Author Andrew Solomon's best-selling book Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity has now inspired a movie. The book showed 300 cases of families in which the parents and children were vastly unalike. It won the National Book Award in 2012, among other honors.
His book The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression was a finalist for the a Pulitzer Prize. Along with Solomon being a writer, he is an accomplished lecturer on psychology and graduated from Yale. While there, he founded the Solomon Research Fellowships in LGBT Studies.
He is a member of the board of directors of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and his articles about same-sex marriage have appeared in The Advocate and Newsweek. He married journalist John Habich and have a blended family of children together.
Solomon is one of the subjects in the new documentary Far From the Tree, with a storyline about him being gay and raised by a very conservative New York family.
Windy City Times: Hi, Andrew, I'm excited to see you are coming to Chicago to promote the film. Are you traveling around doing this?
Andrew Solomon: Yes. I am in Washington, D.C.,. now and was in L.A. yesterday. It has been all over the map, but it is exciting to be doing it. It can be stressful, but it would be more stressful if no one was paying attention to the film.
WCT: Tell our readers how the book came to the movie screen.
AS: After the book was published I was approached by more than 30 filmmakers that were interested in making a documentary. I was deciding on who to work with and finally settled on Rachel Dretzin because of the remarkable quality of her film and her depth of the understanding of the book. I liked her confidence of getting the film made and there could not be literal translation from the book onto the screen.
WCT: You were part of the production team for the movie version Far From the Tree?
AS: I was a producer on the movie but, of course, not the main filmmaker. That meant I was in on some of the interviews and a little bit on the editing room.
WCT: How do you think it turned out and what did your family think of it?
AS: I thought it turned out beautifully. My family is very happy with it. My father came to the first screening. I was nervous about him seeing it as it acknowledges the complexities of our history. He said to me, "It's a beautiful film and everything in it is true." That was a relief.
My brother liked it. My husband, the mother of my daughter, and the mother of my husband's two children were all very enthusiastic about it.
WCT: It felt there was a lot to cover with all the stories in the doc. Was it hard to cram it all in?
AS: It was an overwhelming task. We decided early on to focus on a small number of people. It had to people that weren't in the book because the book tells a story of 300 families, and the movie would be six families that have had interesting experiences.
We had to follow them when they were having those experiences. It was a very different medium in that regard. In the end we have five stories plus mine. There is a lot of stories, but each family has its own trajectory.
WCT: The other parents were supportive but, unfortunately, not yours.
AS: Well, my parents came around and a lot of these other parents had trouble getting to where they got to. Like I say at the beginning of the film, "It was never a normal mother/son relationship." I felt that was essential to the film that all of these parents were struggling in different places. There was sadness and outrage to some degree.
They gradually worked their way through to acceptance. The film deals with love and acceptance.
WCT: The movie, overall, seemed to be about people adapting to their individual situations.
AS: Yes, they battle the inevitable. Many people came around to recognizing the joy that was imbedded in their experience of disability and difference. You have to search, find it and make it. It has to be a conscious choice that you strive in that direction. Striving not only has beneficial effects for parents, but also for children.
There was a study that I mention in the book with a bunch of women who had given birth to children with a variety of challenges and asked them if they had trouble finding meaning in it. They went back five years later and those women were clinically better from trying to find meaning to it.
WCT: The movie addresses the fact that people are not alone with hardships.
AS: That is a throughline in the movie that people go on a voyage of discovery. It is so important to find your tribe.
WCT: What would you like for people to take away from the documentary?
AS: I hope people find a lot of love. It is obviously going to speak to people that lead parallel lives to the film, whether they have differences, disabilities or criminality.
It is really about having the children that you didn't imagine for yourself. Love requires the elasticity of affection.
WCT: Would you like to make a follow-up to the stories?
AS: I would love to do an update. I would want to wait a little while, maybe a year after the film comes out. I would be very interested in seeing how their stories progress over time.
WCT: What are you working on next?
AS: I am working on both a book called Who Rocks the Cradle. It will be about expanding ideas of family. It is about gay families, foster care and open adoptions with single parents or otherwise.
Far From the Tree was about ordinary parents having extraordinary children, this one is about extraordinary ways to form families and what happens to parents within them.
Look for Solomon at Landmark Century Centre Cinema, 2828 N. Clark St., on Friday, Aug. 17, for a Q&A after the 7:15 p.m. and Saturday, Aug. 18, with Q&As after the 1:45 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. shows. He will sign copies of Far From the Tree in the lobby at 3:45 p.m. Visit AndrewSolomon.com for more updates on the author.