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Themes of identity and family history have provided the focus for many of Dani Shapiro’s novels and volumes of memoirs. But what happens when a writer suddenly discovers that one of the facts at the heart of her own identity turns out to be a fiction? And that the family tales of a proud Jewish-Polish heritage she passed along to her own son weren’t fully hers?
In 2016, a 54-year-old Shapiro and her husband received the results of their Ancestry.com DNA tests, which showed that her father was not the beloved parent whose early death she had mourned. Within 36 hours of online research, she had discovered information about her biological father (including ancestors who settled 17th- century Nantucket) that created a portrait of someone who was the near-opposite of the man who raised her. In light of this new knowledge about her father, Shapiro wondered, who was she?
In a conversation with biologist and science educator Carla Easter, chief of the education and community involvement branch of the National Human Genome Research Institute, Shapiro discusses how she came to reconstruct—and come to terms with—her own identity. They examine some of the complicated ethical and moral questions that genetic testing can raise, and how Shapiro grappled with them as she undertook a process that became part detective work and part personal exploration of what makes us who we are.
Shapiro’s new book, Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love (Knopf), is available for sale and signing.
Note: Carla Easter’s appearance does not imply government endorsement of the book or author.
S. Dillon Ripley Center
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Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)