Delia Ephron calls the
relationship between siblings "uncivilized." Even when you're all grown up, she
says, you never really act like adults around each other as you do with most
other people in your life. That was certainly the dynamic between Delia and her
older sister, the late writer Nora Ephron, who Delia says bossed her around all
their lives. Ever since Nora's death two years ago, Delia has missed her sister
dearly-even the bossy part.
To cope with her grief, Delia wrote through
her pain. In the new memoir Sister, Mother, Husband, Dog (Blue Rider Press), she
writes about Nora and her death, sisterhood (Delia is the second-born of four
sisters, all writers), writing (both in collaboration with Nora and on her own),
and being the daughter of two alcoholic screenwriters. A Jewish author,
screenwriter, and playwright, Delia has written many books and the films You've
Got Mail, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Hanging Up, and Michael, and
the play Love, Loss, and What I Wore, co-written by Nora. Delia will speak at
the Women's Board of the Jewish United Fund's 2014 Women's Book and Author event
on Wednesday, March 19.
Earlier this winter, JUF News sat down for a
phone interview with the writer.
JUF News: What was the
impetus for the book?
Delia Ephron: It was three months after
Nora died, and I was so completely wiped out. I started to write every day about
Nora and our relationship and sisters. It was a way for us to be together…I
wrote it in six months very intensely, and it was part of processing all of the
What do you miss most about Nora?
just miss her being a phone call away. That's what sisters are, right?
How is being a sister different than any other
They are not like relationships you have with your
friends. I've always had friendships that are less complicated than my sister
relationships. But at the same time being a sister prepares you for being a
You write in the book that the job of a younger
sister is to "differentiate, not imitate." What do you mean by that?
When I was very young, I wanted to do everything [Nora] did and
to be just like her and it didn't really cross my mind until I became a writer
that my job wasn't to be like her at all. My job was to figure out who I am. One
of the wonderful things about being a writer is that your writing is your
fingerprint. You end up understanding how you see the world and what your
stories are. I didn't really figure that out until I was in my 30s. Otherwise,
as a sibling, especially as a younger sister, you go to the same schools, and
you have the same teachers, and they're always getting your names mixed up. We
were terribly alike. When you're alike like that, it's much harder to figure out
[who you are].
You're really candid in this book-particularly
about your mother's alcoholism. Did you have any qualms about sharing so much of
yourself and your family?
I am really a candid person and I don't
think secrets are necessarily a good thing in life. I always try to tell the
truth. When you write, if you don't tell the truth, why bother? The piece in the
book that was difficult for me was the one about my mother and talking about
addiction and what it was like to grow up the child of my mother. I don't know
if I would have written that if my mother or father were alive…But that doesn't
mean I wouldn't have told you if you asked me did I have an alcoholic mother
when I was in my 20s…I never thought that was a secret. As a child, it is not
your job to keep your parents' secrets. That piece was the biggest journey in
the book for me and the most painful and difficult. I do feel when you write
about things like that, and make sense of them-not just write about them, but
really try to get somewhere-that it helps other people. It makes another person
How did being the daughter of addicts shape
It is a really powerful thing to be raised by a mother who
is really an addict in the way my mother was. You wrestle with it your whole
life. [Today,] I'm a worrier and a watcher and…I'm sure troubles are coming
around the bend. I'm not the person you want in the exit row of an airplane. I'm
anxious-I can go from 1 to 100 so quickly.
How is your
experience different than that of your sisters?
This is my story,
not my sisters' story. I have three wonderful sisters. I would never say that
they experience life exactly the way I did. I think [all people] have different
parents and we're born into the marriage at different times and parents deal
with us differently and we deal with them differently and so we're all only
You write about being a writer who is Jewish as
opposed to a Jewish writer. Does being Jewish inform your identity at
Being Jewish always informs your identity. It's a very
powerful cultural heritage to have, but I didn't come from a religious
family…among other things, my mother was very against organized religion. I had
a strong sense of being Jewish without being a religious Jew…it was part of a
philosophy of being an Ephron not to practice religion…but [there's] a shared
sensibility in being Jewish.
What was dinner in the Ephron
We all had dinner together a lot and, when I was
young, before my family went to pieces, it was an enormous amount of fun. We'd
play Charades or 20 Questions. We'd all bring our stories to the table and every
time my sisters or I said something funny my dad would say, 'That's great-write
it down.' They were raising writers. n
Delia Ephron will speak on
Wednesday, March 19, at the Women's Board of the Jewish United Fund presents
2014 Women's Book and Author event at Green Acres Country Club in Northbrook.
Breakfast will be served and dietary laws observed. For more information, call
(312) 357-4821 or email: WomensDiv@juf.org