Partner of Sharon Marcus (a literature professor and writer). Education: Bryn Mawr College, graduated 1993; graduate studies at Goddard College.
Home and office—New York, NY. E-mail—[email protected]
Writer. Interned at the Village Voice, New York, NY; taught English as a second language (ESL); Columbia University, New York, NY, creative writing instructor.
Urasenke Foundation grant.
The Smoke Week: September 11-21, 2001, Gival Press (Arlington, VA), 2003.
The Teahouse Fire (novel), Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 2006.
Author of a blog.
The Teahouse Fire was adapted for audio (unabridged; fourteen CDs), read by Barbara Caruso, HighBridge, 2006.
Ellis Avery first attended a tea ceremony in Kyoto, Japan, and began a three-year study of this ancient ritual at the Urasenke Chanoyu Center in New York City. She also spent two years learning Japanese and returned to Kyoto for a course on tea ceremony funded by the Urasenke Foundation. She learned that the ceremony had originally been celebrated by powerful men and warriors and that women were either excluded or rarely admitted. The Teahouse Fire reflects what she has learned from her study. "Readers who enjoy historical fiction will be dazzled by Avery's attention to detail," wrote Leigh Anne Vrabel in Library Journal.
The story features two protagonists. One is Aurelia Bernard, a nine-year-old American orphan who is taken to Kyoto by an abusive uncle who is a Catholic priest and a missionary. When he dies in a fire, she is adopted as a servant and companion to Yukako Shin, the teen daughter of a prominent family that includes generations of tea masters, and her name is changed to Urako. The Shin family is attempting to preserve the ceremony at a time when Westernization is occurring. Yukako is based on a historical figure who, like her fictional counterpart, introduces the tea ceremony into the curriculum of girls' schools during the 1880s.
Aurelia narrates the story as an elderly woman, and she tells of her relationship with Yukako and their lives as adults. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote: "Avery, making her debut, has crafted a magisterial novel that is equal parts love story, imaginative history and bildungsroman, a story as alluring as it is powerful."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
America's Intelligence Wire, March 15, 2007, "U. Pittsburgh: Author Discusses Cultural Differences in New Novel at U. Pittsburgh."
Booklist, November 15, 2006, Deborah Donovan, review of The Teahouse Fire, p. 23.
Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2006, review of The Teahouse Fire, p. 1087.
Library Journal, November 15, 2006, Leigh Anne Vrabel, review of The Teahouse Fire, p. 54.
Publishers Weekly, October 30, 2006, "PW Talks to Ellis Avery: Tea for Two: Set in Late 19th-century Japan, The Teahouse Fire, Follows Aurelia, an American Orphan Who Is Taken In—as Both Servant and Sister—by Yukako, the Daughter of Japan's Most Important Teacher of the Ancient Art of Tea Ceremony," p. 32, and review of Teahouse Fire, p. 36.
Brooklyn Rail,http://www.brooklynrail.org/ (May 7, 2007), Cassandra Neyenesch, "Ellis Avery and Sharon Marcus with Cassandra Neyenesch" (interview).
Bryn Mawr College Web site,http://www.brynmawr.edu/ (January 18, 2007), "Bryn Mawr Now: Ellis Avery '93 to Read from The Teahouse Fire."
Contra Costa Times Online,http://www.contracostatimes.com/ (February 4, 2007), Kate Lavin, review of The Teahouse Fire.
Ellis Avery Home Page,http://www.ellisavery.com (May 7, 2007).
Powell's Books Original Essays,http://www.powells.com/ (May 7, 2007), Ellis Avery, "Tea and the Writing of The Teahouse Fire."