Brooklyn BookBeat: The Real Piper Speaks to Eagle About Book’s Transformation to Screen
By Samantha Samel
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
When “Orange is the New Black” first premiered last summer, Brooklyn Eagle spoke to Piper Kerman — whose life and memoir, also titled “Orange is the New Black,” inspired the popular Netflix series. Kerman, who has settled with her family in Brooklyn, spoke openly about her book and its transformation to the screen.
Brooklyn Eagle: Your story is deeply personal — can you talk a bit about your hesitations in publishing such a confessional memoir?
Piper Kerman: I had many hesitations about writing a memoir not about my greatest accomplishment but rather about my biggest mistake, my greatest moment of moral failing and poor judgment, and the consequences. But we have more people in prison in the U.S. than ever in human history, and I thought telling my own story could help make the idea of who is in prison – why they are there and what happens to them there – more multifaceted.
BE: What most surprised you about the women you met in prison? What surprised you about yourself?
PK: The women I met in prison were incredibly creative, resilient and even subversively defiant in the face of a prison system that works very hard to dehumanize its residents. I was more resilient than I expected, with tremendous help from the other women and from my friends and family on the outside.
BE: Your relationship [with Larry] endured some major adversity. What was it like transitioning back into your life with him once you were released?
PK: Coming home is exhilaratingly happy, but even after just a year in prison it is a jarring re-entry process. Because I had a safe and stable place to live, a job waiting for me, as well as Larry waiting for me, my return home was much easier than for most people. But we had to readjust to each other, and I was pretty jumpy about lots of things for a while.
BE: Did you write any of the memoir while in prison?
PK: I did not start writing the book until after I came home in 2005. But once I set out to do it one thing that I found invaluable was the letters I had sent to and received from friends. Many friends saved my letters and then photocopied them for me when I was working on the book, and in those letters I was trying to convey the world I was living in as vividly as possible.
BE: Do you think writing might have played any part in helping you and/or Larry survive the ordeal or its aftermath?
PK: I didn’t set out to write about the experience as catharsis or a way to make sense of the experience, but that’s certainly what happened in the process of writing the book. I was most interested in exploring the relationships that helped me survive, and the inequality between Americans that is on stark display in the criminal justice system.
BE: How did the inception of the TV series originate? Were you always on board with the idea?
PK: After the book was published various people were interested in adapting it, and a TV series came up frequently. I think that what people like most about the book is all the women they meet whose lives intersect with mine. The fundamental story and the setting are ideally suited to a series, because it allows for deep exploration of many characters and stories. Jenji Kohan is such a brilliant and provocative creative force; I was thrilled that she was interested in the book.
BE: I imagine you must have had some opinions and sensitivities when it came to casting and writing for the show. How involved were you with the adaptation process?
PK: I’m a consultant on the show, which means I provide feedback and answer questions from the writers and the production design team. I had no input at all on casting, and I think they did a phenomenal job. The show is populated by wonderful actors and I think Taylor Schilling is great as the lead. The show is a “dramedy” while the book is not, and they really ride the razor’s edge between very serious themes and humor which provides a release valve.