessed that I had her in my life. The girls love her like another mother.

Zibby: You wrote a lot about your dating life in the book, including when you were dating Jay beforehand. One of my favorite parts, which I read out loud to my kids because I thought it was so funny — you had this one moment with Jay. I guess you were looking at his hair. It looked like it was thinning a little bit. You said, “Do you think you’re going to be bald when you get older?” He’s like, “I don’t know. Do you think you’re going to be fat and ugly?”

Katie: I learned not to bring up his hair ever again. He had this hand mirror that he kind of tucked into our stack of towels. I was like, I know what he’s doing with that. He’s checking it out in the morning. He was very sensitive. He took a lot of pride in his appearance and was a very natty dresser. Obviously, I touched a nerve. He was very funny. When I called him — I asked him out on our first date after I’d met him at a party. I said, “I thought you were going to call me.” I had given him my cheesy little News4 card. He’d given me his nice Williams & Connolly card that was much more elegant than mine. I said, “I thought you were going to call me.” He said, “Well, I guess I didn’t have to.” I was like, wow, he’s cocky.

Zibby: When you married John Molner, who’s here tonight, he also was cracking me up. I was like, this is great, I just have to hang out with all the people that Katie dates.

Katie: John is really, really funny. Where are you, Molner? Hi. John’s great. I’m so lucky.

Zibby: When you got married, right before the ceremony he said something like, “I’m the luckiest guy on Amy’s Lane. Well, this side of Amy’s Lane.”

Katie: He’s funny. He’s very witty and has a great sense of humor. I feel really lucky that I found a partner. I’m six years older than he is. I’m a cougar. I feel really lucky that I found a life partner after losing Jay. It took a lot of dates in between and boyfriends and unsuccessful relationships. Finally, I found Molner. I always give people advice that they have to be intentional. When I did my book tour, Zibby, I went to ten cities. I tried to give these life lessons. One of them was to be intentional. I was very, very adamant about finding someone. I wanted to get remarried. I’m a pretty traditional person. My friend Molly, who I used to go to Flywheel spinning when I was into that for a nanosecond, said — her husband is a South African doctor. I said, “Hey Molly, does Dave know any doctors? I think I’d like to go out with a doctor because I’ve learned so much about cancer research. I really enjoy the science part of it. I haven’t really dated that many doctors except for that weird plastic surgeon,” which we’ll talk about later. She said, “No, we don’t know any doctors, but we do know this banker named John Molner.” Every time I saw Molly, I’d be like, “Molly, what happened to the Molner guy? He’s never called me.” Finally, he did. We had a great first date. I tell people — in fact, I have a whole little section in my newsletter with advice on dating. It’s a numbers game. You got to cycle through them. Don’t ever meet for dinner because then you’re trapped for a couple of hours. Those are two hours of your life you’ll never get back. Always meet for wine or coffee in a public place because you want to be safe. Ask all your friends. Just really be relentless about it. If that’s something you want in your life — by the way, you don’t necessarily have to want it. That’s fine too. You have to really focus on it as if you’re looking for a job. That’s my attitude. That’s always worked for me even though my relationships weren’t always that successful.

Zibby: I also married someone six years younger who is very funny and witty. We’ll have to compare notes on these second marriages.

Katie: A sense of humor is so critical, especially now in the world we live in. It’s so bleak and depressing at times, and so much rancor and acrimony. You have to have somebody who makes you laugh, I think. That’s really important.

Zibby: I totally agree. In terms of your work life, just one thing I found really interesting and which you sort of alluded to earlier is how fragmented the news industry is, but also how you grew up in The Today Show world where you could have one minute talking to the president and the next minute you could be doing something about paper towels or something.

Katie: Or talking to Miss Piggy or something.

Zibby: Teletubbies. And how in other endeavors, people try to push you into certain things, the daytime TV role and that you had to be a certain way and then the very serious CBS News role, and how it’s so tricky to just find all the parts of a person in a particular job. That’s why your new Katie Couric Media is so great. I love your newsletter because you have all of that in there. Why is that so hard to find? Why do people think that it has to be so narrow?

Katie: I think there’s a certain expectation for news people, especially television news people. They used to say, when I went to the CBS Evening News, that I lacked gravitas, which I always say is Latin for testicles. It’s very hard to still see women in positions of power. I think people are suspicious of women as powerful figures, as authority figures. I think there’s so much cultural conditioning still, at least for people of my generation, to, as I said, be suspicious of someone who is both feminine and authoritative, who can have fun and have an outgoing, fun personality but also have intellectual depth and the kind of curiosity and intelligence that being a good journalist requires. I think that’s a changing a bit. I just think that we sort of pigeonhole people. Because I have a big personality and I’m very fun-loving, but I also have an extremely serious side — I think it’s just hard for people to see individuals in all their multidimensional splendor. They want to pigeonhole you and put you in a category. I think that was one of the things.

With my new company, our new company, I can do interviews with someone about the damn Omicron, or however you say it, variant. How upsetting is that? Keeping our fingers and toes crossed on that. I can also do a fun interview. I can do an IG Live with Leslie Jordan or with Ina Garten when she’s making a giant cosmo during the pandemic. I can kind of satisfy all different sides of myself and just do things that I’m interested in. I wanted to ask you, Zibby — Zibby is really doing incredible things with her company. One of the things I realized in writing this book is publishing is an industry that is ripe for disruption because I think they’ve been doing it sort of the same way for decades, if not centuries. I wanted to have you, for the people who aren’t familiar with the kind of things you’re doing with your company, explain how you’re approaching this changing media and changing publishing landscape.

Zibby: Thank you. Then after I do this, we’ll go to questions for a little bit because I don’t want to take away from your book. Yes, I recently started Zibby Books, which is a new publishing company. We’re doing twelve books a year of fiction and memoir, telling it like it is. One of the reasons why is because on my podcast, “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books,” I’ve interviewed almost nine hundred people, and I’ve heard the same things over and over again about all the issues in publishing. I’ve been thinking of doing this for over a year. I just kept thinking, well, how is it going to change? It’s impossible. The companies are so big and so entrenched in the ways they’re doing things. With my own books — I have books coming out with three different publishers, or that have come out. I kept hearing, “No, we don’t do it this way.” I’m like, “Let’s try this.” “No, we can’t do it that way.” I don’t like that. I’m like, why not? I don’t understand. How are you going to find a book if it’s stored in the top shelf and there’s one copy and then they sell out and they won’t reorder? It’s like, well, of course, you’re going to — if you sold it — anyway, I’ll stop. I had a lot of frustrations. I felt like there was a whole new way to do it. Why not try? I kept waiting. I was like, well, maybe I’m the person who’s supposed to do this. Why not me? What if I try it? I partnered with Leigh Newman, who has been in the publishing world forever. She used to be at Oprah and started Catapult Books, so someone knew what they were doing a little bit. She keeps saying, “This is how it’s done in publishing.” Every day, I’m like, “Well, let’s not do it that way, then. Let’s try it a different way.” We’re shaking things up from distribution, how we’re getting the word out. We’re starting with this effort we just launched called #22in22 where we’re encouraging — you all should sign up — people to go to bookstores twenty-two times in the year 2022. I’ll give out these little prizes and badges. I’m going to make it a fun thing.

Katie: Do we get a sticker book?

Zibby: You do. You’re going to get a sticker. You’re going to get a badge. You’re going to get all sorts of stuff. Somebody said, “Thank god. This is a lot better than a weight loss challenge for 2022.” We’re changing it up. We’re doing profit-sharing among all our authors. We’re going to have a class of authors. All of the things we’re doing counter some issue that we’ve seen. We’re starting book ambassadors all around the country to lift up the authors.

Katie: Are you looking to discover new authors? That’s part of it, but also, you’re celebrating published authors too. I know that you have a new book, an anthology of essays written by some really impressive authors who we’re going to be meeting later tonight.

Zibby: Yes, they’re coming up soon. I have two anthologies written by people who have all been on my podcast because they are amazing authors and I love their books. Eleven of them are here tonight. We’re going to hear from them very soon. I couldn’t get enough. When I do my podcast, they’re about thirty minutes long. I always want to know more. I thought this would be a good way to get original content from some amazing writers. That’s how the anthologies came to be.

Katie: It’s so great because it’s really hard to get attention for books. It’s really challenging. For you to be able to bring attention, that’s what we’re trying to do too at my company, make sure that some of these writers, that people know about them, especially first-time authors. I think it’s wonderful what you’re doing. By the way, Zibby’s a real smarty-pants. She’s being modest. She went to Yale and Harvard Business School. She knows what she’s doing. Don’t act all like, I had to get someone who knew what they were doing.

Zibby: I meant I hadn’t been in publishing.

Katie: You’re a good businesswoman. Own it, sister.

Zibby: Okay, great. Bye, Leigh. No, I’m kidding. I think we can open it up for questions for a few minutes. Then after that, we’re going to invite all our authors from the anthology on the stage. Then we’ll do our little speed shopping whatever, speed dating author. Does anybody have any questions?

Katie: Oh, that’s hard for her. Do you want me to just hand her my mic? I feel bad. Sorry.

Zibby: If anyone else has questions who’s closer…

Katie: Don’t be shy, you all.

Beth Raison: Hi, Katie. Beth Raison. We went to UVA together and graduated together, class of ’79.

Katie: Wahoowa, baby. Hi. Nice to see you.

Beth: It’s great to see you. I have two questions for you. The first is, is there a point in your life where your ambition really manifested itself and you became truly aware of it and harnessed it? The second question is, how challenging was it to be the anchor at CBS News and to navigate that pathway? I would tune in to watch you.

Katie: Did I look miserable?

Beth: Well, it was clear you were trying to break new ground. It was clear that the powers that be weren’t really thrilled with that. I’m curious to know how you navigated that journey. I’m also curious about the ambition question.

Katie: Thank you for those two questions. For the ambition question, I think I always wanted a career. I came of age as the feminist movement was really gaining steam. I always just wanted to make sure I had a career. In my twenties, I made a very conscious decision that I was going to focus myopically on my career. I didn’t want to be tied down by a guy. I dated somebody in every market I lived in, sort of like one in every port. I was kind of a guy about it. I didn’t want to make accommodations for someone else. I wanted to be selfish and focus on getting the experience I needed to do well professionally. I think I was ambitious from the get-go. I read a book that I highly recommend called Feminine Mistake about not being financially independent. It really struck me that I didn’t want the feeling of depending on a man. For some people, it’s fine, but I didn’t like that feeling. I didn’t like the inequality and the imbalance of power that came with that. In my twenties, it was pretty clear that I wanted something and I was going to achieve it. I was very focused. Then the other question, I forget. Oh, CBS, I write all about this in my book. I hope you all will read it. It was challenging on many levels, I think because I was the first female. I think some of them doubted that I was a real journalist because I had done a morning show even though John Chancellor had done that. Tom Brokaw had done that, Bryant Gumbel. It was heavily gendered in that way because I had done more hard-news interviews than any of the evening anchors combined, I think.

I also just think it was a culture clash. CBS was very old-school, took pride on being very traditional. I think I was threatening. My presence was threatening because Les Moonves brought me there to kind of shake things up and to reimagine an evening newscast which he felt had become sort of stale and anachronistic. I think I just represented a threat. I was a change agent in an environment where they really didn’t want to change. It was a lot of change in an organization. It was like I was a transplanted heart, and the body rejected the organ. As I said in my book, no amount of immunosuppressants were going to change that. It was painful. I tell a story in the book where I was at the dinner table and I started crying. My girls were twelve and eight or something. No, I think Carrie was ten, so Ellie was fourteen. I started crying. They were like, “Mom, what’s the matter?” I was like, “I’m so –” I always sound like Mary Tyler Moore when I do that. Carrie, who was ten, said, “Mom, remember what Samantha said in Sex and the City?” I was like, oh, my god, I’m also a terrible mother on top of this. She said, “If I listen to what every bitch in New York said about me, I’d never leave the house.” I was like, “Oh, my god, Carrie.” It made me laugh because here was my ten-year-old quoting Samantha. I just powered through. I didn’t want to quit. I think I might have made it easier for some of the women who came after me. I hope I did. It was a challenging period of my life. That’s probably why I dated a guy seventeen years younger than I was, but that’s in the book too.

Zibby: That was also a great section. Go ahead. Here.

Female Voice: Hi, Katie. I have so much to say. I’m such a superfan. First of all, I loved your book. I listened to it on Audible, which is amazing because it’s you. I felt like you were talking to me.

Katie: The clips from the interviews and stuff.

Female Voice: The clips were so good. I’m also a colon cancer survivor at age forty-one.

Katie: I’m so glad.

Female Voice: I have two questions. First, how did you remember all of those details of your life? I know you hold onto a lot of stuff. You went back in time. I was just amazed at all the specific detail that you were able to come up with. The second question is, have you heard from Matt Lauer since the book?

Katie: Two good questions. First of all, I’m so glad you’re doing well. I’m so happy about that. Everyone, please get screened for colon cancer. A lot of people are putting it off because of the pandemic. If anyone is forty-five or over, you need to talk to your doctor about getting screened. It’s the number-two cancer-killer of men and women combined, but it’s so preventable. If I leave you with any thought, let me leave you with that. Now I forgot the first question. Not the Matt Lauer. I’ll get to the Matt Lauer.

Female Voice: The detail of, how did you remember everything?

Katie: You know, I think I do have a good memory. I kept a lot of things. I’m a packrat. I had all the speeches, pretty much, I had ever given, so many letters from people, both well-known and strangers when I got certain jobs and when Jay was sick and when I got married and all that. Plus, there’s Google. I could look up a lot of the interviews I did, YouTube. Also, the archivists at the networks were really generous and helped me. They sent me things. I kept folders and notebooks of hour-specials I had done, an interview with the Central Park jogger. I could refer to a lot of those things as well as magazine articles. You read the book. My parents kept these scrapbooks for me throughout my career. They mysteriously stopped when I went to CBS, probably because there weren’t enough good articles to save. I had those to rely on too, which were really helpful. I have not heard from Matt Lauer. That was a really hard part of the book to write. It was a very hard period of time for me to see someone I had worked with and respected and had a friendship with — to learn about some of the things that were going on was really, really upsetting to me. I write in the book that our friendship really deteriorated pretty quickly after he was fired because I was very confused, honestly. There was a lot of cognitive dissonance for me. We’re really not friends anymore, but I hope I handled it in the book in a way that was sensitive and helped people understand how I tried to process learning this information about someone who really abused his power in a way that was quite damaging to a number of young women.

Zibby: It was a great chapter. I thought you did a good job. Last question. Then we’re going to go to our anthology.

Male Voice: Katie, if you had the chance to start from scratch, how would you do it differently?

Katie: If I had…? Sorry.

Male Voice: If you lost everything and had to start all over again, how would you do it?

Katie: Huh, that’s an interesting question. That’s a very interesting question. If I lost everything and had to do it over again, I think some of the things that I’ve done I would do again. I would try to have a profession that I really loved and felt passionately about. I would hope that I would use my skills to improve the world or help people understand it. Maybe I would go into politics. I think that that would be really interesting, but I don’t think my skin is thick enough to handle that. There’s not a lot I would do differently. I’m really, for the most part, pretty proud of how I’ve lived my life and how I’ve tried to do my best. That was an interesting question.

Male Voice: Thanks. I thought it was going to be one of those dorky Barbara Walters/Phyllis George questions.

Katie: I don’t know. Barbara Walters never asked somebody what kind of tree they would be. I think she was unfairly maligned for that. Phyllis George did ask a rapist to hug his victim.

Male Voice: Rich Podolsky, You Are Looking Live! Great book. Highly recommend it.

Katie: Thank you.

Zibby: Moving on to the next section of our night, should I call people up one by one?

Katie: Yeah, let’s do it.

Zibby: These are contributors, by the way, to the anthology, Moms Don’t Have Time to Have Kids. It’s not too late. You can order. Hanukkah’s not even over. Esther Amini is the author of Concealed, a memoir. She is going to tell you a little bit more about her book and her essay in the anthology.

Esther Amini: Thank you. Hi. I’m Esther Amini. My book is entitled Concealed. The subtitle is Memoir of a Jewish-Iranian Daughter Caught Between the Chador and America. The book is a memoir. It’s about my life having grown up caught between two opposing cultures. My parents came from the Iranian city of Mashhad. Mashhad is the most fanatically Islamic city in all of Iran. It’s considered the holiest city with zero tolerance for anyone who’s different. My ancestors lived there. My parents lived there as crypto-Jews. The Jews of Mashhad are often compared to the Marranos of Spain. They lived a life of duplicity, duality, paranoia. Came to the United States because of mounting anti-Semitism, but came here in 1947 right after World War II. A few years later, I was born. The background is very important because I was born unto Mashhad. My father brought the city with him to Queens, New York. I was torn between the values, the principles that he was advocating, one of them being, girls should not learn to read and write. In Mashhad, girls were kept illiterate. Another was that girls should marry very young. His mother was married at the age of nine to my grandfather, who was twenty-nine. My mother was married at the age of fourteen to my father, who was thirty-four. All of that was very normal and expected. The book is all about what they brought, how I navigated through wanting to hold onto them and wanting to hold onto myself. Lots of humor in the book because of the culture clash, because America doesn’t understand Iran; Iran doesn’t understand America. My parents were diametric opposites, so there was a lot of collisions, cultural collisions, interpersonal collisions. Lots of room for humor. I hope that you pick the book up, read it. I really believe you would enjoy it. It’s an eye-opener into that culture. Thank you.

Zibby: All books are for sale in the lobby. All the authors will sign downstairs afterwards. Adrienne Bankert, who flew in all the way from Chicago just for this and is flying right back because she is a morning news anchor herself.

Adrienne Bankert: Hi, everybody. I used to live here in New York City. I was a correspondent with ABC News, Good Morning America. I wrote the book during that time, so you find a lot about what it was like to work at Good Morning America for me. The book was inspired by a few things. One was that my mentor actually said, “You should write a book on kindness.” I thought, I’m not kind enough to write a book on kindness. Why don’t you write a book on kindness? They said, “No, you really have a different perspective.” The truth is that I’m one of seven children, raised by a single mom predominantly. I had these big dreams to go to New York City and work as a network anchor. The path that led me to that dream or towards that dream was so different than I had expected. It was not going to be cookie-cutter, but I was so disappointed in some ways. It was way more work in other ways. I quickly learned that whatever I was going to do on television when that camera was shining on me was going to be a direct reflection of the experiences that I had when a camera wasn’t on me. It was going to be based on the relationships that I forged and the connections that I made when no one was watching, and that I was broadcasting all the time. How could I live my life authentically and actually be really engaged in life? If I just had a really good career and made money and did what I said I was going to grow up to be and yet wasn’t happy — at one point, I was traveling all over the world. I was interviewing celebrities. I was coming back from Prague. I felt sad. I said, what is that cloud hanging over me? This little voice in the inside of me said, what if everything was working out for you? I said, if everything was working out for me, I’d be the happiest girl in the world. I’d be jumping up and down. That kind of sparked writing the book.

How could I tap into something that it didn’t matter what city I was in, it didn’t matter what job I was doing, it didn’t matter how people were treating me? The fact is, no matter what industry you’re in, people are going to treat you a certain way. Life is going to take zigs and zags. The past year and a half has taught us that. How are we going to respond so that we don’t respond out of defense, so we don’t respond out of wounds? I saw myself and other people walking around like the walking wounded. I just made this conscious decision that I would find the answer. The answer for me, the aha moment for me turned out to be that the light switch to me being who I really, really was so that life wouldn’t damage me so much that I’d give you some ten-percent version of myself — if my cell phone is me and I’m only on ten percent battery charge, I’m going to reserve the use of this technology that can connect me with anyone in the world. I’m going to keep it in my pocket and only use it for emergency calls. I’m not going to surf the internet. I’m not going to go on social media because I don’t have another way to charge it. How could I recharge myself? What I found is me being kind was the highest and best version of me.

The book is titled Your Hidden Superpower: The Kindness That Connects You with Anyone. It makes you unbeatable at work and connects you with anyone. Rather than try to be a certain kind of person, I decided to be the real me. In being kind, I was able to connect in interviews. In being kind, I was able to show appreciation to my crew, which was very vital in the business that I am in. I ended up moving to Chicago to take a job as a morning news anchor. I’m on a network called NewsNation. It’s three hours of live TV. I solo host it. Everything that I did and all that hard work that was so painful at times led me to this place. If I had lost myself, I wouldn’t have been eligible for it. It’s a book that’s inspiring. It’s got amazing stories in it. I know that no matter what you do in life, you’re going to see and you’re going to tap into the true you, the you that has always been meant to be, and that is your hidden superpower, kindness. Thank you.

Zibby: Amazing. All right, Jeanine Cummins. Jeanine Cummins is the best-selling author of American Dirt, which was the Oprah’s Book Pick.

Jeanine Cummins: Hi, everybody. I was going to start by asking Katie Couric to give me a hug, but I am also trying to work on my boundaries. I wrote a book called American Dirt. It’s my fourth book, third novel. I was as surprised as anyone when I got the call from Oprah that it was going to be an Oprah’s Book Club selection. Changed my life in a lot of great ways and some really crazy ways. The book is something that I spent five years working on, researching. It’s a novel about a young woman named Lydia. She lives in Acapulco. She’s a bookseller. She has a little boy named Luca who’s eight. On the first page, the first chapter of the book, there’s an act of unspeakable violence that befalls their family. Luca and Lydia are the only survivors of a massacre. What follows is that they fall very quickly out of their comfortable, middle-class lives and they become migrants. They have no choice but to run for their lives. The book is the story of their journey running from danger, running toward what they hope will be relative safety. Really, it’s the story of compulsory migration, which is kind of the global story of our times. More than that, I think and I hope that it transcends the boundaries of where the characters come from. For me, it’s a story about parents and children and the unbreakable bonds of love that exist between us. I wanted the novel to read like the experience of asking the reader, what if it happened to you? What if you were a mother who was living in a place that began to collapse around you? What would you do to save your child? This novel is my attempt at answering that question. I hope you’ll read it and enjoy it. Thank you.

Zibby: Amazing. Michael Frank is the author of What is Missing, which by the way, my husband Kyle, his production company has optioned. It will be a film or limited series or whatever soon. Stay tuned.

Michael Frank: Let’s hope. Thank you, Zibby and Katie. Thank you for having me here this evening. What Is Missing is my novel. It is a triangle, a father, a son, and a woman who meet in a pensione in Florence. It transfers to New York for a dramatic year and then concludes in Liguria. It’s about absence. Absence is another way of saying it’s about longing. In the case of Costanza, she’s longing for a baby; Henry, a partner; Andrew, the son, to understand the origin of his life. All of these quests come together as Costanza undergoes a grueling couple of cycles of in vitro fertilization. She’s forty years old, half Italian, half America. Henry, the man she meets in Italy, just happens to be a physician who specializes in fertility. Every character in the course of this book, as in any aspiringly good novel, undergoes some kind of journey. Costanza’s is to find out who she is, who Henry is, what it was to be the daughter of the mother she was. For Henry, it’s to understand his father who was a survivor of the Shoah and put a great deal of pressure on him to become a physician who specialized in repopulating the world. For Andrew, it’s to understand why something in his life doesn’t make sense. I won’t say what that is because you find out if you read the book. People say the book is psychologically tense and kind of like a thriller, but I just think of it as this journey that these three characters go on. Where they end up is still, in some ways, a mystery to me, but they do end up, by the last page, coming to a certain kind of peace, each of them with his or her own life anyway. I hope you read it. Thank you again.

Zibby: Next up is Elyssa Friedland who’s written many books including The Floating Feldmans, Love and Miss Communication, and her most recent, Last Summer at the Golden Hotel.

Elyssa Friedland: Hi. I’m the first person to bring a paper up here. I’m feeling very self-conscious about it. I’m going to try to do what Katie would do and wing it. Thank you so much. I think I’m Zibby’s only three-peat on the podcast. Katie, we’re neighbors. I’ve noticed you more than you’ve noticed me for some reason, but we live on the same block. I see you all the time. Next time I’m going to just run over and hug you. As Zibby said, Last Summer at the Golden Hotel is my fourth novel. I’ve also got a picture book coming out next year. I teach novel writing at Yale. That’s what keeps me busy. I’d love to tell you about Last Summer at the Golden Hotel because I think it’s the perfect book for this holiday season when we’re all about to be forced into a lot of togetherness. For a moment, forget about Omicron and pretend that we are going to travel with reckless abandon. Pack your bags and come with me to the Catskills to the region known at the Borscht Belt. I know everyone here has seen Dirty Dancing at least five times. The Golden Hotel is just like Kellerman’s from the Dirty Dancing movie. It was the place to see and be seen if you were an upper-crust Jewish person from the Northeast. It’s co-owned by two families, the Weingolds and the Goldmans. They’re best friends and business partners. We all know how well that always works out.

As times goes on, the Borscht Belt falls out of fashion. You know in real life, Grossinger’s, The Concord, , the Nevele, Kutsher’s, they all shutter one by one. In my book, The Golden Hotel is still hanging on by a thread until a casino developer approaches the families and offers to buy the hotel and convert it into a casino. This brings three generations of both families back to the Borscht Belt to eat a lot of brisket, drink a lot of Manischewitz, have affairs, have all their secrets come out. I won’t say what happens. Do they sell, or do they keep it? I am told the ending is very satisfying. I also, just like Katie, have been known to read my own book in bed. Also, my children have come into the car and they’re like, “On Audible again?” Sometimes it does feel good to read your own work and take pride in it. I hope that you will buy Last Summer at The Golden Hotel. It’s perfect to put under your Hanukkah bush this year. It was a Good Morning America Buzz Pick and a Book of the Month Club selection. If this is the first you’re hearing about it, I hope it won’t be the last. Thank you, Zibby and Katie.

Zibby: Nice job. Next up, Richie Jackson, who’s the author of a memoir called Gay Like Me. You will see his sweater is just perfection.

Richie Jackson: Hi. My husband and I have two children. When our older son told us he was gay, I was elated. I had hoped he’d be gay. I wanted him to be gay. My greatest wish was for him to be gay. Then he said, “Daddy, being gay is not a big deal. My generation doesn’t think it’s a big deal.” I thought, oh, no, being gay is the best part about me. It’s the most important part about me. I didn’t want him to be one of these people who diminishes it and demeans it by saying, gay doesn’t define me. I just happen to be gay. If he did that, he would break his own heart and not take full advantage of the gift that it is. I sat down to write him a letter to tell him what it means to be a gay man. Then Donald Trump was elected and brought with him to Washington, Mike Pence, both of them more of a threat to our son than ISIS and North Korea. Now I had to warn him what it takes to be a gay man in America. LGBTQ people, queer people is what the kids call it, are just 4.5 percent of the population, just 4.5 percent. It’s not like we’re a batch that came out wrong, that we’re broken. We are, in fact, chosen. We are chosen to look at the world differently, to see the world differently, to feel differently. It’s a blessing.

I wrote this book to change the way we talk about LGBTQ people. Think about what we go through. We disappoint our parents. We’re at battle with our government. We’re stigmatized by religions. We’re bullied in our childhoods. We’re erased in our classrooms. We have survived a plague. Still, we rise and we come out and we say, this is me. It is the spirit of an extraordinary species of people. I wrote the book to activate my son’s superpower. If you know someone who’s LGBTQ and you want to say, you are worthy, then this book does that. If you’re raising an LGBTQ child, it will help you understand their journey and help you raise them with good self-esteem and resilience. If you’re a parent and you know there’s something special in your child, that you want to blow oxygen on that part so that you can raise them to fulfill their potential and reach their destiny, my book can show you how to do that as well. Thank you.

Zibby: This is amazing. I love listening to all this. I hope you all are enjoying. Caroline Leavitt is a best-selling author of many books, her most recent of which is With or Without You. By the way, she cofounded A Mighty Blaze, which you should all check out and helps lots of authors.

Caroline Leavitt: Hi. Thank you all for being here. I want to thank Zibby. Because of Zibby, my book was a Good Morning America online pick. I need to thank Katie. Because of the amazing earrings she wore on Bill Maher, I had to go out and spend a lot of time on Etsy to buy these. Thank you, Katie. What would you do if the love of your life suddenly went into a coma and when they came out, they were a totally different personality? Even stranger, they had a strange new ability. This actually does happen in comas sometimes. In my book, With or Without You, it starts with Stella, a very practical, in-her-forties nurse. She’s arguing with her long-time partner, Simon, to get his act together. He’s also in his forties. He was a famous rock-and-roller. Now he’s struggling. To recapture their youth, they drink. They smoke. They do drugs. They pass out. In the morning, Simon’s the only one who wakes up. Stella’s in a coma for three months. When she wakes up, she’s a complete stranger both to herself and to Simon. Even stranger, she starts painting. She’s able to discover the inner dreams of all the subjects she paints, which makes her incredibly famous, something she does not want and Simon yearns for.

This particular story actually has a personal component. Three weeks after I gave birth to my son, I got sick. I was in a coma for four weeks. They gave me memory blockers because they felt that it would be a very bad idea for me to remember the procedures, the trauma, the pain. I didn’t remember that, but the sad thing about that is when you can’t remember, you can’t process trauma. For years and years after that, I would have all these weird triggers and panic attacks. I suddenly went to a therapist. The therapist said, “Okay, you’re a writer. What you need to do is make up the memories. Give them to somebody who’s distinctly unlike you.” I created Stella. I gave the memories to her. That therapist was right. Right now, I’ve gotten rid of about — I have maybe five percent panic attacks left in me. Those, I can sort of handle. The interesting thing for me is, in living my life through Stella, I learned a whole lot about love, what we owe the people we love, whether we should stay, whether we should leave. The most amazing thing for me is that I also learned that we’re all transforming all the time. Some of those transformations may not be so great, but a lot of them are really full of wonder. I felt that. I hope that if you read my book, that you’ll feel that too. Thank you so much.

Zibby: We have four more amazing guests. Gigi Levangie is the author of The Starter Wife, which became a TV show with Debra Messing, and also her latest, Been There, Married That.

Gigi Levangie: Been There, Married That. Somebody’s not happy about that title. I don’t know who it could be. Before I talk about my book, Elyssa, you live a block from Katie. Katie and I dated the same man, Tom.

Katie: We need to talk.

Gigi: I was newly divorced. He was the number-one bachelor in LA. That’s what you do. My book, Been There, Married That, this is my eighth book. I wrote a movie called Stepmom. That’s how I started writing. I wrote that in about ten days, the first draft. I was very motivated by my relationship with the mom. I made her a very good mother, but got rid of her. We’re good friends now. It’s all good. After that, after the reviews came out, I thought, I don’t need a team of people to get bad reviews. I can get bad reviews on my own, so I started writing books. I wrote The Starter Wife and then Maneater. Those became miniseries. This one, my eighth book, Been There, Married That, is more about sisters. I have three sisters. I’m the third of four. We’re all eighteen months apart. My father stayed home and raised us. He’s an ex-staff sergeant. My mother worked outside the home as a principal in East LA. I had a lot of discipline thrown at me for a very long time. This is a story about two sisters who are very different. One is a writer who’s in the middle of a very nasty Hollywood divorce. I cannot relate at all, but I did a lot of research. The other sister is an ex-con. She gets out of prison. She decides she’s going to help her sister navigate this divorce. I do a have a sister who’s an ex-con. I remember one day I got a phone call. I was living in a thirty-thousand-square-foot mansion, twenty-nine phones. I would get phone calls from prison. The ringing would go on and on and on in waves. I finally said to her, “Mimi, I have enough writing material. You don’t need to do this anymore.” That’s basically why I write. This one is a comedy. I do hope that you enjoy it. As Nora Ephron said, to paraphrase her, and she was a friend as well, you never really get to know someone until you divorce them. My tagline with this is, buy it or be sad. I hope you enjoy.

Zibby: Thank you. By the way, Gigi came all the way from LA just for this. That was super nice. Thank you. Jeanne McCulloch is the author of a memoir called All Happy Families and is also very involved with The Paris Review.

Jeanne McCulloch: I came all the way from Brooklyn. Do I get credit for that?

Zibby: Okay.

Jeanne: There was traffic too. Thank you for having us here. It’s a pleasure to be here. My memoir, All Happy Families — I first want to say something about how it all got started. I’ve spent most of my career a literary editor, not as a writer. I was at The Paris Review for a very long time. I’m still on the board. I can’t quite shake The Paris Review. I had written an essay for an anthology. An editor approached me afterwards and asked if I would expand it into a memoir. I thought, oh, yeah, five thousand words, seventy thousand words, that’ll be no problem. I’ll just go for it. I suddenly realized once I tried to write about something that was that personal for that long that a lot of skeletons were going to come out of the closet. I heard an interview with a writer, I think it was Dani Shapiro, actually, wonderful memoirist, who said that memoir is really a way to process trauma and to tell stories so that you can give shape to it. My book was about the weekend I got married. I got married a long time ago. I was very young. My father ended up dying that weekend from an alcohol problem he had.

The book is really about two families that come together for one event that’s supposed to be really joyous, and it ends up being very different, obviously. There is a sense of what family dysfunction does to two very different families. There is an overlay of addiction in it. There’s also a lot of humor in it because it was a shitstorm. The wedding was a shitstorm. My mother was insisting that we go ahead with it. It was both heartbreaking and yet we were going through tradition. A lot of this book is also about, what are family traditions? When family comes together, what do they share? and what we can take out of that. I just wanted to say something about memory, actually, since it’s come up a few times. It’s a question I get a lot when I talk about my book. I also teach memoir. I have a writing workshop in Baja. What I tell people is, if you’re writing narrative nonfiction and it’s very personal and you get worried about what you can or cannot remember, the thing to remember is that memory is emotional truth. If you remember something, there’s usually a very good reason you remember it, so start there. Then just sit with the characters and the material. I’m happy to talk to you more about that afterwards. Thank you.

Zibby: Next up is best-selling author Allison Pataki who has written The Queen’s Fortune. She has a new book coming out about Marjorie Merriweather Post. She wrote a beautiful memoir, Beauty in the Broken Places, and has a children’s book series.

Allison Pataki: Thank you, Zibby and Katie. I’m so honored to be in this lineup of amazing authors. I didn’t travel as far. I traveled one hour, but I have three kids under the age of six, so metaphorically and emotionally and intellectually, I have traveled to another planet than what I am usually doing at this point in the evening. Thank you, husband. I can’t hear from here, but I hope it’s going well. Tied in with that, in Zibby’s anthology, I wrote on the topic of sleep and how it’s something that I vaguely remember from the past and how one year for my birthday after I had a few grueling introductory years to the role of motherhood after I had been the primary caregiving for my husband through his health crisis while I was pregnant and then the primary caregiver for my daughters through their own medical issues, how all I wanted for my birthday was a night of sleep. I asked if I could just go to a hotel. My husband, being very sweet, was like, “Yeah. Should we ask your mom or a babysitter? I can join you.” I was like, “No, no, you are not invited. I am going to be by myself and not talk for twenty-four hours and sleep.” Tied in with that as well as, raising three little ladies, I have fallen headlong in love with the genre of historical fiction, and specifically, historical fiction that is based on these fantastic, powerful, fascinating, compelling women whose names you might not have ever heard of in your history lessons.

This is my eighth book, The Queen’s Fortune, but it is my fifth in the genre of historical fiction pulling women from the wings of the stages of history and putting them center stage. The tip for this one actually, for Desiree Clary, came from my father who said, “Allison, you love history. You love going down the rabbit hole and uncovering the stories of these women whose names have been more forgotten in history. You need to look into this French woman, Desiree Clary.” I’d never heard the name Desiree Clary. He said, “Napoleon, start there. Look into Desiree Clary.” I began this research on Desiree Clary and found that before Napoleon’s famous, infamous dysfunctional relationship with Josephine, he had been engaged to and been madly in love with this woman Desiree. He broke her heart to marry Josephine. His brother, who was his best, best friend, Joseph, married Desiree’s sister, who was her best, best friend, Julie. Even after Napoleon breaks her heart and goes on to become emperor and have this meteoric rise with Josephine, the love of his life, Desiree is stuck in the inner circle of the French imperial family. Author Lauren Willig made a good point saying it’s kind of like The Real Housewives of the Tuileries Palace. Fast-forward, they have this falling out. She goes on to become a queen of Sweden and outlasts them all. What fascinated me, and I’ll leave with this, Napoleon, at the end of his life in his exile, is writing. He had, obviously, beef with everybody that spanned continents and many, many military campaigns. I could just tell from his writing that it still irked him that Desiree was the one that had gotten away. Not only had she gotten away, she had outlasted him. She had gone on to found her own dynasty, which still rules to this day. History provides the best raw material. Women, particularly, in history provide the best raw material to not only educate, but also entertain and transport us. I hope you will check it out, The Queen’s Fortune. Thank you.

Zibby: Our final author preview is Susan Shapiro, who is a beloved and well-known teacher at The New School and has written many books including — she’s already here — Five Men Who Broke My Heart and her latest, The Forgiveness Tour.

Susan Shapiro: Thank you, Zibby and Katie. I’m honored to be in this group. A Hasidic colleague once told me Jewish law requires a person to ask heartfelt forgiveness three times. If the injured party won’t forgive, the sinner is forgiven and the non-forgiver must seek forgiveness for not forgiving. Yet the request has to be inspired by true regret. My memoir, The Forgiveness Tour, which took ten years to write, asks the question, how do you forgive someone who hurt you if they won’t offer a sincere apology and says only, I’m sorry for the imaginary crime you think I committed?

Zibby: Thank you so much, Katie, and to everybody for watching.

Katie: Thank you, everyone.

Zibby: I hope you’ll all join us and go downstairs to get your new books signed. I hope you snatch up all the copies of those authors’ books in the lobby and that you enjoy Katie’s book, Going There, and my anthology. Thanks for spending so much time with us tonight. Happy Hanukkah.

Katie: Thank you. Thanks, Zibby.

Gady: A big thank you to Katie Couric and to Zibby Owens. I know it’s a late night. I know a lot of us are tired, but please join us downstairs. We set up a little party for you guys. The authors came a long way. Let’s show them some support. Meet me downstairs. Don’t be late. Thank you.

Zibby: Thanks, Gady.

Katie Couric, GOING THERE

GOING THERE by Katie Couric

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