Blum, Jenna 1970-
BLUM, Jenna 1970-
Born 1970. Education: Kenyon College, B.A., 1992; Boston University, M.A., 1998.
Home—Boston, MA. Agent—Stephanie Abou, The Joy Harris Agency, 156 Fifth Ave., Suite 617, New York, NY 10010.
Writer and educator. Survivors of the Shoah Foundation, interviewer, 1995-99; Boston University, Boston, MA, instructor in creative and communication writing, 1998—; grub street, inc., Boston, teacher of master classes in fiction and manager of novel workshop, 1998—; AGNI, associate fiction editor, 2000-04.
First Prize, Seventeen magazine National Fiction Contest, 1986, for "The Legacy of Frank Finkelstein"; Charles Monroe Coffin Prize for short fiction, Kenyon Review.
Those Who Save Us (novel), Harcourt (Austin, TX), 2004.
Contributor of short stories, essays, and poetry to periodicals, including Kenyon Review, Briar Cliff Review, Prairie Schooner, Meridian, Bellingham Review, Explorations, Glamour, Mademoiselle, and Improper Bostonian. Writers' advice columnist, Grub Street Free Press.
Jenna Blum, formerly an interviewer for the Survivors of the Shoah Foundation, drew on the stories she heard and her own family history in writing her first novel, Those Who Save Us. The novel's protagonist, Trudy, is the daughter of Anna, a German woman who married an American soldier and left the country for the United States shortly after World War II. Trudy, who was born in the early days of the war, believes herself to be the daughter of a Nazi officer, but her mother has always refused to talk about what happened to her under the Nazis. Trudy, a professor of German history at a Minnesota university, begins interviewing German and Jewish survivors of World War II around the same time that she is forced to place her recently widowed mother into a nursing home. In alternating passages, Trudy tells the things she learns from her interviews, while Anna tells her own story. Blum chose to write Anna's flashbacks in the present tense, which allows them to "impart immediacy without causing confusion," Edward Cone wrote in Library Journal. Trudy's father was not the concentration camp guard she believed him to be, but a Jewish doctor, Max Stern, whom Anna tried to hide in her house when the war broke out. Stern was discovered, but Anna continued her work with the Resistance. She too was discovered, by the Nazi officer, and she allowed him to make her his mistress in order to save her own and Trudy's lives. This revelation comes late in the book, turning Anna's story into "a gripping mystery in a page-turner that raises universal questions of shame, guilt, and personal responsibility," wrote Booklist's Hazel Rochman. APublishers Weekly critic also praised the book, commenting that "Blum's spare imagery is nightmarish and intimate, imbuing familiar panoramas of Nazi atrocity with stark new power."
Jenna Blum told CA: "I can't remember a time when I didn't want to be a writer. As a little girl, I had fantasies about going to New York to meet with my editor at the publishing house. I spent school lunch hours talking to imaginary friends (which I still do, except now, as a novelist, I have something of an excuse to converse with my characters! and I try not to do it in public). And I read voraciously, my back against the radiator in our kitchen, devouring one book or another while my mother entreated me to help set the table. My father was a professional writer—a newsman, writing for ABC, CBS, and NBC—and my earliest memories are set to the soundtrack of his typewriter. So I'm sure this, and writing perhaps being genetically encoded in me, and my parents' encouragement, had something to do with it.
"Every author I read teaches me something—about craft, about putting sentences together, about new structures. I find much to admire in the works of my contemporaries and I'm constantly analyzing how they did it to see whether similar techniques will work for me. Other than this, my mother influences my work because she is my strictest reader. If I send her something and she doesn't like it, she says (and this is a verbatim quote) 'Ho-hum.' If I can pass her ho-hum test, I know I'm on the right track.
"My writing process involves long spells of procrastination while I am in the doldrums between ideas. During such times, there's a lot of cleaning, cooking, and eyebrow-tweezing going on. And a lot of naps. When I am lucky enough to be seized by an idea, though, I write compulsively. While working on my debut novel, Those Who Save Us, I left the house only to teach and to get coffee at my local Starbucks. The counter-folks there—and my students—were my sole contact with the outside world for about three years. Before I actually 'write' anything—I sit down at the laptop and type blithely away—I free-write in banged-up canvas-covered notebooks from Borders. After the initial whining and throat-clearing, these free-writing sessions consist of asking myself questions about what goal I hope to accomplish that night (I always write at night) or what went wrong with what I wrote the night before, et cetera. I have to admit to being a little fanatic about my pens, too. While working on Those Who Save Us, it was black disposable fountain pens. Now it's black Sharpies. My writing process is thus comprised of 'one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,' to quote Thomas Edison. With a dash of superstition.
"You have to love your characters to make them real. I am constantly surprised at how stubbornly resistant I am to learning anything. With each revision I've undertaken, for instance, I find myself splicing first and second drafts together—loathe to relinquish my original idea—even though this never works. You have to start fresh and reimagine each draft; there's a reason they say 'writing is re-writing,' but somehow I have to relearn this lesson every time."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, February 15, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of Those Who Save Us, p. 1034.
BookPage, April, 2004, Anne Morris, review of Those Who Save Us.
Boston Globe, May 27, 2004, Judith Maas, review of Those Who Save Us.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2004, review of Those Who Save Us, pp. 3-4.
Library Journal, February 1, 2004, Edward Cone, review of Those Who Save Us, p. 120.
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, April 3, 2004, Catherine Parnell, review of Those Who Save Us.
Pages, March-April, 2004, John Hogan, interview and review of Those Who Save Us, p. 27.
Publishers Weekly, April 5, 2004, review of Those Who Save Us, p. 41.
San Francisco Chronicle, April 11, 2004, Irina Reyn, review of Those Who Save Us.
Tulsa World, May 16, 2004, Kate Medina, review of Those Who Save Us.
Jenna Blum Home Page,http://www.jennablum.com (August 27, 2004).