Shonda Rhimes has authored a book published by Simon and Schuster, titled “Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person.” The book is in response to a snarky comment from her sister Delorse, who muttered to her while preparing Thanksgiving dinner in 2013, that “You never say yes to anything.” The crack from her sister she describes as “both a wake up and a call to arms.” She then proceeds to tell us what she did about it.
Shonda Rhimes is the creator and producer of some wildly successful shows on television today: Grey’s Anatomy; Scandal; How to Get Away with Murder; and Private Practice. Let us not forget the iconic characters created by Shonda Rhimes—Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh), Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), Annalise Keating (Viola Davis)—all of whom are lively and strong women that speak their minds.
The book, The Year of Yes, is a “Wake up Call to Arms” on the road to saying, “Yes.” It is conversational, witty, funny, serious, rip roaringly hilarious and deeply personal on this journey toward self-improvement.
So how is this book? It reminds me of a story that Alfred Hitchcock once described a New Yorker cartoon to Francois Truffaut. Two goats are eating up cans containing the reels of a film adapted from a best seller. And one goat says to the other, ‘Personally, I prefer the book.'”
Like the goat, I also prefer the book, which very tasty, with just the right amount of seasoning, written by the “Queen of Thursday” night television (#TGIT). We amusingly learn that Shonda Rhimes hired a publicist so she could avoid public appearances? Seriously. She didn’t much like Hollywood parties, preferring to hug a wall and would have panic attacks before media interviews and remembering nothing of what she said during those interviews.
The book details the impact of her older sister’s words on that Thanksgiving Day: “You never say yes to anything.” Shonda Rhimes was an expert at declining invitations that other mere mortals would leap to accept. With three children at home and three hit television shows on TV at the same time, it was easy to say that she was simply too busy. Who would question her?
But in truth, she was also afraid. Shonda Rhimes had the excuses to say “No,” apparently saying “Yes” to her work, caring for her children and comforting herself with food. She is the youngest of six children, from the south suburbs of Chicago (known as the Southland), knew she had to embrace the challenge for one year, in which she would say “Yes” to everything that scared her. What a fun journey following Shonda Rhimes reach outside the comfort zone of her work, her children and food.
What comes through loud and clear is the strong foundation of being Shonda Rhimes, starting with her parents. She grew up in what she calls a “very large, very competitive family. Extremely competitive. And by competitive, I mean, my mother says we are not allowed to play Scrabble anymore when we get together because of the injuries and tears.” It is this kind of humor that fills this book.
Shonda Rhimes was born and raised in Park Forest South (now University Park, Illinois), where she lived with her parents, two older brothers and three older sisters. Her father is a university administrator and her mother a college professor. It is her mother that earned two doctorates after her children were grown. It is clear from this compelling memoir, her three children will also have that strong foundation, ironically, because she often said “No” to spend time with them.
She attended St. Mary Catholic School in Park Forest, Illinois, and attended Marion Catholic High School in Chicago Heights, Illinois. She received a BA from Dartmouth College in English literature and creative writing in 1991. She beats the odds by being accepted into the prestigious writing school for screen and television program at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, earning a Master of Fine Arts (MFA).
We learn some of what Shonda Rhimes says “Yes.” She appears on Jimmy Kimmel Live and does quite well, but prior to the “Year of Yes” she would have said “No.” She is nervous about delivering the Dartmouth Commencement speech and implores the class to “Ditch the dream and be a doer, not a dreamer.” She wanted it to be real and different. She succeeded. She also recalls Elizabeth Dole delivered her speech in 1991. She cannot recall what Dole said that day for a very good reason. This time you will have to buy the book (or get it out of the library) to find out why.
Lots of good stuff here and it is no wonder the goat found it so tasty.
We also learned she says, “Yes” to her health and loses a great deal of weight. She says, “Yes” to more things than she dreamed she could be capable of doing. Well, actually, as she said in her address, she wasn’t really dreaming at all, but she was doing all along.