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Bissell, Beryl Singleton 1939-

Bissell, Beryl Singleton 1939-

PERSONAL:

Born 1939, in Saddle River, NJ; married Padre Vittorio Bosca Pelle (a former priest), 1974 (deceased, c. 1977); married Bill Christ (a minister), 1996; children: Thomas Francesca (deceased). Education: Attended Anoka-Ramsey Community College, Coon Rapids, MN; Metropolitan State University in Saint Paul, B.A. 1996.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Schroeder, MN. Agent—Lisa Bankoff, ICM, 40 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Writer, journalist, and columnist. Cook County News-Herald, Grand Marais, MN, columnist, 1998—. Variously worked as a set designer in Puerto Rico, national coordinator for the Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima, jewelry designer and business owner, and with the literary nonprofit publisher Milkweed Editions. Formerly a nun, 1957-73.

WRITINGS:

The Scent of God: A Memoir, Counterpoint Press (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to the anthology Surviving Ophelia. Contributor to periodicals, including the Trenton Times, Your Life, Lake Superior magazine, the National Catholic Reporter, Sun magazine, and Minnesota Monthly; Author of blog Beryl Singleton Bissell.

SIDELIGHTS:

Beryl Singleton Bissell is a journalist whose book, The Scent of God: A Memoir, recounts her life from school until her first husband died in the 1970s. Bissell writes about her devotion to Catholicism from the time she was a young girl in school and her nearly decade-and-a-half life as a nun in the cloistered order of the Poor Clares in New Jersey. At the center of the memoir is her decade-long love affair with a Catholic priest named Padre Vittorio Bosca Pelle. The two eventually married when Pelle left the priesthood, though Pelle died only three years later. The author also delves into the rigors of monastic life and the Catholic Church, with a special focus on Vatican II and, in the author's view, its negative effects. "The best memoirists allow their life experiences to shed light on a culture, a historical moment, a time, place, a social problem, a political issue that remains timely," wrote Paula Sullivan in the National Catholic Reporter, adding that the author "accomplishes all of the above." Wesley A. Mills, writing in the Library Journal, noted that the author's "humility and blatant honesty are refreshing, invigorating, and inspirational."

Bissell told CA: "I did not grow up with a dream of becoming a writer. I was a reader, a listener, an observer. I did not become interested in writing until I returned to school as a single working parent and a professor asked me why I was focusing on business when I was obviously a creative writer. Dubious, I nonetheless began to incorporate creative writing classes into my curriculum. Winning a creative nonfiction competition that allowed me to work with acclaimed personal essayist Scott Russell Sanders boosted my confidence. After years of silence and pregnant with innumerable untold stories, I'd finally found a way of putting those stories into words. Finding my voice has been an extraordinary experience. Discovering that others want to hear my voice has been both humbling and inspiring.

"Because I am a rather undisciplined and compulsive writer who often forgets to eat or sleep when in a creative mode, I sometimes hesitate to begin writing, fearful that I will get lost in the process and often use any excuse to avoid the process. Although I have the perfect place to write—a writing shed without access to the internet and with a view of Lake Superior—I do not have a preferred writing time. I try to write for three hours each morning, after several hours of meditation and reading (I rise at between four and five a.m.). Reading poetry by Rainer Maria Rilke or Mary Oliver often provides the mood and rhythm in which to write. Sometimes I just sit in front of the computer and wait for inspiration. Kafka promised that this would work. Sometimes it does and sometimes I just fall asleep.

"When I began to write The Scent of God, I did so because I'd overheard my teenage children blame things that went wrong in their lives (and there were lots of those happenings) on the fact that God had it ‘in for them’ because their father had been a priest and their mother a nun. I wanted them to know the love and torment and longing that had brought them into this world and thought I was telling a love story. Instead it became the most prolonged examination of conscience I'd ever undertaken. I found healing and forgiveness in the process. This is what I hope my readers will receive from my work—healing and hope and inspiration for their own lives."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Bissell, Beryl Singleton, The Scent of God: A Memoir, Counterpoint Press (New York, NY), 2006.

PERIODICALS

Bust, August-September, 2006, review of The Scent of God, p. 100.

Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2006, review of The Scent of God, p. 118.

Library Journal, June 1, 2006, Wesley A. Mills, review of The Scent of God, p. 124.

Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 12, 2006, Pamela Miller, "Apostle of Love," author profile, p. E12.

National Catholic Reporter, June 30, 2006, Paula Sullivan, review of The Scent of God, p. 16.

Publishers Weekly, January 16, 2006, review of The Scent of God, p. 58.

Washington Post, June 4, 2006, review of The Scent of God, p. 13.

ONLINE

Beryl Singleton Bissell Home Page,http://www.berylsingletonbissell.com (September 23, 2006).

Cook County News-Herald Online,http://www.grandmarais-mn.com/ (March 31, 2006), Vicki Biggs-Anderson, "Local Author's Memoir Gets National Press."

Duluth News Tribune Online,http://www.duluthsuperior.com/ (September 23, 2006), Chuck Frederick, "Son's Lament Inspires Journey of Reflection, Writing for Ex-Nun."

Minnesota Women's Press Web site,http://www.womenspress.com/ (September 23, 2006), Suzanne Kelsey, "Test of Faith," profile of author.

St. Paul Pioneer Press Online,http://www.twincities.com/ (May 24, 2006), Mary Ann Grossmann, review of The Scent of God.

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