Croft, Barbara 1944-
CROFT, Barbara 1944-
PERSONAL: Born January 29, 1944, in Des Moines, IA; daughter of Frank L. and Elva R. (Cohee) Croft; married Norman R. Hane (a poet), October 7, 1978. Education: Drake University, B.A., 1967, M.A., 1970; University of Toronto, Ph.D., 1977.
ADDRESSES: Home and office—202 N. Kenilworth Ave., Oak Park, IL 60302. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Writer. Has also worked as a teacher, editor, journalist, public relations writer, and out-of-print book dealer.
MEMBER: Society of Midland Authors, Phi Beta Kappa.
AWARDS, HONORS: Iowa Arts Council Literary Award, 1990; Illinois Arts Council Literary Award, 1994; Daniel Curley Award for Recent Illinois Short Fiction, 1994; Illinois Arts Council fellow, 1996, 2000; Drue Heinz Literature Prize, 1998, for Necessary Fictions; Pirate's Alley William Faulkner Society Prize for novella, 2000, for "Columbia."
Primary Colors and Other Stories, graphics by R. W. Scholes, New Rivers Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1991.
Necessary Fictions, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998.
Moon's Crossing, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2003.
Contributor to periodicals, including Kenyon Review, Colorado Quarterly, Nimrod, ACM, and Georgia Review.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Columbia (a novel).
SIDELIGHTS: A Bloomsbury Review critic praised Barbara Croft's Primary Colors and Other Stories, calling it "experience distilled to startling clarity." The collection portrays very ordinary people who have amazing things happen to them in their everyday lives. One story, titled "A Little Piece of Star," concerns a man whose life is altered after a meteorite crashes through his car roof. Another story gets into the mind of Carlisle, a farmer whose farming operation is failing. Carlisle becomes obsessed with the buried dinosaur bones that he discovers on his property. After his farm grinds to a halt Carlisle hangs the bones on the barn for all to see, proclaiming "how easily monsters can enter our lives and how easily, once they do, we can find a place for them." According to Penny Kaganoff in Publishers Weekly, the common theme uniting the stories has to do with human satisfaction, whether through conventional beauty or through more unusual means.
Other stories in the collection strikingly portray the unusual overlaying the ordinary. In one story a man is prodded consistently by a blind man's cane, only to realize that the blind man really can see. Stunned, the main character undertakes running down the phony blind man with a car. In "Searching for Singleman" a sociologist is haunted by a dead colleague, whose pesky conscience remains and infiltrates the sociologist's computer hard drive, interrupting at opportune moments while the main character is writing.
Priscilla Long, reviewing Croft's story collection for the Women's Review of Books, favored the title story "Primary Colors." The plot revolves around two married artists. While Michael is still an active artist, Anne is slowly abandoning her artistic pursuits. While thinking of herself less and less as an artist, Anne attempts to compensate by becoming a better and better homemaker even while dealing with her husband's self-absorbed ego trips. In one tumultuous scene in which Michael locks himself in the bedroom while Anne sprawls on the hall floor outside, Croft describes a sort of epiphany that Anne has as her imagination leaps into play: "She could see moonlight in her mind…. Shapes rose up in her imagination, hungry as caged animals, and drove her husband from her thoughts." Reviewer Long praised Croft's ability to understand the mind of an artist, and how the artistic persona can be turned on or off, but never really extinguished. Long saw herself, and others, in the characters of these stories.
Croft's short story collection Necessary Fictions won her the 1998 Drue Heinz Literature Prize. It is comprised of ten stories, mostly set in the rural Midwest. At the heart of Necessary Fictions are three interconnected short stories and a novella dealing with the Gerhardt family. The family patriarch, Ray Gerhardt, is obsessed with building the perfect house for his family. This obsession eventually leads to his apparent suicide, leaving his family to sort out the meaning of their lives. A critic for Kirkus Reviews called Croft's title novella "the most ambitious piece" of this story collection and found it "taut, evocative and haunting."
The other stories in Necessary Fictions also focus on family affairs and domestic life. In "Them," the lives of two families suddenly collide in a rather bizarre way. "The Woman in the Headlights" is about an unhappily married college professor who is still haunted by an accident in which he killed a pedestrian years before. A son's inability to grieve for a father who never appreciated him is the focus of "Dark Matter." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly found that "Croft's ear for dialogue is keen and accurate, her descriptions painterly, her characterizations spare and on the mark."
In Croft's first novel, Moon's Crossing, she takes readers back to 1893 and the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Against that nineteenth-century backdrop, Union Army veteran Jim Moon takes leave of his wife and infant son to visit the historic exhibition. There he is drawn into one of the region's most violent labor strikes when he links up with a fast-talking con man. Captivated by the promise of socialism that energized the turn of the twentieth century, the idealistic and visionary Moon is ultimately trapped by events that bring him to a tragic end.
Praising the novel in Entertainment Weekly, Daniel Fierman described Moon's Crossing as a tone poem that Croft weaves into "a tale about the death of the nineteenth century as hypnotizing as it is slight." Debbie Bogenschutz noted in a Library Journal review that the many characters and shifting time frames create "a challenging read," but added that "those who persist will be rewarded with a story that gels in remarkable ways." A Publishers Weekly contributor praised the work as a "spare, lyrical first novel" that "is as precise and posed as an oil portrait," while in Kirkus Reviews a critic described Croft's novel as "a beautiful and intricate account of a world in transition."
Croft once told CA: "Storytelling is the major theme in my fiction. My stories and novellas explore the need for form and the ways in which we construct imaginative representations of our lives, the 'stories'that allow us to live.
"Frequently, my fiction is about art, a highly formalized kind of storytelling, and my characters—writers, painters, actors—are people with a strong desire to 'tell'something of significance. But why we tell stories and why we tell them as we do are questions that also often arise in the context of the family. The anecdotes that are handed down by us and about us shape our identities and fix the identities of others in our lives. For example, in one of my stories, 'A Little Piece of Star,'a first-person narrator tells the life story of his grandfather as a way of explaining—to himself as much as to his audience—why he himself grew up to be the kind of person he is. In 'Beautiful Belle'a woman narrator tells her version of a family story in order to 'set the record straight'and settle a longstanding quarrel about what 'really'happened. My novella, Necessary Fictions, illustrates that, in the telling and retelling of stories, 'truth'becomes a negotiated reality. Family members, often unconsciously, shape their histories to meet the demands life makes upon them or revise their stories to accommodate the emotional needs of those they love.
"This preoccupation with the human need for expression has led me to explore various narrative techniques. I am partial to first-person narrative as a way of revealing the teller's own story, entangled in the more objective tale he or she tells; but, recently I have been experimenting with other ways to tell a story. 'Two Weeks in Italy and France'is told in third person, and two stories are told simultaneously, one in the past and one in the present. In 'Martha's Eye,'an objective narrative voice constantly reminds the reader that the story is fiction. To date, I have written mostly short stories and novellas. Now, I hope to move into longer forms. My novel-in-progress, which I hope to finish within the year, explores a central story from several points of view."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Bloomsbury Review, April-May, 1991, p. 20.
Booklist, August, 2003, Kaite Mediatore, review of Moon's Crossing, p. 1950.
Entertainment Weekly, August 15, 2003, Daniel Fierman, review of Moon's Crossing, p. 80.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 1990, p. 1624; September 15, 1998; June 15, 2003, review of Moon's Crossing, p. 820.
Library Journal, August, 2003, Debbie Bogenschutz, review of Moon's Crossing, p. 128.
Publishers Weekly, January 4, 1991, p. 67; September 7, 1998; July 14, 2003, review of Moon's Crossing, p. 54.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), August 24, 2003, David L. Ulin, review of Moon's Crossing, p. 3.
Women's Review of Books, July, 1991, p. 21.