Interview with Alexandra Styron, author of the memoir, “Reading My Father”

by Leah on June 15, 2011

Each week, we post short interviews with interesting people about their thoughts and feelings on women and drinking. There is such a wide array of perspectives about this topic, and we are excited to gain insight into as many as possible and to share them with you.

Alexandra Styron is the author of Reading My Father, a recently released memoir about life with her father, the late novelist William Styron. She has also written a novel All the Finest Girls. A graduate of Barnard College and the MFA program at Columbia University, she has contributed to several anthologies as well as The New Yorker, the New York TimesAvenueReal Simple, and Interview, among other publications. She lives with her husband and two children in Brooklyn, NY.

Drinking Diaries: How old were you when you had your first drink and what was it?

Alexandra Styron: If I recall correctly, my first drink was an inadvertent one–in the living room, the morning after one of my parents’ parties, when I was about eight. I took a big swig of what I thought was a glass of flat ginger ale but turned out to be scotch and water. Blech!

How did/does your family treat drinking?

My mother and father had very European sensibilities. They introduced us to alcohol, particularly good wine, at a pretty young age and presumed we were sophisticated enough not to abuse it.

How do you approach alcohol in your every day life?

Well, I have to admit I really look forward to a glass or two of wine, really every evening. I usually pour my first while I’m cooking the kids’ dinner. But I have a strict rule: never before six p.m.

Can you tell us about the best time you ever had drinking?

My husband and I went to a wedding a couple years ago off the coast of Georgia that had a sort of Mexican theme. We danced into the wee hours and, for the first time probably since I was a teenager, I did shots of very high grade tequila. I never really felt drunk, but I had a ball.

What about the worst time?

Oof. That would be my senior year at boarding school. I played a drinking game in a friend’s room, had to crawl back to my own room, threw up all over myself in the middle of the night, and woke up at two p.m. the next day. It was the first week of my senior year, spring semester; in one day I used up all my allowed “absences” for the term. And I was so sick I thought was going to die.

Do you have a favorite book, song, or movie about drinking?

The first song that comes to mind is the great Bonnie Raitt song, “Guilty.”  One of my favorite novels of all time, Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis, is by no means about alcohol, but Amis does use drink to terrific comic effect in a few key scenes.

How has alcoholism affected your life?

My father was a famously hard drinker, one who used alcohol to mask a lifelong case of incipient clinical depression. So alcohol and all its vicissitudes played a central role in my childhood. It affected my father’s temper most significantly. Hangovers made him very mean. That said, I have to admit I prefer a man who can hold his liquor and have fun to one who cannot drink at all.

If you could be any drink, what would it be? Why?

Something tall and cool and a little tart, all of which I aspire to be.