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Mary Gordon

Mary Gordon, who wrote several novels about her father, is a writer who almost wasn't.  Born on December 8, 1940, in Long Island, New York, she grew up enchanted with the book, Peter Pan.  But she was frightened by the sinister Captain Hook, so her father removed every reference to the pirate.  Whenever he read to her, he would insert made-up characters in place of Hook.  He also encouraged his daughter to participate and taught her to write poetry and short stories while taking her to the library every Saturday afternoon.

When Gordon was seven years old, her father had a heart attack in the main reading room of that library and died, and Gordon was raised by her mother and grandmother, both of whom downplayed the girl's creativity.  "When my father died," she said, "it was like all lights went out."

Following college, Gordon published several novels, including Final Payments (1978) and Men and Angels (1985), both including characters based upon her father.  Years later, she set about writing a biography of his life; but, as she delved deeper into his history, she realized that what she remembered about him wasn't her father after all.

She had grown up thinking he was a Harvard graduate when he'd never even completed high school.  She thought he'd been a writer when in reality he was a publisher of pornography magazines.  She thought he had grown up Jewish when in fact he had converted to Catholicism and become anti-Semitic.  She recalled him going off to work each day when her mother actually supported the family financially.

Gordon wrote about the experience of investigating her father's life in her memoir, The Shadow Man: A Daughter's Search for Her Father (1996).  "Writing the book," she said afterward, "made me realize...I'm more self-invented than I thought."  She said that she resented the lies her father had told her about his life, but she believes that if she hadn't believed them, she never would have become a writer.  "The myth of my father gave me courage."

Besides novels, Gordon has published several novellas and short stories, essays, poetry, articles, and critiques.  Her novel, Pearl, was published in 2005.

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