Writer-actress Marianne Leone’s new memoir focuses on her mother, a vibrant Italian woman who immigrated to the United States at 18 and raised a family in Greater Boston. “Ma Speaks Up: And a First-Generation Daughter Talks Back” explores Leone’s complicated childhood relationship with her mom, and how they eventually bonded. Leone lives on the South Shore with her husband, Oscar-winning actor Chris Cooper, and will be at the Newburyport Literary Festival Saturday to read from the book.
Q. Tell us a bit about the memoir.
A. When you immigrate to this country, there’s an official story and then there’s the real story. You have a chance to reinvent yourself when you come here. My mother came here at 18 to escape an arranged marriage, which sounds medieval, and to escape fascism and the coming war. There was one story I heard as a kid, but when I got older I realized there was another story. . . . Growing up, I was resentful and I wanted her to be American. Our culture is so pervasive. . . . Now, of course, I appreciate all of that stuff. We all do, when we get older.
Q. Do you ever see bits of your mother in yourself? You mentioned you’re planning to bring frozen homemade spaghetti sauce with you when you visit your husband in New York.
A. Absolutely. It makes me laugh, because my mother accused me of starving my husband more than once. She was never quite sure if I was feeding him enough, but she was that way about everybody. If she met you, she’d be afraid you weren’t eating enough. I’ve never gotten to play someone like my mother. I’ve played facets of her. I realized later, when I became an actor, how great it was to grow up in such a volatile, emotional household. I had a lot to draw on there.
Q. As an actress, you generally play characters that were created by other people. What has your experience been like writing about yourself?
A. I think it’s why I haven’t written much fiction. When you act, that’s your fiction, you know? But also, I do think that acting and writing dovetail in that if you’re not telling the truth, don’t do it. It’s not going to be good. If you’re writing a memoir and you’re afraid to go there, to the place where it might possibly hurt, then don’t do it. People will know when they read it that you didn’t tell the truth.
Q. What do you hope readers take away from this memoir?
A. I would really love it if this could just cross generations and ethnicities. And I think it will. I did the audiobook and there was an intern who was a 20-year-old girl from Kenya. At the end of the first day, she said, “May I take this home with me?” It resonated with her. I can’t tell you how happy that made me, that it resonated with her. We’re a nation of immigrants. That’s what we are. Hopefully people will respond to this.