Diamant, Anita 1951-
DIAMANT, Anita 1951-
PERSONAL: Born June 27, 1951; daughter of Maurice and Helene Diamant; married Jim Ball (in public relations), June 12, 1983; children: Emilia. Education: Washington University, St. Louis, MO, B.A. (comparative literature), 1973; State University of New York at Binghamton, M.A. (English), 1975.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Scribner, 27500 Drake Rd., Farmington Hills, MI 48075. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Writer. Equal Times, editor, 1977-78; Boston Phoenix, columnist and staff writer, 1980-83; Boston, senior staff writer, 1986-88; WBUR-FM Radio, commentator, 1981-82; New England Monthly, contributing editor, 1984-86; Boston Globe magazine, columnist, 1988—; Parenting, columnist, 1993-95; Radcliffe College, honorary visiting scholar at Schlesinger Library, 1994-95; Brandeis University, visiting scholar in Women's Studies Department, 1995-96.
MEMBER: Phi Beta Kappa.
AWARDS, HONORS: Clarion Award, 1981; New England Women's Press Association, Best Columnist Award, 1982, Award of Excellence, 1983; awards from Massachusetts Division, American Cancer Society, 1987, 1988; fellow, Casey Journalism Center for Children and Families, 1994; Boston Author's Club Book of the Year award, 1988, Significant Jewish Book of the Year, Reform Judaism magazine, 1999, and Booksense Book of the Year, 2001, all for The Red Tent; Literary Light award, Boston Public Library, 2003.
The New Jewish Wedding, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1985, revised edition, 2001.
The Jewish Baby Book, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1988, published as The New Jewish Baby Book: Names, Ceremonies, Customs—A Guide for Today's Families, Jewish Lights Publishing (Woodstock, VT), 1994.
What to Name Your Jewish Baby, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1989.
(With Howard Cooper) Living a Jewish Life, Harper-Collins (New York, NY), 1991.
Bible Baby Names: Spiritual Choices from Judeo-Christian Tradition, Jewish Lights Publishing (Woodstock, VT), 1996.
Choosing a Jewish Life: A Handbook for People Converting to Judaism and for their Family and Friends, Schocken Books (New York, NY), 1997.
The Red Tent, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1997.
Saying Kaddish: How to Comfort the Dying, Bury the Dead, and Mourn As a Jew, Schocken Books (New York, NY), 1998.
(With Karen Kushner) How to be a Jewish Parent: A Practical Handbook for Family Life, Schocken Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Good Harbor: A Novel, Scribner (New York, NY), 2001.
Pitching My Tent: On Marriage, Motherhood, Friendship, and Other Leaps of Faith, Scribner (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor to periodicals, including New England Monthly, Sesame Street Parents, Yankee, Hadassah, and McCall's.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A third novel.
SIDELIGHTS: Anita Diamant had penned several well-received nonfiction books about issues in modern Jewish culture before she found great word-of-mouth success with her first novel, 1997's The Red Tent. The book adds great dimension to the Biblical story of Dinah, overlooked half-sister to the founders of the twelve tribes of Israel, who is known only to have been raped in the book of Genesis. Diamant imagines the story in Dinah's own words, from her youth with her mother and her aunts, all married to the Biblical patriarch Jacob, to the willing relationship with a Canaanite prince that her brothers term "rape," to her subsequent life as a midwife in Egypt. The initial hardcover printing of The Red Tent sold modestly, and many copies of it were scheduled for destruction by the publisher, when Diamant presented them with a list of Reform Reconstructionist rabbis to whom she felt they should send the surplus copies. Her strategy worked; many such recipients of her book talked about it with their congregations, who went out and bought the novel, then recommended it to their friends and fellow book club members. Diamant's publisher repeated this tactic with a list of female clergy, who also frequently talked about and recommended the novel. As Judith Rosen reported in a 2001 article for the Writer, "The Red Tent's momentum keeps on going." Diamant followed The Red Tent with another novel, Good Harbor, in 2001, and a book of personal anecdotes entitled Pitching My Tent two years later.
Among Diamant's factual works about Judaism is Choosing a Jewish Life: A Handbook for People Converting to Judaism and for Their Family and Friends. This volume had personal resonance for Diamant because her husband converted to Judaism before their marriage. Ilene Cooper, reviewing Choosing a Jewish Life in Booklist, noted that "Diamant's discussion is both informative and wide-ranging." Diamant collaborated with Karen Kushner on How to Be a Jewish Parent: A Practical Handbook for Family Life, which a Publishers Weekly critic praised as an "easyto-read guide" while mentioning that the volume is aimed at "the liberal Jewish community." Of the author's Saying Kaddish: How to Comfort the Dying, Bury the Dead, and Mourn As a Jew, George Cohen concluded that "this comprehensive guide answers many of the questions that contemporary Jews may have in a time of grief." Diamant's The New Jewish Wedding has proved so successful with readers that she issued a revised version of it in 2001.
The Red Tent met with even better critical reception than Diamant's nonfiction. "The best fiction writers create a world and bathe us in it," began Jane Redmont, reviewing the novel in National Catholic Reporter, "its sounds and sights, its language and climate, the intricate relationships among its inhabitants. Anita Diamant has performed this wonderous craft." Cooper also reviewed The Red Tent for Booklist, and stated that "Diamant makes readers see there's not so very much difference between people across the eons, at least when it comes to trial and tragedy, happiness and love." According to Susannah Meadows in Newsweek, the novel's popularity has a great deal to do with its emphasis on the female bonding that goes on in the eponymous "tent," which is where the women go when they are ill, menstruating, or giving birth—and where they also share their stories and culture. "With its trinity of woman empowerment, God and quivering thighs, the commercial appeal of the book seems obvious," she maintained.
Though fans of The Red Tent have urged Diamant to take on other female figures of the Bible, she switched to a contemporary setting for 2001's Good Harbor. In it, two Jewish women—one a convert from Catholicism—meet in a harbor town in Massachusetts. Kathleen is in her fifties and battling breast cancer; Joyce is in her forties and battling a teenage daughter and an indifferent husband. Critics did not respond quite as well to Good Harbor as to The Red Tent, but a Publishers Weekly reviewer felt that the author "does make a smooth entry into the arena of contemporary women's fiction with this graceful story."
Diamant told CA: "I can identify five main ingredients that are part of my creative process. The first is ego. For most of my childhood, I wanted to be an actress, to get up in front of a group of people. As a columnist, that's precisely what I do. When editors tell me I have a strong 'voice,' what they are really saying is 'Boy, do you have a healthy ego!' I inherited my ego from my mother. Another ingredient is my father, who read Jack London to me as a kid. The literary part of me is my patrimony.
"The third ingredient is poetry. The first thing I published was a poem—a rather mediocre few lines about basketball playoffs. It was my first byline and, once I saw my name in print, my career as a poet was preempted by journalism. Nevertheless, of all my literary influences, Walt Whitman is at the top of the list. My other all-time favorite poet is the Chilean, Pablo Neruda, who wrote a series of extraordinary odes to things as ordinary and elemental as a pair of wool socks, salt, and watermelon.
"When I began writing essays in 1977, I began reading essayists. Russell Baker and Calvin Trillin are constant sources of pleasure, but my idol, and the fourth ingredient in my creative soup, is Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher. She wrote, often for the New Yorker, about her life, her travels, and exquisitely about food. She wrote very elegantly and simply about things that matter. I like to write about food. I even spent a couple of years as a food writer for the late, lamented New England Monthly magazine.
"The fifth and final ingredient is feminism and, for me, feminism flows straight out of M. F. K. Fisher's explanation that the elemental truths of our lives (hunger, love, children, neighborhood) are the primary locus of power, struggle, despair, happiness—life and art. I am a product and creature of that ongoing revolution in consciousness, which shifted the world off its social axis forever.
"My career as a book author began in 1983, when I was both casting around for a book idea and planning a wedding. The books that were available on Jewish weddings did not begin to address the spiritual and cultural riches of Jewish tradition, and they were not addressed to grooms, who wanted egalitarian goals reflected in the ceremony. After my first book was published, I swore I would write no more Jewish books, but I did. Each time, I felt that a similar gap on the bookshelf needed to be filled.
"My [nonfiction] books are all about contemporary Jewish practice. Indeed, they are 'how-to' books of a sort. What makes them different from other books of this nature is the quality of the writing and an approach that is respectful of tradition, yet also respectful of the realities and insights of the present—which include, of course, the transformed status of women."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Book, November-December, 2001, conversation between Anita Diamant and James Carroll, pp. 44-48.
Booklist, April 15, 1997, Ilene Cooper, review of Choosing a Jewish Life: A Handbook for People Converting to Judaism and for Their Family and Friends, p. 1366; October 1, 1997, Ilene Cooper, review of The Red Tent, p. 284; September 15, 1998, George Cohen, review of Saying Kaddish: How to Comfort the Dying, Bury the Dead, and Mourn As a Jew, p. 175.
Christian Science Monitor, October 11, 2001, Merle Rubin, "Women Who Shelter Each Other," p. 20.
Commentary, December, 1998, Jon D. Levenson, review of Saying Kaddish, p. 74.
Daily Telegraph (London), November 16, 2002, Charlotte Moore, "Her Mother's Lover, and Her Brother's."
Guardian (London), March 30, 2002, Alex Clark, interview with Anita Diamant, p. 11.
Los Angeles Times, April 24, 2000, Emily Dwass, "A Biblical Woman's Tale That Won Readers' Hearts," p. E1.
National Catholic Reporter, May 22, 1998, Jane Redmont, review of The Red Tent, p. 28.
Newsweek, February 5, 2001, Susannah Meadows, "Meeting under a Big 'Tent': How a Biblical Tale Became a Word-of-Mouth Phenom," p. 61.
Publishers Weekly, September 11, 2000, review of How to Be a Jewish Parent: A Practical Handbook for Family Life, p. 87.
Writer, April, 2001, Judith Rosen, "Anita Diamant's Red Tent Turns to Gold," p. 30.
Anita Diamant Home Page,http://www.anitadiamant.com/ (April 29, 2003).
Lilith Magazine,http://www.lilithmag.com/ (April 29, 2003), review of The Red Tent.
Lucy's Books,http://www.lucysbooks.com/ (April 29, 2003) review of The Red Tent.