AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Nora Ephron was a journalist, an essayist, a screenwriter, a novelist, a playwright, a film director and even a blogger. Toward the end of her long and varied existence, Ephron and her editor began to put together a collection of her work. It's a large book, almost 600 pages. The collection includes a play, a movie script and a short novel. It was a project that the author didn't live to see completed. Now, more than a year after her death, it's being published. Author Meg Wolitzer was a friend of Ephron's. She has a review of the book and this remembrance.
MEG WOLITZER, BYLINE: Nora Ephron started her writing career as a cub reporter for the New York Post. She writes that everyone smoked, but there were no ashtrays. The doors were so dusty that someone had written the word filthy on them with a finger. I couldn't have cared less. But even though she loved this rumpled guy's world of the newsroom, one thing you can't miss reading this book is that Ephron was also interested in women's lives, and sometimes that included her own.
Her one novel, "Heartburn," is a short but blistering account of the end of a marriage. It's based on her own split from the journalist Carl Bernstein, and it still has all the rage and humor it did 30 years when she described how her husband cheated on her while she was pregnant with their second child. It was the perfect revenge. As a writer, she let her women characters be vulnerable but never destroyed, and she believed something similar in real life.
She made that point when she gave the commencement address to the graduating class of Wellesley College in 1996.
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NORA EPHRON: Be the heroine of your life, not the victim because you won't have the alibi my class had. You won't be able to blame the deans or the culture or anyone else. You will have no one to blame but yourselves. Whoa.
WOLITZER: Other sides of Ephron show up in this book, too. For one, the profiler and also the social critic. She wrote about Lillian Hellman, Helen Gurley Brown, Deep Throat, Bill Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, O.J. Simpson and the internal politics of the women's movement. Plus, she wrote about food. Everyone who really knew Nora Ephron was cooked for by her - myself included.
I met Nora over 20 years ago because the first film she directed, "This Is My Life," starring Julie Kavner as a standup comedian, was based on my novel. I was really pregnant and Nora and her sister Delia, who co-wrote the script, invited me to go check out some female standup comedians with them. I said I couldn't go. I had childbirth class that night. Nora said, here, I'll show you what they were going to teach you.
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WOLITZER: Of course, I went with the sisters Ephron to the comedy clubs and later on to the set of the movie. Here's Julie Kavner.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Look, kids are happy when their mother is happy.
JULIE KAVNER: (as Dottie) No, they're not. Kids are happy if you're there. You give kids a choice: your mother in the next room on verge of suicide versus your mother in Hawaii in ecstasy. They choose suicide in the next room.
WOLITZER: "This Is My Life" was not a commercial hit, but it was loved by a lot of people who saw it and I lucked out in that I got a long friendship out of it. Once, a long time ago, I went out to dinner with a group of people, including Nora, and there was a salad on the menu with candied walnuts in it. This was back when candied walnuts were new and the only reason people wanted that salad was because of the walnuts. The waiter went around the table and everyone ordered it and then he got to Nora and she asked for the salad, too, with double walnuts. It wouldn't have occurred to the rest of us to do that, to ask for a little more from life.
There's a short piece at the end of the book called "What I Will Miss," which lists items like my kids, Nick, spring, waffles, and also dinner at home just the two of us and dinner with friends.
Reading that list, you see that she wasn't just this intrepid reporter and filmmaker and opinion-sayer and person who was played on screen by no less than Meryl Streep, she was also someone who lived and who people she never met felt close to. And that, I think, is the reason her work will continue to feel new because in the great loneliness of the world, when a writer's voice makes you feel befriended, you want more of it, even after the person is gone.
CORNISH: The new collection of Ephron's work is called "The Most of Nora Ephron." Our reviewer is Meg Wolitzer. Her latest novel is "The Interestings."
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