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  1. Books

What's Lee Grant reading?

Lee Grant,87, reflects on a very full life in I Said Yes to Everything.
Lee Grant,87, reflects on a very full life in I Said Yes to Everything.
Published Sep. 10, 2014

Nightstand

Lee Grant

In her memoir, I Said Yes to Everything, Grant, 87, looks back at her life, her early years shaping her craft at the famed Neighborhood Playhouse in New York, her first marriage, which led to her being blacklisted from Hollywood for more than a decade, her second — and lasting — marriage to a man 10 years her junior, and her children, Dinah and Belinda, as well as her life's work as an Academy Award-winning actor (for the film Shampoo in 1975) and director (for the documentary Down and Out in America in 1986).

When Grant spoke to us by phone recently, she described the process of writing as "a boundary jumper.''

"Quite honestly, I never wrote before this, and I started writing because I was afraid my memory was going. I was afraid that names and events were going away from me, so I started writing it all down,'' she said. "All this stuff poured out of me, and it was just the most extraordinary experience to know that every smell, every taste, every person, every embrace was there to be rediscovered. Writing this book was a gift that is beyond anything I can describe.''

What's on your nightstand?

For the last four years, while I've been writing the book, I haven't read anything else. I'm not sure of myself as a writer, and the authors that I've always read were so superior that if I had been reading I wouldn't have put pen to paper myself, so it's only recently that I've taken up two books. One of them is called The City of the Sun by Juliana Maio. It's light reading but a heavy subject matter. It's a mystery. It's about Egypt before World War II and the Jews that were there. It's about how integrated and how great a life they were having in Egypt before everything happened.

The other book I have is Selected Letters of Elia Kazan. I've only just started it myself. I wrote about him in my book, and I knew he was a multifaceted, driven artist, a great artist whether I agreed with his naming names (to the House Un-American Activities Committee) or not. He was the only one making films of any content during that period. It was an irony because he did give names, but his films were extraordinary. The book is made up of his letters, and they really throw a tremendous light on what he thought and felt.

What do you consider your biggest triumph?

Surviving and learning to fight for myself. If there's anything that the blacklist gave me, those years that were denied me to work, when I was 24 to 36, it was learning how to stand up for myself and for other people. I became the person I am today from those years, so they were the worst and best years of my life in a certain way. I learned to go on despite the barricade. I don't think I would have been able to do the kind of fight that I did as an actor in Hollywood or as a director in Hollywood or make the kind of documentaries that I made without falling into that Alice in Wonderland pit where the White Queen was saying "Off with your head." We were living in a kind of insane period. It formed me. It shaped me.

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What was the most difficult part of writing the memoir?

Remembering the loss of family and friends. There was no avoiding that, entering the feeling of loss again.

Contact Piper Castillo at pcastillo@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4163. Follow @Florida_PBJC.

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