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Chernoff, Maxine 1952–

Chernoff, Maxine 1952–

PERSONAL: Born February 24, 1952, in Chicago, IL; daughter of Philip B. (a certified public accountant) and Idell (a homemaker; maiden name, Lubove) Hahn; married Arnold Chernoff, 1971 (divorced, 1972); married Paul Hover (a poet), October 5, 1974; children: Julian and Philip (twins), Koren. Education: University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, B.A., 1972, M.A., 1974. Politics: Independent. Religion: Jewish.

ADDRESSES: Home—369 Molino Ave., Mill Valley, CA 94941. Agent—Robert Cornfield, Robert Cornfield Literary Agency, 145 W. 79th St., New York, NY 10024. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, Chicago, lecturer in English, 1977–80; Columbia College, Chicago, instructor, 1978–85; Truman College, Chicago, associate professor of English, 1980–94; Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, adjunct associate professor, 1990–94; San Francisco State University, San Francisco, professor of creative writing, 1994–, department chair, 1996–. Poetry Center, president and member of board of directors, 1982–87; Bard College, fellow of Simon's Rock. Illinois Arts Council, member of literature panel, 1981–83.

MEMBER: Modern Language Association of America, Associated Writing Programs, California Faculty Association.

AWARDS, HONORS: Illinois Arts Council, fellow, 1982–86, fiction awards, 1990 and 1991; Carl Sandburg Award, International Platform Association, 1985, for New Faces of 1952; poetry award, Friends of the Chicago Public Library, 1986, for New Faces of 1952; Friends of American Writers Award, 1987; short fiction award, Louisiana State University and Southern Review, 1988; syndicated fiction award, International PEN, 1988; "notable book" citation, New York Times, 1993, for Signs of Devotion; Friends of Literature Award, Chicago Sun-Times, 1993; Gertrude Stein Award for Poetry, 2006.



A Vegetable Emergency, Beyond Baroque Foundation, 1977.

Utopia TV Store: Prose Poems, Yellow (Chicago, IL), 1979.

New Faces of 1952, Ithaca House (Ithaca, NY), 1985.

Japan, Avenue B (Bolinas, CA), 1988.

Leap Year Day: New and Selected Poems, Another Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1990.

Next Song, Instress (Saratoga, CA), 1998.

World: Poems 1991–2001, Salt Publishing (Cambridge, England), 2001.

Evolution of the Bridge: Selected Prose Poems, Salt Publishing (Cambridge, England), 2004.

Among the Names, Apogee Press (Berkeley, CA), 2005.


(With Ethel Tiersky) It's Colossal, Contemporary (Chicago, IL), 1994.

(With Tiersky) Back to the Past, Contemporary (Chicago, IL), 1994.

(With Tiersky) Sun and Games, Contemporary (Chicago, IL), 1994.

(With Tiersky) Birthplaces of Ideas, Contemporary (Chicago, IL), 1994.


Bop (short stories), Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1986.

Plain Grief (novel), Summit Books (New York, NY), 1991.

Signs of Devotion (short stories), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1993.

American Heaven (novel), Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1996.

A Boy in Winter (novel), Crown (New York, NY), 1999.

Some of Her Friends That Year: New and Selected Stories, Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 2002.

Translator from German of poetry by Karl Krolow, Christian Morgenstern, and Friedrich Hölderlin. Contributor of poetry, short stories, and reviews to periodicals, including New Directions, Paris Review, Partisan Review, Mississippi Review, Sulfur, Conjunctions, Circumference, Denver Quarterly, and Tri-Quarterly. Editor, New American Writing; contributing editor, Sentence, Parthenon West, and Context.

ADAPTATIONS: Film rights to A Boy in Winter have been sold.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Selected Poems of Holderlin, co-translated with Paul Hoover, for Omnidawn Press, expected 2007.

SIDELIGHTS: Award-winning poet and fiction writer Maxine Chernoff has gained acclaim for her prose. Chernoff "writes fiction with a poet's compression," observed Chicago Tribune Books contributor Andy Solomon, "stripped to the barest essentials." Of Cher-noff's verse, Contemporary Poets contributor Michael Andre noted that, while sometimes uneven, "her poems skate and glide from apercu to insight to witticism and on to surreal conclusion…. She starts spinning words that, in her best poems, turn into stories and finally myths."

Chernoff's first book of short stories, Bop, features characters trying to adapt to life's unexpected situations. In "Infinks," the protagonist copes with a rocky marriage and the prospect of being childless by adopting a newborn goose. "Respect for the Dead" tells of a girl who takes her emotionally unstable cousin to visit his mother's grave, but while she searches for the headstone, he escapes with her car. Bop "displays … spare, controlled and rhythmic language," according to Alison B. Carb in Tribune Books. Francine Prose, writing in the New York Times Book Review, called Chernoff's "marvelous deflationary humor" the book's "main strength," and added that the author "has an eye for detail that is simultaneously sharp and compassionate."

In her short story collection, Signs of Devotion, Chernoff includes twenty tales that "speak volumes about how clumsily we grope for and miss intimacy in contemporary America," according to Solomon. In "Where Events May Lead," she examines the fragility of modern marriage when one spouse wishes its destruction. "Heathcliff" finds an expectant mother able to confide in her yet-unborn child about the dissatisfactions with the child's father that she cannot otherwise communicate. "Absurdist but loving, measuring words with an eyedropper but not minimalist, Ms. Chernoff is pyrotechnically funny," concluded Patricia Volk in her appraisal of Signs of Devotion in the New York Times Book Review. Equally pleased with the collection, Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Dick Roraback noted that although "nothing happens, really," in Chernoff's tales, "once you've started you're in thrall to a writer who can bring to life even a coffee-shop booth … a clever writer who knows how to ration her cleverness the way the very good ones do."

Several of the stories originally published in Bop and Signs of Devotion are collected in Some of Her Friends That Year: New and Selected Stories and packaged with fifteen new stories that explore similar themes of life and death, hope and surrender.

In addition to poetry and stories, Chernoff has also written novels, among them American Heaven. It is an "ambitious novel, with meticulous attention to detail, [and] a variety of distinct narrative voices," described a reviewer in Publishers Weekly. The tale intertwines the lives of four characters, exposing the past and present of a Polish mathematician emigrant working as a home attendant; her employer, a retired jazz musician; their fellow building resident, a wealthy Chicago mobster who is dying; and his home attendant. According to the writer for Publishers Weekly, Chernoff "make[s] readers care about her characters"and inspires thoughts about the outcomes possible if they had made different life choices. "There's not one extraneous word, emotion, or thought in this mesmerizing concerto of a novel," observed Donna Seaman in Booklist. The story has "amazing scope and resonance," commented Seaman.

A Boy in Winter is a "harrowing but ultimately sheltering tale" of "the accidental killing of one boy by another," described Seaman's Booklist review. Library Journal contributor Joshua Cohen believed that Chernoff falls short of "the anticipated levels of insight" expected in her "attempts to reveal the emotional range of her characters." However, a Publishers Weekly contributor called A Boy in Winter "a powerful story with an eerie realism," writing: "A cautionary tale about lethal weapons in the hands of children, Chernoff's narrative is insightful about parents who underestimate their off-spring's sensitivities." Seaman complimented Chernoff for avoiding "melodrama" and focusing on the "psyches of her sentient characters." In her review of A Boy in Winter Tammie Bob for Tribune Books wrote: "Reading fiction by Maxine Chernoff is always an aesthetically satisfying experience."

Chernoff once told CA: "My work in poetry has been experimental and strongly influenced by other postmodern poets. My fiction, however, is more traditional and often deals with urban problems and settings. Recent writing, especially A Boy in Winter, deals with issues of family, motherhood, and personal freedom."



Contemporary Poets, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.


Booklist, July, 1993, Donna Seaman, review of Signs of Devotion, p. 1943; April 1, 1996, Donna Seaman, review of American Heaven, p. 1343; August, 1999, Donna Seaman, review of A Boy in Winter, p. 2021.

Chicago, March, 1980, Eleanor Gordon, review of Utopia TV Store, p. 124; July, 1985, G.E. Murray, review of New Faces of 1952, p. 122; September, 1986, Molly McQuade, review of Bop, p. 136; September, 1990, p. 116; June, 1991, G.E. Murray, review of Leap Year Day: New and Selected Poems, p. 86; September, 1991, Marcia Froelke Coburn, review of Plain Grief, p. 77.

Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2002, review of Some of Her Friends That Year: New and Selected Stories, p. 525.

Library Journal, November 1, 1990, Louis McKee, review of Leap Year Day, p. 92; July 1991, Francine Fialkoff, review of Plain Grief, p. 56; June 15, 1993, Patricia Ross, review of Signs of Devotion, p. 99, and Bill Katz, review of New American Writing, p. 108; February 15, 1996, Olivia Opello, review of American Heaven, p. 173; August, 1999, Joshua Cohen, review of A Boy in Winter, p. 134.

Los Angeles Times, September 26, 1993, Dick Roraback, review of Signs of Devotion, p. 6; July 28, 1996, review of American Heaven, p. 10.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 26, 1993, Dick Roraback, review of Signs of Devotion, p. 6; July 28, 1996, p. 311.

New York Times Book Review, September 21, 1986, Francine Prose, review of Bop, p. 11; September 22, 1991, Roy Hoffman, review of Plain Grief, p. 19; August 22, 1993, Patricia Volk, review of Signs of Devotion, p. 7; June 9, 1996, Fernanda Eberstadt, review of American Heaven, p. 14; October 17, 1999, Katherine Wolff, review of A Boy in Winter, p. 22.

Playboy, August, 1993, Digby Diehl, review of Signs of Devotion, p. 32.

Publishers Weekly, May 23, 1986, John Mutter, review of Bop, p. 99; September 14, 1990, Penny Kaganoff, review of Leap Year Day, p. 119; July 5, 1991, review of Plain Grief, p. 56; May 24, 1993, review of Signs of Devotion, p. 66; March 4, 1996, review of American Heaven, p. 53; July 12, 1999, review of A Boy in Winter, p. 70; March 25, 2002, review of Some of Her Friends That Year, p. 38.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), November 22, 1987, Alison B. Carb, review of Bop, p. 8; September 29, 1991, review of Plain Grief, p. 6; August 15, 1993, Andy Solomon, review of Signs of Devotion, p. 5; October 3, 1999, Tammie Bob, review of A Boy in Winter.

Village Voice Literary Supplement, November, 1991, review of Plain Grief, p. 6.


Jacket, (August 18, 2002; October 19, 2002.).

Maxine Chernoff Home Page,∼wsguild/faculty/chernoff.html (May 22, 2006).

Random House Web site, (October 6, 1999), "Bold Type: Maxine Chernoff."

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