Molly Shannon Bubbles Over with Tales of Tricksterism
Molly Shannon keynotes Annual’s Closing General Session
Entertainer and now children’s author Molly Shannon delighted a packed Closing Session Tuesday morning at ALA in New Orleans with tales of growing up as a just-a-tad-naughty child, not unlike the title character of her first book, Tilly the Trickster, published by Abrams, sponsor of the session.
“I know you waited to see the real superstar of ALA,” the effervescent Shannon joked, referring to her Mary Katherine Gallagher character from Saturday Night Live. The audience couldn’t have been more appreciative or enthusiastic.
Shannon credited her father, who raised Molly and her sister Mary alone after her mother was killed in an automobile accident, with her bent for drama and theatrics. He was a charismatic, funny, and loving man, she said, who would take what he told the children were “cleaning pills,” which kept him energized sometimes all night as he ran around the house cleaning with Judy Garland blasting from the stereo. The young Molly soon began making up characters of her own and belting out “Swanee.”
Of her success as a performer, Shannon said that, much to her surprise, in order to get your comedy bits on the air on Saturday Night Live, “you had to write your way in.” She had difficulty at first but then learned that “if you write from your heart, creating something from within, the truth comes out and people will relate to it.” Shannon spent six years on SNL, and “it changed my life in every way; I loved it.”
Of creating a character for her children’s book, Shannon said it was always something she’d wanted to do but decided to wait until she had children of her own before diving in. “It was easy to write about a trickster,” she noted, because “my dad was the biggest trickster of all time. He made everything an adventure.”
“I was very mischievous,” Shannon added, and her own tricksterism made her more confident, independent, creative, and fearless. “Comedy comes from silliness,” she said. “So much of comedy comes from being childlike, playful. I pass that along to my kids, and I encourage that.”
Shannon then read Tilly the Trickster, with the illustrations by Ard Hoyt on the screen behind her.
The “superstar” closed with a tribute to her mother. “It’s great to be in an environment where everyone truly loves books and reading,” she said, revealing that her mother was a librarian. Because Shannon was only 4 when her mother died, she has few memories of her, but she holds dear a memory book that some of her mother’s students wrote in, telling her she was the best library teacher they ever had. With a photo of her mother overhead, Shannon said, “This is my main memory of her, and this is very special to me.”
She ended by saying that she and her kids were “playing library" one day and her young daughter was pretending she was a librarian doing readers’ advisory while Shannon played patron and pointed to her own book, which she had strategically placed, asking, “And what about that one?” Her daughter acknowledged that it was pretty good, but “I had to push my own book with my own daughter!”
To her audience of librarians, Shannon offered praise: “I know that you all know a trick or two about getting books into the hands of kids. I know you inspire them just as you’ve inspired me.”