Women & Children First hosted a reading and conversation with singer-songwriter and social justice activist Ani DiFranco focused on her new memoir, No Walls and the Recurring Dream, May 10 at Wilson Abbey.
Music critic and author of Night Moves and The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic Jessica Hopper served as the event's moderator. Hopper was previously MTV News music and executive editor and Pitchfork and Rookie editor among other professional endeavors.
"We are one of the last remaining feminist bookstores in North American," said Women & Children First Co-owner Sarah Hollenbeck.
Hollenbeck explained that an audio recording will be available on the bookstore website for those who could not attend this sold-out event. She spoke about what DiFranco has meant to her as well as her achievements over her 30 year career including selling 5.5 million albums through her own Righteous Babe label and the release of her 20th album.
Comedian, author and bitches gotta eat blogger Samantha Irby came to the stage as a surprise guest to speak about why DiFranco's work inspired her and how she encountered her music for the first time as a young person.
"The queer in her saw the queer in me," said Irby.
DiFranco received a standing ovation and rapturous applause as she took the stage.
Due to the state of reproductive rights/freedom being under attack across the country, DiFranco chose to read from the reproductive system section of her book that includes her first relationship when she was a teenager and he was an adult, her visit to the Buffalo, New York Planned Parenthood to be put on the pill so she would not get pregnant, going off the pill because her health was being compromised and the pregnancy at age 18 that resulted from that decision and getting an abortion and the relief she felt afterward because she could keep working as an artist.
Hopper opened the conversation by talking about how DiFranco's work is steeped in truth-telling and asked how that helped her write the book.
DiFranco said on the first day she went into the studio to record the audio book panic set in because it finally became real to her. She explained that when she was writing the book she would, like she has done with her songs, "pretend no one was listening long enough to say the real shit" about her life.
The conversation delved into DiFranco's writing process with Hopper asking whether she had a rubric for what would be included in the book, how she handled revising and if she was surprised with the person she saw on the page.
DiFranco spoke about the outline/proposal she wrote for the publisher which she cannot remember any details.
"When I sat down to write I was just winging it like I always do, spleen forward process with as little thinking as possible," said DiFranco.
She said the process was "completely intuitive and a random feeling."
During the revising stage, DiFranco explained that the thing she was the most surprised with was the level of survival that has been threaded through her life because she always thought of her journey as an invincible girl who traverses the world.
"In looking at my story, it was all about self-defense," said DiFranco.
In terms of how DiFranco wrote the book, she said it was "totally haphazard" and mostly done at her kitchen table over a two year period.
"It was the most comfortable place for me and where I could stay in touch with my kids, stir the thing, answer the email and steal little moments to write the book," said DiFranco.
Revisiting parts of her earlier life led to "moments of great trepidation" because the remembering process is hard for her.
DiFranco also talked about how having her kids has changed the way she navigates through life because being a parent is a big responsibility; however, she said living in fear is still intolerable for her because it makes her angry. She said she strikes a balance between these two ways of being these days.
Hopper asked if any other people's memoirs were helpful.
DiFranco singled out Miles Davis' which she called intense and Dr. Willie Parker's Life's Work: A Moral Argument for Choice which "shed the final vestiges of someone else's voice and allowed me to write my book in my own voice."
During the Q&A session, DiFranco was asked about the Prison Music Project she has been working on with collaborator Zoe Boekbinder.
DiFranco explained that the songs, poems and raps were written by men in prison ( many of them serving life sentences ) and most are sung by women. She said it will be released sometime later this year.
Hollenbeck told Windy City Times that they have many signed copies of DiFranco's book available for purchase.