Bernikow, Louise 1940–
Bernikow, Louise 1940–
Born September 19, 1940, in New York, NY; daughter of Paul and Rita Bernikow. Education: Barnard College, B.A., 1961; Columbia University, M.A. (cum laude), 1963, M.Phil. (cum laude), 1973; graduate study at University of Madrid and Oxford University.
Office—318 W. 105th St., Ste. 4A, New York, NY 10025-3463.
Writer, consultant, and editor. Research fellow at Columbia University, New York, NY, 1962; member of faculty at Queens College (now Queens College of the City University of New York), New York, NY, 1963; instructor in writing at the Juilliard School, New York, NY, 1965-70, Barnard College and Hunter College, 1973-75, and New York University, 1978-81. Curriculum consultant and founder of women's studies programs at Hunter College, 1970, and at Jersey City State College. Consultant for NBC Newsmagazine, 1982, and 60 Minutes, 1984; history consultant for Women's eNews Web site and the Biography Channel. Guest on television programs, including Donahue, The Merv Griffin Show, and The Today Show. Frequent lecturer on activism and women's history at conferences and colleges.
Fulbright scholar, 1963-64; New York Foundation for the Arts grant (creative nonfiction), 1998.
Abel (biography), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1970.
(Editor) The World Split Open: Four Centuries of Women Poets in England and America, 1552-1950, Random House (New York, NY), 1974.
Among Women (essays), Crown (New York, NY), 1980.
Let's Have Lunch: Games of Sex and Power, Crown (New York, NY), 1981.
Alone in America: The Search for Companionship, Harper (New York, NY), 1986.
The American Women's Almanac: An Inspiring and Irreverent Women's History, Berkley Books (New York, NY), 1997.
Bark If You Love Me: A Woman-Meets-Dog Story, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC), 2000.
Dreaming in Libro: How a Good Dog Tamed a Bad Woman, Da Capo Press (Cambridge, MA), 2007.
Contributor to Lovers and Other Losses, Isis Press, 1981. Contributor to periodicals, including Esquire, European Travel and Life, Mademoiselle, Ms., and the New York Times Book Review. Author of monthly column, "Ourstory," Women's eNews Web site.
Louise Bernikow has written several books of nonfiction, edited a collection of women's poetry, and contributed her own poetry and articles to periodicals and anthologies. In her work she has explored a variety of subjects, including loneliness, the phenomenon of social lunches, the spiritual benefits of dog ownership, relationships between women, and the affair of the Soviet spy Rudolf Abel.
Bernikow's first book was the 1970 work Abel. Rudolf Abel lived in New York City for four years during the 1950s, posing as a painter and photographer and spend- ing time with a group of American artists who lived near him. In 1957 a Soviet agent who had defected to the United States revealed Abel's activities to U.S. authorities. Abel was arrested, tried, and convicted of espionage and sentenced to thirty years in prison. After serving five years at a prison in Georgia, Abel was exchanged in 1962 for Gary Powers, an American spy imprisoned in the Soviet Union. In writing the book, Bernikow drew heavily on the remembrances of Burt Silverman, an artist who was one of Abel's closest friends before his arrest. Throughout the book Bernikow notes Silverman's continuing disbelief that his friend and fellow artist was actually a spy. In the epilogue Bernikow recounts how she and Silverman traveled to Moscow in 1967 in an attempt to meet with Abel; the meeting never took place, as Abel was either unwilling or unable to see the Americans. While some reviewers felt that Bernikow's depiction of the spy was overly sentimental and naive, others praised the author for telling a complicated story in an engaging, compelling manner and for her skill in presenting a well-rounded portrait of Abel. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Burke Wilkinson noted that "there are scenes of brilliance and sudden tension" in the book and added that "if Abel remains enigmatic—for we are left to conjecture how much of his part of the friendship was cover and how much caring—a good deal of his fascination comes through."
Bernikow's next two projects dealt with women. In The World Split Open: Four Centuries of Women Poets in England and America, 1552-1950, she presents poems by writers both famous—Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Edna St. Vincent Millay—and not so famous, in an anthology covering four hundred years. The author's 1980 book Among Women is a series of essays about women writers and their relationships with other women—mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends. Among those whom the author examines are Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, and Sylvia Plath. Bernikow's subsequent projects have been sociological studies of peculiarly American aspects of society. In Let's Have Lunch: Games of Sex and Power, Bernikow reflects on social and business lunches and analyzes their significance in the United States, while her 1986 book, Alone in America: The Search for Companionship, is a study of loneliness and its prevalence in American culture. Bernikow continued to focus on women with The American Women's Almanac: An Inspiring and Irreverent Women's History. This volume is divided into nine sections, including "Media," "Work," "Entertainers," and "Politics." Reviewing The American Women's Almanac for the Newspaper Research Journal, Marilyn Greenwald suggested that it "may try to take on too much," but she commented favorably on the author's "light touch" and abundance of unusual and amusing information.
In Bark If You Love Me: A Woman-Meets-Dog Story, Bernikow describes her transformation from pet-hating Manhattanite to responsible, devoted dog owner. Jogging in Riverside Park one day, she discovered a ring of police and spectators surrounding an abandoned dog. She reluctantly became the dog's savior. At first she cared for the animal only grudgingly, but eventually she found her life changed for the better in many ways thanks to the care and routine required by her pet, whom she named Libro. She found that with Libro, people talked to her much more freely than they ever would have if she had been alone. She discovered that her dog knew Spanish, for when they walked through a Hispanic neighborhood, he responded to words spoken by the children on the street. She found that the trouble of seeing to her dog was eminently worthwhile. Bark If You Love Me is "a story about learning to trust, to give and [receive] unconditional love" in the big city, according to Marge Fletcher on the Bookreporter.com Web site. A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that at times "the book can be schmaltzy and forced," but praised the passages in which the author "allows her sense of absurdity to shine through.… Her delightful riff on her dog's life will be snapped up like a delicious treat."
In 2007 Bernikow capped Bark If You Love Me with a sequel: Dreaming in Libro: How a Good Dog Tamed a Bad Woman. Dreaming in Libro continues the story of her life with her adopted canine companion up through his death eight years after their initial meeting. "Libro opened the author's heart, prompted her into endearments she previously rolled her eyes at," Nancy Bent wrote in Booklist, "and became her significant other." He also gave her greater freedom—in Libro's company, Bernikow became able to explore parts of Manhattan that would have been dangerous for her had she been unescorted by a Boxer in the prime of life. Most important, however, he gave her support after she was diagnosed with cancer—a favor she repaid when he himself received a similar diagnosis shortly after her recovery. Libro used those skills after the terrorist attacks on New York in 2001, when he served as a therapy dog for shell-shocked citizens trying to adjust to what had happened. For months after Libro's death, according to a Kirkus Reviews contributor, "she ‘never stopped opening the door carefully, as though a creature with amber eyes and a set of paws might be waiting just inside.’" Dreaming in Libro, concluded an Internet Bookwatch writer, is "a blend of love story and pet saga which invites general-interest readers."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Reference Books Annual, review of The American Women's Almanac: An Inspiring and Irreverent Women's History, p. 357.
Best Sellers, June 15, 1970, review of Abel, p. 109.
Booklist, April 15, 1997, review of The American Women's Almanac, p. 1447; September 15, 2000, Kathleen Hughes, review of Bark If You Love Me: A Woman-Meets-Dog Story, p. 196; May 15, 2007, Nancy Bent, review of Dreaming in Libro: How a Good Dog Tamed a Bad Woman., p. 10.
Internet Bookwatch, September, 2007, review of Dreaming in Libro.
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2007, review of Dreaming in Libro.
Library Journal, June 15, 2007, Edell M. Schaefer, review of Dreaming in Libro, p. 86.
National Review, July 14, 1970, review of Abel, p. 744.
Newspaper Research Journal, winter, 1998, Marilyn Greenwald, review of The American Women's Almanac, p. 92.
New York Times, June 16, 1970, review of Abel, p. 45.
New York Times Book Review, July 26, 1970, Burke Wilkinson, review of Abel; October 19, 1980, Doris Grumbach, review of Among Women, p. 16.
Publishers Weekly, February 17, 1997, review of The American Women's Almanac, p. 207; October 2, 2000, review of Bark If You Love Me, p. 67; April 23, 2007, review of Dreaming in Libro, p. 39.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), March 30, 1997, review of The American Women's Almanac, p. 2.
Village Voice, February 3, 1975, review of The World Split Open: Four Centuries of Women Poets in England and America, 1552-1950, p. 38.
Bookreporter.com,http://bookreporter.com/ (November 19, 2007), Marge Fletcher, review of Bark If You Love Me.
Louise Bernikow Home Page,http://www.louisebernikow.com (November 19, 2007).