Since having a kid, I have to confess that I haven’t read a single print book that wasn’t required for one reason or other. As a working mom, I listen to plenty of books in audio format. But if I actually have a free moment, where my hands aren’t busy washing dishes, carrying laundry, or driving the car to schlep my kid around, those free hands are on my computer and I’m writing. The only exception to this has been Antonia Crane‘s memoir, SPENT.
“Antonia Crane’s writing is bold and beautiful and glimmering with light.”
–Cheryl Strayed, author of WILD
About SPENT: A small town girl leaves her troubled family and starts stripping—which introduces her to a community that keeps her sober and saves her life—but a roller-coaster lifestyle ensues. When she tries to quit and go to graduate school, her mother is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Broke and broken, she returns to sex work, which leads to her arrest and a new resilience. Spent is a memoir about a woman’s journey through the sex industry, but it’s also a story of family, community, and the constant struggle against loneliness.
SPENT also involves the historic labor battle for sex worker rights, when the San Francisco club The Lusty Lady became the first unionized group of exotic dancers in the nation. Antonia had worked at the Lusty Lady.
My second novel, THE BOSS, includes a union battle among a group of strippers in New York. I asked Antonia for background information on strip clubs and labor battles. She sent me a great deal of great information, including her op-ed in the New York Times. Her email also included a PDF of her memoir, with suggestions that I read a the short section that had to do with the Lusty Lady. Two days later, I had read the whole thing on kindle, and found myself posting quotes on Twitter.
Antonia Crane: I started writing nonfiction in grad school about being a sex worker and raging about my mother’s death. I was grieving. I was doing sex work. I have been braiding those two narratives for a while and that texture/tone became the basis for my book.
DHS: The stuff in your book about your mom is so vivid and beautiful and sometimes excruciatingly painful. I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried when I was reading parts of it. Was it hard to write? Was it liberating? Painful? Or all of the above?
AC: I love tears. I am glad you cried and am honored my writing had this effect on you. I love reading stories that make me feel strongly. My writing sucks when I am not crying while writing it. Tears are my jam. It makes writing in public places embarrassing for my friends.
DHS: I hate to ask you this, but what advice do you have for writers?
AC: The best way to serve your writing is to read. The best way to serve other writers is to actually help them in a solid way. The only way to become a better writer is to write every day like your hands are on fire. Write and dig deep. Deeper. Deeper still.
Debutante Ball: When you were a teenager, what did you think you’d be when you grew up?
AC: I fantasized about being a hooker but I thought I would be the President of the United States. Or, a waitress. I was smoking a lot of pot.
DB: Tell us a secret about the main character in your novel — something that’s not even in your book.
AC: In my screenplay “The Lusty” (co-written by Silas Howard) our protagonist is deeply compartmentalized to the point of being mildly insane. She’s like a female stripper version of Don Draper who needs to cry.
DB: What’s your next big thing?
AC: Other than the screenplay, I’ve got a collection of essays cooking and a new memoir about running wild as a fifteen-year old girl in Mumbai, India in the 80’s where I was supposed to be a student and ambassador but ended up on Bollywood sets and in skin clinics where my host father treated lepers for free on Monday nights.
Antonia Crane is a writer, Moth Slam winner, and writing instructor in Los Angeles. She is the author of the memoir, “Spent” (Barnacle Books, Rare Bird, 2014). She has written for The New York Times, Quartz: Atlantic Media, The Toast, Playboy, Cosmopolitan, Salon, The Believer, The Rumpus, Buzzfeed, Electric Literature, DAME, PrimeMind and lots of other places. Her screenplay, “The Lusty” co-written with Silas Howard about the Exotic Dancers Union is a recipient of the San Francisco Film Society/ Kenneth Rainin Foundation Screenwriter’s Grant, 2015. She is at work on an essay collection and a memoir.
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