Sheila Heti is the author of the novel Pure Colour, available from Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.


Heti is the author of several books of fiction and nonfiction, including Motherhood and How Should a Person Be?, which New York magazine deemed one of the “New Classics of the 21st century.” She was named one of “the New Vanguard” by the New York Times book critics, who, along with a dozen other magazines and newspapers, chose Motherhood as a Best Book of 2018. Her novels have been translated into twenty-four languages. She is the former Interviews Editor of The Believer magazine and lives in Toronto.


Otherppl with Brad Listi is a weekly literary podcast featuring in-depth interviews with today’s leading writers.

Launched in 2011. Books. Literature. Writing. Publishing. Authors. Screenwriters. Etc.

Available where podcasts are available: Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcheriHeart Radio, etc.

Subscribe to Brad Listi’s email newsletter.

Support the show on Patreon





Email the show: letters [at] otherppl [dot] com

The podcast is a proud affiliate partner of Bookshop, working to support local, independent bookstores.



When I meet the father of my children, he is muscled and brown-skinned with freckled shoulders from swimming in the ocean in the midday California sun. I am a protozoan. Soft and open. Absorbing everything. When I change, we change. This pattern will repeat. By the time our children are born, my husband is shaped like the Buddha. I don’t mind the change in his shape. He doesn’t mind the change in mine. There are other things that will come between us and end us, but the shape of our bodies is inconsequential. Later there would come the confusion of how my body would be regarded as it aged, what my shape would telegraph to the next person who loved me. When our marriage ends, I am lean and shrewd. An apex predator.


Jillian Lauren first caught my eye at a book launch party in Downtown Los Angeles. A mutual acquaintance introduced us, and the next thing I knew, we were in deep conversation about living and writing in LA, adoption, marriage and interfaith families. I felt an immediate kinship. Raised Jewish by a mother who had converted, I resonated with her story of adoption into a Jewish family and then marrying a Christian guy. The next day I told my sister in Chicago about our talk. She sensed my affinity for Jillian’s story and sent me her memoir.


You are in a church in the University District of Seattle. You are compulsively early, so you take a seat near the front. There are thirty other people there already. Mostly academic-looking twenty-something riot grrrls, and one guy who looks a lot like Adam Driver.1 (You are also twenty-something. You are twenty-eight, to be exact, which is also Lena Dunham’s age. You feel older than everyone around you, but it’s because your hair is not dyed anything. You aren’t wearing a single skull, and your one and only facial piercing has been healed over for nearly a decade. You have kids. You drove your minivan here from the suburbs. There are a million reasons for you to feel older, really.) The man who is potentially Adam Driver is slumped down in his seat, chewing on something. You text your husband.

Grown-Up Words

By Bethany Cox



His name was Jeremiah and he was in my preschool class. He was five years old, tall for his age. His parents were divorced and he had an older brother, which meant he knew words like ass and hell. Once he accused me of saying the f word during story time.

“I said fox, Jeremiah.”

“It sure sounded like fuck,” he countered.

Martyrdom and motherhood are basically the same thing, sometimes. When I had surgery just four months after my daughter was born, I refused painkillers because I didn’t want Maddie’s breastfeeding to be disrupted. (Okay, this would be more impressive if it hadn’t been a laparoscopic surgery. I was sore, sure, but it wasn’t torture or anything.) When I need to finish writing a piece for my critique group, and Maddie is being particularly screamy, I let out this long, exaggerated sigh, and I say, “Well, I guess I’ll just put this aside until you’re in bed, and I’ll stay up until midnight finishing it.” Then there’s the very true cliché about making myself a warm lunch and getting to eat it around dinnertime when it’s stone cold. I’m a martyr sometimes, and I get a really annoying motherly pleasure from it. Then I ran over my toenail with the metal bottom of Maddie’s highchair, and I stopped being a martyr for a while.

IMG_5390 FINAL-1Gina Frangello is the author of the novel My Sister’s Continent and the story collection Slut Lullabies. She is one of the most bold, fearless, unhindered writers I’ve ever read. After reading the manuscript of My Sister’s Continent, one editor was quoted as having said, “I couldn’t explain this book to a marketing rep without blushing or breaking down.” Here are six sex questions for the inimitable and amazing Gina Frangello.

I used to have a infant who slept through the night. We’d put her down at 9:00pm or so, she’d sleep until 6:00am, and then I’d pull her into bed with me, feed her lying down, and we’d nap on and off until 10:00am. It was phenomenal. When other mothers told me that I looked/sounded/seemed great, I didn’t reveal my secret, because a.) I am always a little worried that someone is going to kidnap my baby, and this would only make her more attractive to potential kidnappers, and b.) it seemed a little naughty. No one else got to sleep in with a newborn, so it must be some form of illegal. In response to these women, I shrugged my well-rested shoulders and said, “Well, I really love being a mom.” Now, that part is still true, but the rest is not. Madeline doesn’t sleep anymore. She goes down at 9:00pm, and screams and screams. Then she falls asleep, and wakes up anywhere between two and eight times throughout the night. Last night was one of the really, really bad ones.

I received an email this morning from a current student at my alma mater. She was putting together a Where Are They Now? newsletter piece about some of the graduates who are continuing to work in their fields of study. Mine was creative writing. I wrote out the blurb she asked for, but I was pretty loose with the details. And with the definition of the word “working.” I write and edit, but I don’t actually get paid for most of it. And when I do, I take a picture of the check for posterity, which tells you exactly how rare those checks are. I told her about grad school and some of my publications, and that I’m juggling my writing life with my stay-at-home-mommy life, because writing with a five-month-old daughter in the picture is hard McFricken work. I didn’t actually use the word McFricken in my blurb. There are many things I didn’t tell her.

On this day of Mothers, let us not just remember flowers and cute cards, or Sunday Brunch. Let us remember:

  • Some women don’t want children. Womanhood ≠ Motherhood and vice-versa.
  • Some mothers love other women. Let them do it with the full authority of the state, and all the benefits and protections that the state gives women who have children with men.
  • Some fathers are the best mothers. Some fathers love other fathers. Let them do it with the full authority of the state, and all the benefits and protections that the state gives women who have children with men.

Stay-at-home, breast feeding, “naturalist,” and/or cloth diaper-using moms, be forewarned: the old guard feminists have it in for us, apparently.  We’ve set women back decades with our hippie earth mother garbage, and at least one French Feminist, Elisabeth Badinter, is actually willing to say so publicly.  In an article for Salon, Madeline Holler writes:

Sure, children have been ruining their mothers’ lives since we evolved from chimps. But what makes this snapshot in time so different, according to Badinter, is the fact that modern, emancipated mothers are so complicit in their own destruction. Lactating, co-sleeping, time off from work – that’s a bunch of “naturalist” mumbo-jumbo and a distraction from a woman’s duty to herself and a society that wants to see her as equal but can’t quite get past the milk stains on her blouse.

I do not feel sad or overwhelmed.

I do not feel “over the moon.”

My vagina feels like it has been mugged, beaten, and left for dead.

Maybe it’s because I returned from that

ruinless war victorious by

surrendering, having given over

to myself as some do to God,

conquistadora of mind and pain so

that the day was mine, as the blood I shed,

gushing freely down my thighs onto the

bed, as the child delivered to us by

assiduous suffering. Remember,

in those Sisyphean hours, how nearly

her dark head crowned again and again, and

then slipped back behind the lip of labor’s

end, ‘til the midwives suggested mildly

that we should perhaps go, but I said no,

and you took me at my word. I was in

between places, at once within and with-

out, arms outstretched as I stood, legs apart,

touching one wall and the other, possessed.

When our bodies parted, it was without

violence. She slid from me like a sloop

on the crest of that final mighty wave,

the surge sucking her backwards before

spilling over, like breath, like confession,

her arms reaching forward towards the dry

open shore and mine reaching down between

my legs to receive, meeting her, round bright

bud of us combined, her astonishing

glaucous eyes staring steadily,

curiously, seeming to see. It’s because

of this, I think, that later we became

so hungry for each other even with

the bleeding and leaking, I was shining

in your eyes like a fairy queen, and I

too was changed, so that when I came that first

time after the birth, the hot pink lily

that was left and buried in the dirt

unfurled as we fucked, such hunger, such thirst.

Our hips bucked, and the confetti from your

cock burst, a shower, a tickertape parade

celebrating inside, discreetly crying

out victory, rising so high above

you and me and everything we knew.

Your work is often defined as “dark” or “sardonic;” describe for us, please, your attitude towards life as it pertains to the way you write.

I don’t think it’s a well-adjusted person who chooses to spend a lot of time trying to communicate in the way we artists do. There’s the latent fear of being misunderstood, hence the codification of our most basic commonalities along with the most personal of personal subjects; there’s the delusions of grandeur from which a lot of us suffer, which gives us the gall it takes to make exhibition; there’s, then, the product – which often fails in one sense or another when placed under criticism…that being said, I don’t believe that my work is “dark,” and though “sardonic” has a nicer connotation, I don’t really think it’s that, either. The rigor, the monotony, the banality, the evil – these are aspects of ourselves and lives that make us (or, well, me) most feel the need to be identified as real and human and alive; the joys, the passions, the satisfactions – these are simple luxuries, like respites, like hideaways we can turn to when the proverbial ‘shit’ gets too, proverbially, ‘heavy.’

Maybe that was a loaded question; tell us your favorite color?

Oh. Well, you know when, how, sometimes at sunset when the sky is an orange or a pink or a red – it usually only happens in the warmer months – and it’s, like, the WHOLE sky is that color and you look around and everything sort of has that tint to it? As if the very AIR was that color? That’s my favorite color. And cerulean.

What are a couple lessons you learned as a child that you find yourself applying as an adult?

The only person you can really trust is yourself. And always wipe front-to-back.

To whom would you rather be giving this interview, and why?

Aw, jeeze. Jon Stewart; but, I’d really just be flirting with him, as opposed to answering questions thoughtfully. Or Terry Gross; if I’m going for exposure to a like-minded audience. But, really – Gina Kaufmann; a friend and fellow writer (though her skill and technical knowledge far surpass my own)…she asks interesting questions. WAY more interesting than these.

What would you have named your daughter, had she been a boy instead?

Her father had picked the boy name, and I the girl; he picked Eugene Rolla, family names. But, had I been able to pick the boy’s name, it probably would have been Jack (after my maternal grandfather) or Llewellyn (Welsh; “lion-like”).

We’ve heard that you are a stay-at-home mother; how is this good or bad for your writing?

Of course, I’d rather not write about being a mom; in this respect it is bad…’mom poems’ are often so ham-fisted and cliché, that it’s hard to want to try to do them, though I certainly have tried. It’s good, in that there is a lot to think about, analyze, apply…a few times, I’ve found myself apologizing to my daughter, in poems, for the way the world is.

Complain about something, big or small, that affects your everyday life

Fucking MONEY! I mean, OHMYGOD, right? SHIT! I HATE it! And then, it’s not just money, but the PRICES on everything. I’m sure this may be amusing for some who’ve obtained their education and career already, and don’t have to particularly worry about it…

Everybody likes to bitch; so now, endorse or exalt something that affects your everyday life.

Fucking CARS! I mean, OHMYGOD, right? SHIT! I LOVE ‘em! I rode the buses in Kansas City (our only method of mass-transit) for a couple years in my early 20’s; I remember waiting for the #57 to arrive at 5:30 in the morning, hung over, in the winter, and watching everyone in their cars drive by, thinking to myself ‘please, please…I don’t even need a nice one. any shitbox is better than this…’ as kind of a prayer – except I don’t really believe in the “power” of prayer. I’ve had 5 cars, including the one I drive now – all of them endearing, in their own shitbox way.

Spare us the Mom-answer, but let us in on your highest achievement to date.

Hmm, well…probably getting divorced. There is no real need to mention that there’s a lot of bad history and bad decisions tied up in the resolution of Splitting Up…but I did, anyway.

Describe your most delicious moment of Schadenfruede.

Speaking of getting divorced…! A few weeks after the argument which was fatal to my marriage, my ex wrecked his Chevy S-10 in a drunk driving accident  (no one was hurt!) – the second offense in two years, which renders him license-less for a mandatory year. But…maybe that felt like vindication…? No, no. Definitely Schadenfreude (that would be a good band name).

So here’s what happened.

I dropped Benjamin at camp up in Temescal Canyon.  Camp drop offs had been getting more and more difficult as he clung to me screaming that he didn’t want to go.  I would carry him in my arms, just able to get him around my 8 months pregnant belly.  I barely had the energy to hold him up.  Seeing him cry, knowing it was because he could probably feel his whole world about to change, left me utterly spent.

So I decided to treat myself to a little “me” time with a mani/pedi.

So off I went to the place I like on Main Street.  I had my eyebrows done, shaped my rather short nails and painted my toes pink, all as the chair massaged my whole body.  It was delightful.  And needed.

And then I stood up and my water broke.

I ran to the bathroom, unsure of what the gush was, then quickly ran out the door, still with the paper between my toes.

I called my husband.  I called my doctor.  I was panicked, but trying to remain calm.  I was only 34 weeks pregnant, not due for 6 more weeks.  At first my OB’s tests didn’t indicate it was my water breaking (perhaps the baby had punched my bladder she thought), but when it kept happening throughout the day, it was clear I would be admitted to the hospital that night.

This was supposed to be my easy pregnancy.  My easy delivery.  My completely different, nobody almost dies, birth.

When Benjamin was born, after I called my mother to tell her she’d had a grandson, I called her back and told her not to get too excited.  I wasn’t sure he was going to make it through the night.  Well he did and he flourished with hard work and I finally felt strong enough to do it again.

I had planned and researched how I wanted this delivery to go, determined that it would be different.  I weighed my options for having a VBAC (a natural delivery) vs. another C-section.  I wanted to experience labor and what everyone talks about, but mostly I was considering a VBAC because I didn’t want anything too similar to the first one.  I didn’t want to look around and feel like it was four years earlier and become full of terror.  I wanted this birth to be normal.

So, that was Tuesday.

I received steroid shots to develop the baby’s lungs and bags full of antibiotics through an IV to help ward off infection.

By Friday the doctors decided to take the baby out.  It was one day before the ten year anniversary of my first date with my husband, which seemed like a lovely way to mark it.

And so, I headed into the operating room.  After months of consideration, I opted for another C-section after deciding with my doctor that the possibility of fetal distress during labor would prove too much for me emotionally.  Upon entering the OR, I announced immediately to the anesthesiologist what I’d been through before and that I was delicate.

Last time, with Benjamin, it all happened so fast, I didn’t really know to be scared.  This time, though I was scared, though I knew that things go wrong, this time, somehow, I knew everything would be alright.  I just did.  Jay said the first thing out of my mouth was, “that was a piece of cake.”

And so on August 20th, 2010, Eli Isaiah Zients Schinderman was born.  And though they took him to the NICU because he was having some respiratory distress, I knew in my gut, he would be fine.  Just as I knew when I discovered I was pregnant with him, after having three miscarriages, that this pregnancy was going to take.  Mother’s intuition.

The next morning, Eli ripped out his intubation tube, announcing to the world that all 6 pounds 9 ounces of him was strong and totally fine.  Just as his mother knew he would be.

He stayed in the NICU for 4 days, but was able to leave with me when I was discharged, which was huge.  We’d had to leave Benjamin in the hospital.  Going home without your child is not a feeling I can even describe.  It is as if a piece of your life is on hold, living elsewhere, outside of you, leaving you leaking.

At first, the fallout from Benjamin’s trauma began to chip away at me.  Though it may not have been clear, I became completely depleted, filled only by worry.  But in the four years since I learned that, even though it is never quite as you imagined, that I can handle this motherhood thing.

We posed for a picture with the NICU nurses and doctors who cared for Eli and headed towards the exit.

I began to weep.

It took me completely by surprise.  It quieted the little voice I carry around that whispers reminders of that terrible day.  I was just so happy as I held Eli, healthy, and headed towards the sun outside, ready to bring him home, bring him to his brother, who himself had come so far from his own NICU stay.  Pure joy bubbled up and washed over the worry and fear, completely disarming me.

And so I wept, proud of my boys.