For Book Clubs

Invite me to your book club! I'm happy to join groups of five or more to discuss Negative Space or Burn It Down—either virtually, or in-person within New York City.

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Discussion Questions

Here are some suggested questions to get your book-club discussion of Negative Space going!

1) How does Dancyger render New York City not just a setting but a character? Do you see this a story that could only take place in New York? Why or why not?

2) How were New York and California in opposition in this story? What does New York mean for Dancyger vs California?

3) At one point, Dancyger writes that as a girl, she wanted art to be beautiful, a taste that was forgiven by her father because she was a child. He preferred art that was real and true, if grotesque, even teaching her to see the value in dead things. What ideas about beauty did the book challenge or confirm for you? How was beauty defined for you growing up? How do you define it now? What changed?

4) What were your views on addiction before reading Negative Space? How did this story confirm or challenge your ideas about addiction and drug users?

5) What role does socioeconomic class play in the book, particularly in Dancyger’s journey out of the East Village of the ‘80s and into elite university halls? What did you notice about her discomfort?

6) Dancyger approaches her father’s story as both an investigation and an excavation. Are there things in your own life or family history that you’ve had to investigate? If so, what was the driving force? What did you discover? Did that discovery change anything?

7) Which of Dancyger’s interview subjects, in her quest for information about her father, was most surprising, revelatory, or even disturbing to you?

8) Often a story is as much about what’s told as what’s left out. Where do you have a sense that Dancyger was leaving things out? Do you think that was an intentional artistic choice or an emotional one? How might those choices relate to the concept of negative space?

9) What is our responsibility to the stories of the dead? Do you think Dancyger had the right to tell her father’s story without his knowledge? Do you consider it her inheritance, or as her younger self who balked at reading his journals might, a violation?

10) What did you think of the varied representations of Heidi, Dancyger’s mother? What was your impression of her character arc and growth from a young woman struggling to survive addiction with a child to mother of a memoirist opening up about her past?

11) What is the legacy (both "good" and "bad") that Dancyger inherits from her parents? What does she think is the legacy she inherits?

12) Why do you think it was important for her to include her father’s art? How did the use of images affect your reading experience? Did you like having them placed next to the corresponding stories or would you have preferred them all clumped together? Why?

13) What images or series of images struck you the most? Did it make you think of other art forms, concepts, or ideas? Or even things in your own life?

14) Why do you think Dancyger chose to leave the family photos until the end of the book? How did that impact your connection to the story? Would it have been different if they were included up front or interspersed throughout with the art?