Bernstein, Jane 1949–

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Bernstein, Jane 1949–


Born June 10, 1949, in Brooklyn, NY; daughter of David (a manufacturer's representative) and Ruth (an office worker) Bernstein; married Paul Glynn (a biophysicist), July 20, 1975 (divorced, 1997); children: Charlotte Claire, Rachel Alexa. Education: New York University, B.A., 1971; Columbia University, M.F.A., 1977. Religion: Jewish. Hobbies and other interests: Marathon running.


Home—Pittsburgh, PA. Agent—Gail Hochman, Brandt and Hochman, 1501 Broadway, New York, NY 10036. E-mail—[email protected].


Writer. Fillmore East Theatre, New York, NY, box office treasurer, 1967-71; Ideal Publishing, New York, NY, editor, 1973-75; Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, instructor in media and fiction, 1977-79; professor at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA.


Writers Guild of America East.


Harper & Row writing fellowship, 1976; New Jersey State Council on the Arts fellowship in fiction, 1981-82, 1986-87; National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) fellowship, 1982-83, 2000-01; Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fellowship, 1995, in media arts, 2003, in creative writing; Virginia Faulkner Award for Excellence in Writing, 2001; Fulbright fellowship, 2004; Berkman Faculty Development Grant, Carnegie Mellon University, 2005.


Departures (novel), Holt (New York, NY), 1979.

Seven Minutes in Heaven (young adult novel), Fawcett (New York, NY), 1986.

Loving Rachel: A Family's Journey from Grief (memoir), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1988, reprinted, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 2007.

Bereft: A Sister's Story (memoir), North Point (New York, NY), 2000.

Rachel in the World: A Memoir, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 2007.

Also, author of screenplays, including Seven Minutes in Heaven, coauthored and directed by Linda Feferman, produced by Warner Bros., Inc., 1985; a film based on the life of voting rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, directed by Jonathan Kaplan; and an adaptation of the Kaye Gibbons novel A Cure for Dreams for Firebird Films.

Contributor of articles and short stories to various periodicals, including Mademoiselle, Glamour, New York Times Magazine, and Prairie Schooner.


Jane Bernstein made her debut as a novelist in 1979 with the release of Departures. The novel tells the story of a young woman, Lydia, who struggles to maintain a sense of identity when her personal life is shattered by a series of sudden departures—her father and grandfather die, her lover leaves to pursue a film career, and her mother and sister are unable or unwilling to help Lydia come to grips with her losses. She abandons the writing of her doctoral dissertation to take a job in a factory that makes cigarette lighters and attempts to pull her life back together.

Bernstein exposes her personal life and struggles in Loving Rachel: A Family's Journey from Grief and Bereft: A Sister's Story, memoirs published respectively in 1988 and 2000. Loving Rachel describes Bernstein's family's emotional experiences and medical ordeals following the birth of her daughter, Rachel, who was born blind and potentially mentally disabled. Bereft delves further into Bernstein's past. When Bernstein was seventeen years old, her older sister, Laura, was murdered in a seemingly random act of violence by David Mumbaugh, who was subsequently imprisoned for the crime. In Bereft, Bernstein explores the impact of her sister's death on her own life. After Laura's death in 1966, Bernstein followed her parents' lead and rarely mentioned her sister. However, more than two decades and several truncated stints of therapy later, Bernstein was compelled to work entirely through Laura's death, her family's and her own reaction to it, and the long-range effects the murder had on her life. She details this emotional work and its related events in Bereft.

Bereft is "a compelling and at times heartbreaking read," declared Library Journal contributor Sheila Devaney. Bernstein was married to a violent man, and she decided to confront the violent man who killed her sister. A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that the text is "sometimes frustratingly circuitous," yet found Bereft to be "an eloquent and unflinchingly candid investigation … a moving and insightful mediation on the often elusive intricacies of family relationships." Devaney predicted that Bernstein's very "informal [tone]" will cause "readers [to] often forget that they are reading nonfiction."

Bernstein's second memoir about mothering her mentally impaired daughter, Rachel in the World, focuses on the challenges of Rachel's young adulthood. As Bernstein makes clear, behaviors that can make children with developmental disabilities appear cute are much less attractive when those children reach maturity. She describes Rachel's rebelliousness and efforts to win independence, the difficulties of teaching the girl about puberty and hygiene, and the wearying frustrations in trying to find a residential placement for her when there are long waiting lists for suitable settings. Cristina Rouvalis, writing in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, praised the memoir as a "refreshingly honest" book as well as a "self-portrait of fierce maternal love."

Pittsburgh City Paper contributor Bill O'Driscoll also welcomed the book's emotional frankness and lack of sentimentality. He stated: "Bernstein's story takes place at an historic pinch-point: when the disabled, though (thankfully) no longer relegated to institutions, remain unintegrated into the wider world." O'Driscoll added: "Here, the promise of freedom paves a narrow path to its realization, and one mother's expectations seem to sharpen her travails in fulfilling them." Writing as the parent of a mentally impaired child, Houston Chronicle reviewer Michael Berryhill stated: "I am grateful for this tough, honest and often angry account. It's a book I have been looking for, a road map for the years ahead."

Bernstein once told CA: "When I was working on my third unpublished novel, a teacher of mine assured me that my life would not change once I was published. In a way, of course, she was right. On an average day, the same things make me happy or unhappy as they did before my novel was accepted. But now that I have been published, I have overcome the feeling that it is useless to go on writing fiction for my file cabinets, that there was something bizarre about a grown person staying home all day long and telling stories. Now I have a whole series of new worries. I have lost the bravado I once had. But the knowledge that my finished work will reach readers has indeed changed my life. Now what I do is write each day. I may procrastinate, but I no longer question the sanity of my pursuit."

Bernstein later told CA: "Readers of my memoirs often ask if writing about painful events such as my sister's murder was ‘good for me,’ if the process was cathartic. I found myself stressing what a long process it was to take a personal story and turn it into something that will be resonant and interesting to readers—people who do not know me. That said, to write about myself and my family means I need to separate from the ‘Jane’ depicted in the narrative. This perspective does bring a kind of clarity to the family dynamics and events depicted in my books that I might not otherwise have had."



Bernstein, Jane, Bereft: A Sister's Story, North Point (New York, NY), 2000.

Bernstein, Jane, Loving Rachel: A Family's Journey from Grief, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1988; reprinted, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 2007.

Bernstein, Jane, Rachel in the World: A Memoir, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 2007.


Book, March, 2000, review of Bereft, p. 85.

Booklist, July, 1986, review of Seven Minutes in Heaven, p. 1604; May 1, 1988, review of Loving Rachel, p. 1461; April 1, 2000, Donna Seaman, review of Bereft, p. 1416; October 1, 2007, Vanessa Bush, review of Rachel in the World, p. 7.

Entertainment Weekly, April 20, 2001, review of Bereft, p. 65.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada), July 15, 2000, review of Bereft, p. D6.

Houston Chronicle, December 9, 2007, Michael Berryhill, "Loving and Living with Rachel; Mother Writes of the Challenges of Dealing with an Adult Mentally Retarded Daughter," review of Rachel in the World, p. 15.

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 1979, review of Departures, p. 1012; April 1, 1988, review of Loving Rachel, p. 505; July 15, 2007, review of Rachel in the World.

Kliatt, fall, 1981, review of Departures, p. 5.

Library Journal, October 15, 1979, review of Departures, p. 2234; March 1, 2000, Sheila Devaney, review of Bereft, p. 110; August 1, 2007, Antoinette Brinkman, review of Rachel in the World, p. 104.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 12, 1988, review of Loving Rachel, p. 4.

Mademoiselle, November, 1979, Jane Howard, review of Departures, p. 54.

Ms., November, 1979, Judith Thurman, review of Departures, p. 112.

New Yorker, October 29, 1979, review of Departures, p. 174.

New York Times Book Review, December 2, 1979, Michael Malone, review of Departures, p. 15; April 19, 1981, review of Departures, p. 27; October 30, 1988, Heather Vogel Frederick, review of Loving Rachel, p. 27; August 20, 1989, review of Loving Rachel, p. 28.

Observer (London, England), September 21, 1980, review of Departures, p. 29.

Pittsburgh City Paper, December 6, 2007, Bill O'Driscoll, review of Rachel in the World.

Pittsburgh Post Gazette, September 30, 2007, Cristina Rouvalis, review of Rachel in the World.

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, October 14, 2007, Regis Behe, "Writer Shares Battles, Triumphs of Raising Disabled Child," review of Rachel in the World.

Publishers Weekly, August 27, 1979, review of Departures, p. 372; March 13, 1981, review of Departures, p. 87; April 22, 1988, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of Loving Rachel, p. 74; June 2, 1989, review of Loving Rachel, p. 79; February 28, 2000, review of Bereft, p. 73.

Times Literary Supplement, January 2, 1981, review of Departures, p. 8.

US Weekly, May 15, 2000, Lori Leibovich, review of Bereft, p. 51.


Carnegie Mellon University, English Department Web site, (September 11, 2003), faculty profile.

Jane Bernstein Home Page, (June 27, 2008).