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Piper Kerman reflects on Netflix series ‘Orange Is the New Black’

The writer, who grew up in Brookline and Swampscott, talks about the reaction to the women’s prison comedy-drama inspired by her memoir.

Piper Kerman.
Jesse Grant/Getty Images
Piper Kerman.

When total strangers say, “I’m going for Halloween as you,” that’s a little weird. And, of course, it’s not really me. Piper Chapman is a character. The show is not a biography. It’s an adaptation.

Piper Chapman is very different [from me]. Her family is very different than my family. My in-laws, I have to say, are very different. So it doesn’t seem like watching myself. It seems like watching a character that’s been created by [executive producer] Jenji Kohan. I think that the character is a really interesting one. She makes all kinds of mistakes that I didn’t make. I made plenty of mistakes, but they were different. I don’t worry too much about the differences between me and the character.

There was never any question when I turned the book over to Jenji Kohan that she would do things with the story. That’s why I was thrilled to turn it over to her. I would only want someone to do something provocative and creative with the material.

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In a lot of ways my daily life and my work is essentially the same and in some ways it’s really different. It’s really thrilling to have people pay attention to these characters and the issues that manifest themselves in these characters. So to have people think about issues of criminal justice, issues of mental health and substance abuse, how people experience violence in a different way is very, very exciting for me and all that my work has been about since I came home from prison. So the show definitely makes that work easier and more fruitful in some sense in terms of it hopefully making some difference out there in the world.

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I think it’s likely that I will [write another book]. I’m sure it will remain focused on criminal justice. I’m equally sure it will not be a memoir.     

(Interview has been edited and condensed.)

SEE IT The second season of Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black begins June 6.

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