Brandeis, Gayle 1968-
Brandeis, Gayle 1968-
Born 1968, in Chicago, IL; married Matt McGunigle; children: Arin, Hannah. Education: University of Redlands, B.A., 1990; Antioch University, M.F.A., 2001. Religion: Jewish. Hobbies and other interests: Dancing.
Writer, activist, and teacher. Mission Inn Foundation's Family Voices Project, writer in residence. Teacher at various universities, including University of California—Riverside.
CODEPINK, Women Creating Peace Collective (founding member), Phi Beta Kappa.
Barbara Mandigo Kelly Peace Poetry Award; Quality Paperback Book Club/Story Magazine Short Story Award; grant from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund; Barbara Kingsolver's Bellwether Prize for Fiction in Support of a Literature of Social Change, 2002, for The Book of Dead Birds; Writer Who Makes a Difference Award, Writer magazine, 2004.
Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write, HarperSanFrancisco (San Francisco, CA), 2001.
The Book of Dead Birds (novel), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
Self Storage: A Novel, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2007.
Also author of Dictionary Poems (chapbook), Pudding House Press. Contributor of poetry, essays, and short stories to numerous magazines and anthologies, including Salon, HipMama, McSweeney's, and The Oy of Sex.
Gayle Brandeis is an award-winning author and poet. Brandeis penned her first poem when she was four years old, and when she was eighteen, an essay she wrote on the meaning of liberty was one of three student essays included in the Statue of Liberty's Centennial Time Capsule. Around the same time, when Brandeis was a senior in high school, her interest in the connection between writing and the physical world was born when she was inspired by a teacher to look at a strawberry in detail. The experience eventually led to the creation of Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write. The book invites the reader to sensually explore different fruits and, by doing so, launch the creative writing process. In Exercises to Wake up Your Body and Your Writing, reviewer Stephanie Dickison called Brandeis's meditations "evocative and intriguing" and wrote: "Trying to relate writing to another practice is an age-old technique. Never before has it been done in such a manner as in Fruitflesh." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly described Fruitflesh as "beautifully written, with gorgeous usage of language and metaphor," but found that "its ultimate effect seems abstract despite Brandeis's emphasis on rootedness and embodiment."
Brandeis's first novel, The Book of Dead Birds, earned the Bellwether Prize, an award in support of a literature of social responsibility. The main character, twenty- five-year-old Ava, is struggling to establish a meaningful relationship with her mother, Helen, a former Korean prostitute, while at the same time trying to find her own place in the world. Helen was lured into prostitution as a young girl and has been haunted by flashbacks of violence ever since. A young white American soldier eventually married her and brought her to California, unaware that she had been impregnated by a black soldier. When she gave birth, her new husband quickly abandoned her, and she had to face life as a single mother in a foreign country. Twenty-five years later, Ava, having just finished her graduate studies, leaves San Diego for the Salton Sea, where a massive bird die-off caused by agricultural poisoning is taking place. As she helps environmental activists save thousands of birds, she is able to overcome her guilt for accidentally killing her mother's birds as a little girl. Ava gains self-confidence and finds love and acceptance at Salton Sea, and she eventually is able to connect with her emotionally scarred mother.
David Abrams, a reviewer for January Online, commented: "Poetry abounds on every page and graces every sentence…. Brandeis has a poet's ear for the music of language." Carlo Wolff reported in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "Brandeis's writing is insightful, lyrical and diverse. She intersperses Ava's dominant narrative with detours into the mind of Hye-yang [Helen]." Alice Pelland, a contributor to BookPage.com, also noted Brandeis's "carefully juxtaposed chapters." The unique subject matter of The Book of Dead Birds has also been the subject of numerous critical observations. William Dieter, a reviewer for the Rocky Mountain News, pointed out "how splendidly the author has balanced art with environmental obligation."
Brandeis's 2006 work, Self Storage: A Novel, is an examination of what it means to live in a community. Flan is the wife of a graduate student and the mother of two children living in housing in Riverside, California, for international students. She makes ends meet economically by buying used goods at self-storage auctions and then reselling them at her garage sales. For spiritual guidance, she clutches a battered volume of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, one of the few things her mother gave her before her death many years before. Flan's sense of social justice is stirred when Afghan neighbors become the victims of hate crimes in this "provocative story about the nature of one's self and the intrinsically human need to find meaning in life," as Booklist contributor Donna Seaman termed the work. A critic for Kirkus Reviews was slightly less impressed with this effort, concluding: "A bit too tidily resolved to be wholly convincing, but a pleasant read nonetheless." Similarly, a Publishers Weekly reviewer complained that Brandeis's discussions of terrorism and the post 9/11 world were "unsatisfying and banal," and that Self Storage was "most powerful when focusing on small, intimate moments." Seaman, however, had no such reservations, praising Brandeis's "marvelous narrative sleight of hand."
Brandeis, married and a mother of two, is also an involved member of the community in her hometown in California. She was the recipient of Writer magazine's 2004 Writer Who Makes a Difference Award for blending noteworthy writing and community involvement. Brandeis explained to the senior editor of that magazine, Ronald Kovach, the importance of integrating her art in her life and vice versa: "I've always been quite a shy person and my tendency has been to be the [isolated] writer in the garret. At the same time, I know there's a world of stories around me and a world of injustices that need to be addressed. I feel like we've all been given these voices, and I feel a responsibility to use my voice to try to make the world a better place."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, May 15, 2003, Joanne Wilkinson, review of The Book of Dead Birds, p. 1642; December 1, 2006, Donna Seaman, review of Self Storage: A Novel, p. 20.
Exercises to Wake up Your Body and Your Writing, Volume 115, number 9, 2002, Stephanie Dickison, review of Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2003, review of The Book of Dead Birds, p. 489; September 1, 2006, review of Self Storage, p. 861.
Library Journal, May 1, 2003, Eleanor J. Bader, review of The Book of Dead Birds, p. 153; October 15, 2006, Amy Ford, review of Self Storage, p. 50.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee, WI), May 4, 2003, Carlo Wolff, "Healing at Heart of Sensitive Mother-Daughter Story," Section E, p. 6.
Publishers Weekly, December 17, 2001, review of Fruitflesh, p. 79; February 11, 2002, "Tools for the Spiritual Writer," p. 183; September 25, 2006, review of Self Storage, p. 42.
Writer, January 1, 2005, Ronald Kovach, review of Six Writers Who Made a Difference, p. 20.
AbsoluteWrite.com,http://www.absolutewrite.com/ (November 10, 2003), Jenna Glatzer, interview with Brandeis.
BookPage.com,http://www.bookpage.com/ (November 10, 2003), Alice Pelland, "When a Daughter Takes Flight."
Bookreporter.com,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (January 26, 2007), Alexis Burling, "Interview: Gayle Brandeis."
Curled up with a Good Book Web site,http://www.curledup.com/ (November 10, 2003), Luan Gaines, review of The Book of Dead Birds.
Gayle Brandeis Home Page,http://www.gaylebrandeis.com (April 17, 2007).
Grace Cathedral Web site,http://www.gracecathedral.org/ (November 10, 2003), Nadine Condon, review of Fruitflesh.
January Online,http://www.januarymagazine.com/ (November 10, 2003), David Abrams, "Fledgling Flight."
Myspace.com,http://www.myspace.com/ (April 17, 2007), "Gayle Brandeis."
Rocky Mountain News Online,http://www.rockymountainnews.com/ (May 2, 2003), William Dieter, "Death Yields Tenderness, Redemption in ‘Birds.’"
Small Spiral Notebook,http://www.smallspiralnotebook.com/ (March 29, 2007), Jess deCourcy Hinds, "Jess deCourcy Hinds Interviews Gayle Brandeis, author of Self Storage."