Kate Mulgrew has always been a tell-it-like-it-is lady, and so it’s no surprise that her new memoir – Born with Teeth, out now from Little Brown – pulls no punches, either. You can hear Mulgrew’s voice, that cadence, in every sentence, sharing anecdotes from her life in vivid, deeply personal detail, all of it Irish to the core. She delves into her childhood, her romances, a brutal rape and the life of an actress. She recounts blowing her first Star Trek: Voyager audition and later inhabiting Captain Janeway, as well as the tremendous guilt she felt over being away from her sons while traversing the Delta Quadrant. Mulgrew also spends many a page describing her efforts to locate and reunite with the daughter she’d given up for adoption in her youth. In recent days, Mulgrew has been making the rounds to promote Born with Teeth, and StarTrek.com caught up with her by telephone on Friday to talk about the book, Voyager, Orange Is the New Black and more. Below is part one of our two-part conversation, and be sure to visit StarTrek.com again tomorrow to read the second half.
What made now the right time for a memoir?
MULGREW: My age. The deaths of my parents. That was imperative. I’m not going to suggest that it was an epiphanic thing. I just knew that I wanted to write it, that I needed to write it and that the time was right.
MULGREW: To be perfectly honest with you, I always wanted to do it all by myself. That had always been my private yearning. I’m a voracious reader. I’ve always written on the sly, but none of it has ever been published. A few essays. But I harbored this desire because writing, to me, is one of the great joys of life. Reading is one of the great joys of life. And so out it came. I met a literary agent at a dinner party. I sent him 50 pages. He called to ask to represent me immediately after he’d read them. And I’d say within a couple of weeks there was a small but intriguing bidding war for this book.
How did you go about reconstructing/getting the facts right about the details of your childhood?
MULGREW: Much of it had been vividly stored in my heart and in my mind and in my imagination. Although, I did speak to my surviving siblings at length, and found them all very interesting and most informative, especially Joe, who is a wealth of detail. One of my great flaws, shortcomings in both the memoir and in life is that, having lived on this scale at which I have lived, I’m not very good at remembering dates or months or years. So I had to rely on my siblings for some of that information. And the rest – and this is the beauty of a memoir as opposed to an autobiography – is that it’s not about fact-finding, but rather it’s about finding the truth within one’s self. And that’s what I went for.
You delve into your childhood, love life, the up and down touring circus existence of actors, having been raped, and also the effort to reconnect with your daughter. How hard/cathartic/brave/rewarding was it for you to confront those issues, in some cases those demons, right there in black and white for the world to see?
MULGREW: Cathartic wouldn’t be the word. It’d be brave (laughs). I was bold. I was ready; you’ve got to emphasize that word for me. There’s a readiness in every life, if it’s been lived as mine has been lived, to which the memoirist must respond. Not only were my parents dead, but I’d reclaimed my daughter and she’s now been in my life in a very, very substantial way for 8 years. We have a wonderful and quite-deeply realized relationship. I wanted also to leave something for my grandchildren to read about when I’m gone. It’s very Irish, this approach. I also wanted to do it with whatever lyricism and eloquence and austerity that I could endow it with. And I hope I accomplished that.
There's a chapter about Voyager, there's nothing about Orange Is the New Black, and there's no mention of your relationship with Voyager director Rick Kolbe. What went into the decisions to include this, but skip that?
MULGREW: These are the moments that defined me. Star Trek is an entire chapter. I didn’t write it for the Trekkers. It’s a memoir about me.
The book could have been called Born with Teeth, Part 1 or Born with Teeth, The First Chapter. How ready are you to tell more of the Mulgrew story?
MULGREW: The process of writing was an unexpected delight, both in its challenges, the anguish and the incredible sense of freedom and joy I experienced in that solitude, because I went away and took a house at the beach. I found that solitude to be possibly one of the greatest, most-enriching experiences I’ve ever had. I’m longing to do it again. And with any luck I will do it again. I’m wide open and hopeful about telling more of the story.
You’re at the beach house… Are you at a desk writing on a computer? Did you do it free-hand? What was the process?
MULGREW: I did it on a computer. I got up every day at 7:30 am. I had my coffee and I sat there at my computer by no later than 9. I got up at 12:30 for lunch and returned at 1 and I’d write until 4:30, sometimes 5. That was a discipline I so enjoyed. I loved the loneliness of it. I really loved the loneliness of it.
What do you hope the reader will take away from spending a few hours reading Born with Teeth?
MULGREW: That it has been a life of size and depth and dimension, and the story is well told, with restraint and lyricism.
Visit StarTrek.com again tomorrow to read part two of our exclusive interview with Kate Mulgrew. And go to amazon.com to purchase Born with Teeth.