Susan Scarf Merrell: How Writers Adapt

Susan Merrell. Photo by Robin Saidman

It’s not every day your first novel gets made into a major motion picture that is due for theatrical distribution during a national movie house shutdown.

But, all in all, Susan Merrell of Sag Harbor seems to be adapting to it all quite well.

“Writers are pretty solitary to start with,” she said with a laugh.

Last week, on Friday, April 24, the film adaption of Merrell’s book, “Shirley,” starring Elisabeth Moss and Michael Stuhlbarg, was supposed to be released after its award-winning showing at Sundance Film Festival in January.

Now, that’s not happening. “There will be information about that soon,” she said.

But Merrell is not fazed. The experience of even being a part of seeing her characters (based on the famed author Shirley Jackson) come to life, has been, Merrell enthused, “incredible.”

“I teach my students to read great books and to think about the way that their work can reinterpret and grow from what came before. And so, my novel was so much a rethinking and reimagining and homage to Shirley’s work, and then seeing this movie,” she paused, reflecting. “I can’t even tell you.”

And there’s also the upcoming Stony Brook Southampton summer writers conference July 8 through 12, which is going to be virtual this year. Merrell is co-director of the event.

“The writing community really needs the support and activity. It feels like time is melting somehow,” she said, alluding to Salvador Dalí’s famous painting, “The Persistence of Memory.”

“What we need is persistence right now. All of our faculty agreed to stay with us, but we have dropped the prices, so more people will be able to attend and not have to worry about lodging or travel. But we’re doing a lot to build community around it. We owe it to the people who, for the last 45 years, have produced or attended this conference,” said Merrell.

In the meantime, Merrell will be reading from “Shirley: A Novel,” on Wednesday, May 6, through the Amagansett Free Library. “I don’t want to feel like there’s a hole in my life,” she said. “It’s important to get out there and stay involved with the readers and writers out there.”

Register for the 5 PM event by emailing [email protected] for the Zoom link. To learn more about Merrell, her website is

[email protected]

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