Better Reading: Juliet’s Answer is a poignant and intimate memoir about losing – and finding – love. How difficult was it to open up and write such a personal memoir?
Glenn Dixon: It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure. When I first started writing Juliet’s Answer, I had no idea of the things that were about to happen to me. I was outside of the story, just a narrator, but then my own love life went sideways and, I remember, there was a moment when I thought, oh man, I’m going to have to write about this. If I’m writing a book about love and answering the letters to Juliet, then I needed to be honest and that meant that my own disaster (and what happened afterward) definitely had to be a part of it. It was as if, suddenly, I wasn’t writing this book any more, this book was writing me.
GD: One of the secretaries, Anna, said that every time you answer a letter, you are also answering yourself. I think we all became very introspective when we were answering letters. It’s serious business. It’s thoughtful and patient work and I think I’m a better person for it. I’m not sure I want to answer any more letters – I’d almost forgotten that feeling of writing with a pen for hours on end, the pain in the heel of your hand – but it was something I’ll never forget.
BR: Do you have any plans to go back to Verona in the future?
GD: I’ve already been back to Verona since the publication of the book. I returned again last September and filmed a lot of the places in the book – the spooky place they call Juliet’s vault and the famous balcony. We also filmed some of the secretaries who’ve been answering the letters, some of them for decades. We asked them what they’d learned about love over the years and put it up on YouTube – it’s called The Wisdom of Juliet’s Secretaries. Really, they are amazing people and their answers were full of real wisdom.
BR: In the memoir you give up teaching – for good. Have you changed your mind about that since finishing Juliet’s Answer?
It really wasn’t the situation in the book that made me give up teaching. I loved working with students – especially at that age. I loved seeing the lightbulbs pop on in their heads. The fact is, I always wanted to be a writer and when I had a chance to do it full time – a chance not accorded many – well, I took it.
BR: Are you still in touch with the friends you made at the Club di Giulietta in Verona?
GD: This is one of the most wonderful things for me. I’ve sent copies of Juliet’s Answer to all the secretaries in the book and they are all thrilled about it. Anna has been travelling around Verona with her copy, taking photos of it in various places mentioned in the book. Both Giovanna and Manuela have sent me messages and Soňa, the exchange student from the Czech republic, came all the way to Canada to visit me.
BR: What is it about Shakespeare’s tragedy of doomed love, Romeo and Juliet, that seems to still resonate so strongly with people all over the world?
GD: I think there are a number of reasons. As Giovanna – the head secretary at the Juliet Club – told me, everyone feels love and everyone feels it in much the same way. I think Shakespeare’s story resonates with people partly because of the beauty of the language. We can really feel what the characters are feeling – especially the sorrow. It’s also a well told story. The tension towards the end is palpable. As the events unfold, it’s a matter of literally seconds between the ending turning out happily or in complete tragedy. Of course the hand of fate is at work here. Romeo and Juliet are star-crossed lovers and it’s already been determined that they will die in each others’ arms. I’ve had students cry at the ending and I usually have a big lump in my throat too when I come to the final stanza: a glooming peace this morning with it brings, the sun for sorrow will not show its head, for never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.
BR: What’s next for you – will you continue writing?
GD: Of course! I have my sights set on a novel now. I can’t imagine I will ever have a story like Juliet’s Answer personally happen to me again so I’m going to turn to fiction. I’ve just begun it so I can’t say too much about the plot. But I can tell you it will be at least partly a love story and that it will be set in a place everyone dreams of going to.