All writers start their writing lives in different ways. Musicians who prefer writing poetry to writing lyrics; English majors obsessed with Charlotte Brontë; established doctors with stories to tell ─ but some beginnings are marked by subtler shifts of consciousness than others. For The New Yorker, critic Daniel Mendelsohn narrates the improbable origins of his writing career: by getting close with a worldly 70-year-old French women who liked to dance at the music clubs of Charlottesville, Virginia. When Mendelsohn met Ghislaine Signard de Poyen Bellisle Neale, aka Chouky, as an undergraduate classics major, the stories she told about her life were the first time he realized “that the things I’d read about in novels actually happened to real people.” Her influence on him wasn’t simply about finding material, though, or that she taught him how to write. She taught him to think differently about how he spent his waking…

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