Oprah: So back when you were 32 and had no McDreamy in sight, you just decided to adopt a baby?
Shonda: I'd rented a farmhouse in Vermont, and I took a navel-gazing trip to think about my life. The day after I arrived, 9/11 hit. So I was sitting in the middle of nowhere, watching the whole terrible thing unfold on CNN. When I finally turned off the television, I thought, "Well, if the world's going to end, what are all the things I've ever wanted to do?" I went home and hired an adoption attorney.
Oprah: What else was on your must-do list?
Shonda: Writing the kinds of things I really wanted to write. Being true to myself and my interests. Spending more time with my family and close girlfriends. Starting the long list of books I'd been meaning to read. Working out.
Oprah: I've always said that 9/11 was a wake-up call to the country. It woke you up.
Shonda: Absolutely. Up until then, I'd spent a lot of time asking myself, "What's wrong with my life?" I was feeling so unhappy. September 11 woke me up to the realization that there was nothing wrong with my life when I considered what really could be wrong. Nine months and two days after 9/11, my daughter was born. I named her after Harper Lee. Now I can't remember what I did with my time before she got here.
Oprah: I bet you can't imagine your life without her.
Shonda: Exactly. I used to have endless time.
Oprah: I've heard that you have a "no-asshole policy" when choosing your staff.
Shonda: That's right. I don't want to hire anybody I can't stand being around. I basically live here. My daughter comes here to play. I don't want to deal with actors, writers, or production people who make me crazy.
Oprah: What's your asshole-spotting technique?
Shonda: Assholes are people who (a) talk about themselves constantly and (b) walk into an audition room and start making demands.
Oprah: Exactly. I read that when you were 4, you were already telling stories and having your mother record them. When I was 4, I began my broadcast career by speaking in church. Did you grow up wanting to be a TV writer?
Shonda: I always thought I'd be a novelist, a Toni Morrison. Now I'm so not ashamed of the fact that I think pop culture is interesting. It's what's happening in the world as it exists at this moment for people. Writing for TV comes naturally for me.
Oprah: How do you stay connected to the culture when you're so insulated on this set?
Shonda: I've had the same three best friends for the past 20 years. We grew up together, and we still get together for weekends. When you meet people in this business, they're usually not really your friends. So I stick with my best friends and my sisters. Yes, they love the show, but they're not too interested or impressed with all the attention that comes with it. Our conversations are about what's going on with their husbands or kids. They keep the world real for me.