Q: What inspired you to write Strip, and what impact did writing the book have on you?
A: I was inspired by my mentor, Jill Schary Robinson (NYT bestselling author of Bed/Time/Story). She saw the book in me that I was afraid to tell. And I was inspired by all the books I’ve read over my lifetime. Each and every one of them had an impact on me and in some way made me feel less alone in the world.
Writing Strip: A Memoir impacted me in every way possible. It was an awakening. The whole process. Word for word. When I started, I had just gotten sober. And in the years that followed, in the midst of writing Strip, a complete transformation happened. I found my way home.
Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?
A: Strip was always only a working title. It was just what I referred to the book as. But over the years it stuck. And when it came time to find a real title, after agonizing over it for months and months, I decided to come back to what I had been calling it all along.
What does it signify? Getting down to the essence. Stripping away all that blocks one, in this case me, from really being able to stand in my own light. To stand tall with grace and dignity. Like peeling away the layers of an onion. I am the onion.
Q: The writer Amy Dresner said of the book, “Hannah Sward writes about the most intimate taboo things in a signature stark style.” What do you think of that description, and how did you create your writing style?
A: Well, I love Amy Dresner’s work. Her book, My Fair Junkie: A Memoir of Getting Dirty & Staying Clean made a huge impact on the recovery community. So I’m thrilled that she not only took the time to read my book, but to review it.
We also both wrote for The Fix where Amy introduced me to the editor after reading a piece I had shared with her about sugar daddies in and out of sobriety, so she knows my work well. That was my first article in the The Fix and now, all these years later it is in the book.
I can’t remember a time when I really thought consciously about creating a writing style. I think it came organically beginning in childhood and out of everything that influenced me along the way, beginning with my father. In his world, poetry was everything.
Since my mother left when I was 2, my father took me everywhere he went. My earliest memory is going with him to poetry readings when I was about 3 years old. He’d strap me on his back in a green canvas carrier. Feeling, hearing the rhythm of his words as he read, I think it began there.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from your story?
A: That they are not alone. That there is hope. I know so many people who are suffering. Suffering in silence. Isolated, disconnected, hopeless. I think so many of us, especially those who come from a childhood of abuse, neglect, chaos often grow up feeling a sense of alienation. A disconnection from both self and others.
I hope readers come away from reading Strip with a sense of urgency to turn inward. And, that they will know that it is possible to stop running away from oneself, whether it is through drugs, money, romance, or any addictive behavior that one uses to escape.
I was someone who never thought it was possible. And it was the single most thing I wanted. To be able to sit with myself and to connect with others. Through sharing our stories, transformation is possible. We are given the opportunity to heal.
I also hope readers feel the beauty and the humor in the stories of our lives.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: My Mother’s Men, a novella that is all written in my mother’s voice. I’ve also compiled a collection of short stories that I’d love to publish, Queenie Goes to Bosnia & Other Stories about Love, Jealousy & Affairs.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I want to thank all the readers who have been sharing their reactions to Strip online. My gratitude to you!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb