Eakins, Patricia 1942-
EAKINS, Patricia 1942-
Born November 16, 1942, in Philadelphia, PA; daughter of Jesse Walter (an electrical engineer and business owner) and Stena Marie (a teacher; maiden name, Osbeck) Eakins; married Peter T. Rodgers (an advertising copywriter and poet), 1966 (divorced, 1969); married Peter Martin (a business owner), April 17, 1982. Education: Wellesley College, B.A., 1964; Goddard College, M.F.A., 1977. Politics: "New Abolitionist."
Freelance writer, editor, and book coach, 1974—; New York Institute of Technology, instructor, 1979-86, adjunct assistant professor, 1986—; Trinity College, Hartford, CT, visiting assistant professor, 1990-94; New School, New York, NY, instructor, 1992-97. Catskill Reading Society, guest readings coordinator, 1985—.
Authors' Guild, National Writers Union, PEN.
Fiction fellowship, Creative Artists Program Service (CAPS), New York, 1979; National Endowment for the Arts fellow, 1982, 1987; Charles Angoff Award, Literary Review, Fairleigh-Dickinson University, 1986-87; New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship, 1991; Woodstock Guild writer-in-residence, 1992; Agha Khan Prize for fiction, Paris Review, 1996, for excerpt from The Marvelous Adventures of Pierre Baptiste; Capricorn fiction award, Writer's Voice, West Side YMCA, New York, NY, 1997, for The Marvelous Adventures of Pierre Baptiste; New York University Press Prize for fiction, 1998, for The Marvelous Adventures of Pierre Baptiste; John Gardner fellow in fiction, Bread Loaf writers' conference, 1999.
Oono (chapbook), 1982.
The Hungry Girls and Other Stories, illustrated by Judy Sohigian, Cadmus Editions (San Francisco, CA), 1988.
The Marvelous Adventures of Pierre Baptiste: Father and Mother, First and Last (novel), New York University Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Writing for Interior Design, Fairchild Publications (New York, NY), 2004.
American Letters and Commentary, contributing editor, 1999—; Frigate: A Transverse Review of Books, editor-in-chief, 2000—. Contributor to periodicals, including New American Fiction, Race Traitor, Iowa Review, Storia, Paris Review, Parnassus, Conjunctions, and Fiction International, and to collections and anthologies, including Vital Lines: Contemporary Fiction about Medicine, edited by Jon Mukand, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1991, and Transgressions: The Iowa Anthology of Innovative Fiction, edited by Lee Montgomery and others, University of Iowa Press, 1994.
The Hungry Girls and Other Stories was adapted for theater by Collision Theory, New York, 1997.
WORK IN PROGRESS:
Blood Sisters, a novel; Black Food: Stories about Bears; Trace Memory: Texts by Patricia Eakins for the Performance Piece by Elizabeth Austin; Fertility Zone and Other Stories; Small Worlds: Prose Poems; Manifesto of a Dead Daughter: Essays and Polemics.
Patricia Eakins is a New York City-based award-winning writer whose first book, The Hungry Girls and Other Stories recalls the medieval literary form, the bestiary, in that it is a collection of fables that feature unusual, often fantastical, creatures. Eakins's Neones eat radiation but die easily of fright; the Djitsis are serpents that can race in and out of every orifice of a human body in mere seconds, leaving their skins behind. Jonathan Baumbach wrote in the New York Times Book Review that Eakins's territory "is in that tangled thicket of the imagination somewhere between Borges and Burroughs, between the fairy tales of Grimm and the magic realism of the South Americans." Baumbach concluded by calling The Hungry Girls "a work of imaginative brilliance, a considerable achievement in modest disguise."
The tales are set in diverse time periods and settings, including the Japanese courts and nineteenth-century France. In one story, a mythological forest creature called a banda is charged with the task of warning children to stay off the path to the witch's house. But the banda's tongue is made of velvet, and it has no vocal chords. The children hear only soft whispers that sound like the rustling of leaves.
American Book Review contributor Peter Bricklebank wrote that Eakins's "fanatastic creatures are propelled by the primeval facts of life: finding food, negotiating sex, giving birth, avoiding death, and, if possible, in the case of many of the human characters, turning a small and not insubstantial profit." Bricklebank compared Eakins's work to that of Harold Jaffe, Kathy Acker, and William Burroughs, but added that it is "very much Eakins's own, imbued with an ecological 'fitness' that is one of the many strengths of this collection. The obsession to ingest stretches beyond mere food-chain hierarchies; Nature's checks and balances here extend right into the fairy tale, keeping even good and evil in harmony."
The "girls" of the title are dirt eaters, successive generations of which have grown larger, so that the current girls are as big as houses, and each has at least one young man residing inside her body, with one accompanied by horses and a coach. On the other end of the scale, in the story "Forrago," are very small, rat-like creatures with razor-sharp teeth that inhabit "alleys too dark and narrow even for stand-up whores and small-time thieves." Sex for them and other of Eakins's creatures, means danger. In mating, the Forrago males become stuck, providing food for their partners, who eat their bodies until their male organ finally falls out, only to also be eaten. Ooni males, afraid to enter the bodies of females, which are protected by teeth, instead send a child into the womb with their seed. The females die as soon as they give birth.
"But these are not merely fables of faraway lands and times, of beasts with confounding bodies, of grotesqueries that would perhaps have intrigued the medieval mind but hardly a modern consciousness," continued Bricklebank. "The beasts here are farcical, improbable, ridiculous, yet perfectly adapted and self-sufficient creatures.… I give testament to Eakins's ability to bring such impossible beings to life. There's a totality to these creatures and their habits that makes them arresting beyond their inherent freakishness."
Eakins's first novel, The Marvelous Adventures of Pierre Baptiste: Father and Mother, First and Last, set in the eighteenth century, is a slave narrative. Booklist's Michele Leber wrote that "the story is told in the style and language of the time and is studded with tales seemingly grounded in legend and myth." Pierre Baptiste is a black slave, who at the age of ten, is sent to work for the master of a Caribbean sugar plantation. He becomes the personal servant of Dufay, assisting him in his work as an amateur naturalist. Dufay has the boy help him with his classification of flora and fauna and allows him to learn to read and write so that he may be even more helpful. Pierre has access to Dufay's vast library and studies on his own and can soon converse at an intellectual level equal to that of Dufay and his acquaintances.
Pierre marries the cook, a disfigured but loving woman with magical powers who is unable to bear children and will, therefore, produce no more slaves. He is friendly to the master's wife, but when she asks for more than he is willing to give, she accuses him of rape. He hops aboard a rum barrel, upon which he writes the address of his hero, naturalist Buffon, and sets out to sea, intent on reaching France. Instead, he washes up on an island where he nurses an injured sea creature back to health, and she repays him by catching fish that she vomits into his mouth. In time, Pierre discovers that he is pregnant and carries to term four "philosofish," that he then begins to educate. At peace, he spends his days with his children and continues writing a history of his life until Dufay's son is shipwrecked on the island, carrying surprising news from the plantation. A Publishers Weekly critic called the novel "startlingly creative, memorable work."
Michael Perkins wrote in the Woodstock Times that Eakins "is a breathtakingly audacious writer dedicated to unveiling the marvelous, one whose formidable gifts of invention and lyric phrasing are more than commensurate with her boldness. In her first book … she dared to create new worlds and new species in language calm, precise, and genuinely poetic: the voice of the inspired fabulist." Of The Marvelous Adventures of Pierre Baptiste, Perkins said that "it is difficult to describe a work of such originality. Its strangeness is haunting. Its beauty is undeniable. It is a triumph."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Book Review, November, 1989, Peter Bricklebank, review of The Hungry Girls and Other Stories, p. 20.
Booklist, May 15, 1999, Michele Leber, review of The Marvelous Adventures of Pierre Baptiste: Father and Mother, First and Last, p. 1667.
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 1999, review of The Marvelous Adventures of Pierre Baptiste.
Library Journal, December 15, 1982, review of Oono, p. 2306.
New York Times Book Review, February 5, 1989, Jonathan Baumbach, review of The Hungry Girls and Other Stories, p. 36; June 27, 1999, Elizabeth Judd, review of The Marvelous Adventures of Pierre Baptiste, p. 24.
Publishers Weekly, March 22, 1999, review of The Marvelous Adventures of Pierre Baptiste, p. 70.
Woodstock Times, June 17, 1999, Michael Perkins, review of The Marvelous Adventures of Pierre Baptiste, p. 2.
Patricia Eakins Home Page,http://www.fabulara.com (December 23, 2003).*