When I watch the Oscars this weekend, or, more accurately, watch them while hosting on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered,” I’ll be thinking of a lunch I had sometime before Christmas.  I met the actress Amy Adams on Dec. 3rd at the Gramercy Park Hotel for that lunch.   I had been thinking for a long long time what I might say to Adams upon our meeting.  But when we did meet, I simply said, “I’ve been waiting for you for so long.”


And so I have.  A very long time.  I felt emotional, upon seeing her.  I’m not a person who cries much.  Sometimes I wish it were otherwise. But I felt a bit of my resolve and fortitude go a little soft that day.  Amy simply hugged me, and we sat down and talked for the next three hours.

I’ve learned a lot about the film business since 1997, when my memoir Daughter of the Queen of Sheba first came out so well—to great acclaim, to tell you the truth.  Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times said it belonged on the same shelf with Frank McCourt‘s Angela’s Ashes and Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club.

It is hard to write that my book was critically acclaimed, since it seems a bit self promoting.  But women need to become comfortable with the facts of their success: not just for themselves, but for others who can see what is possible. The actress Meryl Streep was interested in playing my mother, and I thought my little memoir would be a film overnight, but that was not to be, even though eventually it came out in foreign editions around the world.


Before I say anything more about ‘Sheba’  as a film experience, let me say this:  I always knew it was my book. It’s their movie.   A movie is an adaptation, and a non-fiction book is an imperfect work.  The pages close, and family life goes on.  If every family member could  write a book, I assure you, the stories wouldn’t match all the time. Maybe not at all.

My life with my mother, who suffered from seriously delusional bipolar illness, went on after the book was over. She was hospitalized at least four or five more times. In recent years, with the improvement of drugs, my mother has pulled out of the downward spiral of her mental illness only to be beset with another brain illness, normal pressure hydrocephalus. She wasn’t expected to make it.  So in a lot of ways, the last five years of my life – make it seven, if you count Afghanistan in 2001 or being there for 9/11 – have been more about war coverage and saving  Mom’s brain than whether or not our  film got made. And oh, somewhere in there I got married in Ireland after getting engaged in Baghdad. Yet the movie has been a will-o-the-wisp, sometimes close, sometimes retreating.

And there have been remarkable  women in my film world.  Sylvie Rabineau, my intrepid, encouraging, warm and astonishing agent. Susan Cartsonis, who optioned this book, had faith in it, and never let go. Karen Croner, the incredible screenwriter. She adapted ‘One True Thing,’ Anna Quindlen’s memoir, for Meryl Streep and Rene Zellweger. Once,  I spoke to both of them on the phone from an Army Forward Operating Base on the Tigris River and Karen said,  “Just tell me what you see.”

What I saw?  The moon waning over the palms; the shape of the river bend,  the tall crescents above mosques.  What I couldn’t see was how much longer, how much longer, until this film gets made.

And I still can’t tell you that.  But I know that, while women may not ‘open’ films the way that men do; while there are no car crashes or explosions (we did write a great flood scene we had to cut, for money, and we might have some SMALL explosions) we waited for the right woman.

That’s because, while what we spoke about over lunch is private, when someone’s going to play you and be you, when you put trust that your life is going to be portrayed in someone else’s skin while you are still alive and shopping at the grocery store and hauling your happy, bubbling, galvanized and focused  80-year-old mother off to Florida—well, you had better hope you can live with that person who’s you on the big screen.    And because she is an amazing woman, with her own grit, I can.  I’m not talking about her talent here, which we can all see. I’m talking about her grit, which may not be as apparent if you only see her films.

So in the end, I have been waiting for her for so long.  But when I watch her on the big screen on Sunday night at the Oscars, I’ll be thinking about what we did after lunch. For a story I was working on for NPR, we went over to my friend, the artist Mary Frank’s, and Mary showed us her paintings.  “I want to meet your female guru’s,” said Amy, and this 70-something painter is one of my heroines.


We sang show-tunes for Mary, who made us tea.  We posed for this picture.  Mary, a friend and contemporary of Diane Arbus,  showed us some of her new work and paintings.  Mary is never not painting or making art, and she  had never heard of Amy, so I gave her the copy of ‘Vanity Fair’ with Amy on the cover.   Mary’s husband Leo took this picture.

Amy’s the one.  I can wait as long as it takes.  I’m a little more worried about my mother, but, you know.  This film will get made.  And when it does, please know that Amy Adams was worth waiting for; was the real thing.  I’m working on my next book now; a sequel to Sheba.  It’s my book.  But it will be Amy’s movie.  I hope you’ll make sure to see it; it will speak to a lot of mothers and daughters in this world.

Jacki Lyden is a regular substitute host on NPR’s Weekend Edition and Weekend All Things Considered. She was part of the award-winning NPR team that covered the Persian Gulf War. She lives in Washington, D.C.

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