Bestselling author Alice Hoffman got involved with fund-raising for breast cancer research following her own bout with the illness 15 years ago. She gave a talk about how to cope with a difficult health diagnosis. As luck would have it, Algonquin senior editor Kathy Pories was in the audience because, coincidentally, her sister, Dr. Susan Pories, was Hoffman’s breast doctor and surgeon. After the talk, the editor approached Hoffman and suggested that her advice could be turned into a book. “I started thinking about that,” Hoffman tells Show Daily, “and thinking about the book I would have wanted someone to give me when I was diagnosed.
Hoffman, who has written 21 novels, three books of short fiction, and eight books for children and young adults, found it a challenge to write her first nonfiction book, Survival Lessons (Algonquin, Oct.). “It’s different because it’s personal and intimate and revealing. I’m a very shy, withholding person, so in my mind I felt I was just writing it for a friend, and that’s the way I was able to do it.”
In fact, the author was initially secretive about her own illness, but felt connected when singer Carly Simon announced that she was a breast cancer survivor. “She had also kept it to herself until she completed treatment. Even though I didn’t know her, I felt so connected to her work, having grown up with her music as a teen and young woman. Something clicked for me and I felt a kind of sisterhood with all survivors when she came out.”
One of the things that helped Hoffman manage her disease and treatment was her writing. At the time, she was working on her 2000 novel, The River King. “That book was my life raft,” she says. “I actually moved a mattress into my office and just slept, recovered, and wrote. It was a complete escape for me to dive into a book and not be in the real world.”
Hoffman hopes her latest book will be an inspiration for people who are going through any difficult situation, whether it’s the death of a loved one or having a life-threatening disease. “We all have to go through terrible losses, and how do you continue? I’m always amazed at people’s strength and how they manage to survive. Survival to me is a major theme in all my work, and it kind of culminated in this little book.” She adds, “I’m interested in the idea that you still make choices, even in the depths of your despair; that’s a really major idea for me to hold onto.”
One of the choices Hoffman made was to donate her advance for Survival Lessons to the Hoffman Breast Center at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Mass.—named in honor of her family—where she has helped raise funds for several years.
Algonquin is honoring the message of her book for an entire three hours at its booth (839) today, 9 a.m.–noon. “We’re so excited that she came to us to publish her first work of nonfiction, and this is our dedicated time to celebrate this book. For her to be part of our 30th anniversary list is very special,” says Craig Popelars, Algonquin’s director of marketing and sales. “We also accelerated the production schedule to have a special printing of the first edition, so that the first time booksellers see the book, it’s a finished product.”
Hoffman will be signing copies of her book starting at 10 a.m. Specially designed T-shirts with a quote from the book and its distinctive cover design will also be given out throughout the celebration.