Podcasts Must Find the Small Moments to Give Life to Big Secrets

How Dani Shapiro makes guests' secrets come to life on her memoir anthology show Family Secrets

As Dani Shaprio finished up the manuscript for her memoir, Inheritance, people kept telling her their secrets. The book was about her shocking discovery—after submitting her DNA to a genealogy website—that her father was not actually her biological father, and everyone who read it en route to publication responded with an earth-shattering family story of their own. Wishing she could share these stories with a wider audience, Shapiro went to her publishing teams at Knopf and Penguin Random House to propose the idea for Family Secrets. They leapt at the idea, and both the book and the podcast were released in January 2019.

“In my life as a writer over the course of 10 books now, I’ve always written about secrets,” says Shapiro. “My memoirs and novels center around family and secrets, so it was a very natural progression to telling the secrets of other people in my podcast.” Over the course of four seasons (so far, with a television series now on the way), guests like Saeed Jones, Alicia Keys, and Dr. Bessel van der Kolk discuss—as the tagline puts it—“the secrets that are kept from us, the secrets that we keep from others, and the secrets that we keep from ourselves.”

While many of these stories lean toward the sensational (secret adoptions, sperm donors, affairs, hidden half-siblings) Shapiro is a lifelong champion of the ordinary, and she strives to honor the quieter unfolding of [...]

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