Fitch, Noel Riley 1937-

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FITCH, Noel Riley 1937-

PERSONAL: Born December 24, 1937, in New Haven, CT; daughter of John Eckel (a college president) and Dorcas Tarr Riley (a homemaker); married Philip Arthur Fitch (an educator), May 29, 1958 (divorced May 6, 1986); married Albert Sonnenfeld, August 23, 1987; children: (first marriage) Gailyn. Education: Northwest Nazarene College, B.A., 1959; Washington State University, M.A., 1965, Ph.D., 1969.

ADDRESSES: Home and office—11829 Mayfield Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90049. Agent—Kris Dahl, ICM, 40 West 57th St., New York, NY 10019. E-mail—[email protected].

CAREER: Moscow Junior High School, Moscow, ID, teacher of language arts, 1959-62; Moscow Senior High School, Moscow, teacher of English, 1962-63; Washington State University, teaching assistant, 1963-66, part-time instructor, 1967-68; Eastern Nazarene College, assistant professor, 1966-67, 1968-71; California State University, San Diego, part-time associate professor, 1976-78; Point Loma College, professor of literature, 1971-87, chair of department of literature and modern languages, 1982-85. University of Southern California, lecturer, 1986—; American University of Paris, lecturer, beginning 1987. Los Angeles Times Book Awards, member of biography selection committee, 1990-92; cofounder of Professional Biographers Group, 1993.

MEMBER: PEN, Authors Guild, Authors League of America, American Association of University Professors (chapter president, 1970-71), Modern Language Association, American Studies Association, California Teachers Association (member of executive board and faculty affairs chairperson, 1973-75), Phi Delta Lambda (international president, 1970-72).

AWARDS, HONORS: Award from Outstanding Young Women of America, 1968; WHO Award, California Teachers Association, 1975; National Endowment for the Humanities senior fellowship, 1980-81; American Philosophical Society research grant, 1981; nominee, award for best history published in 1983, Los Angeles Times, for Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties; American Council of Learned Societies grant, 1984; National Endowment for the Humanities travel grants, 1985, 1986; named Alumna of the Year, Northwest Nazarene College, 1985; Grand Prix des Lectrices de Elle, 1995, for Anaïs; finalist, Literary Food Writing, International Association of Culinary Professionals, 1997, for Appetite for Life.


Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties, Norton (New York, NY), 1983.

(Editor, with Richard W. Etulain) Faith and Imagination: Essays on Evangelicals and Literature, Far West Books (Albuquerque, NM), 1985.

Literary Cafés of Paris, Starrhill Press, 1989.

(Author of introduction) In Transition: A Paris Anthology, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1990.

Walks in Hemingway's Paris: A Guide to Paris for the Literary Traveler, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1990.

Anaïs: The Erotic Life of Anaïs Nin, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1993.

Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1997.

Contributor of chapters to books, including Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 4: Americans in Paris, 1920-1939, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1980; Faith and Imagination, Far West Books (Albuquerque, NM), 1985; James Joyce: The Augmented Ninth, edited by Bernard Benstock, Syracuse University Press (Syracuse, NY), 1988; Lesbian Texts and Contexts: Radical Revisions, edited by Karla Jay and Joanne Glasgow, New York University Press (New York, NY), 1990; American Writers Supplement III, Scribner (New York, NY), 1993; Significant Others: Creativity and Intimate Partnership, edited by Whitney Chadwick and Isabelle de Courtivron, Thames & Hudson (London, England), 1993; A Living of Words: American Women in Print Culture, edited by Susan Albertine and Elizabeth Horan, University of Tennessee Press (Knoxville, TN), 1995; and Anaïs Nin: A Book of Mirrors, edited by Paul Herron, Sky Blue Press, 1996. Contributor of articles to journals and periodicals, including Michigan Quarterly Review, Areté, James Joyce Literary Supplement, Journal of Library Science, and Research Studies.

Author's works have been translated into Japanese, French, Italian, Portuguese, German, Italian, Polish, and Spanish.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Grand Literary Cafés of Europe, New Holland (London, England), 2006; Paris Café: The Select Café′, illustrated by Rick Tulka; and a biography of Louison O'Morphi.

SIDELIGHTS: Noel Riley Fitch once told CA: "My abiding interest is in the English-speaking artist in Paris during the first fifty years of the twentieth century." Fitch has written several books that bear witness to this abiding interest. When Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation, her study of the influence of an American bookseller and publisher on the most significant writers of the early twentieth century, appeared in 1983, reviewers agreed that the author had made a major contribution to literary history. Most scholars were well aware of American expatriate writers in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s, writers whose numbers included such major figures as Sherwood Anderson, John Dos Passos, T. S. Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, and William Carlos Williams, among others. Few, however, had been aware of the importance of Sylvia Beach, the owner of the English-language bookstore Shakespeare and Company. In telling Beach's story, Fitch cast a new perspective on Paris literary life as a whole. As Fiona MacCarthy, writing in the London Times, put it, "We have seen them all before, and actually pretty often, as in a favourite and rather faded home movie. But Sylvia Beach is new, and as the centre of Professor Fitch's copiously researched narrative, she gives that whole familiar scene an unexpected sharpness." New York Times contributor Anatole Broyard went one step further, claiming that Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation "is probably the best and most complete history of that important period."

Fitch relates the story of Beach, a remarkable woman who escaped the constraints of her Victorian upbringing to live among writers and intellectuals in Paris. Beach's English-language bookstore was a particularly important home for literary women such as Katherine Anne Porter, Anaïs Nin, H. D., and Djuna Barnes, who, with Beach, participated in the salon life of Paris. Broyard calls Shakespeare and Company "perhaps the most famous and influential bookstore in history."

Beach was also a friend and supporter of Irish writer James Joyce, whose major novel Ulysses she published when others found it obscene and unpublishable. When Sylvia Beach appeared, reviewers were particularly appreciative of the new light Fitch shed on that aspect of Joyce's literary history. Besides being a portrait of an unusual woman and of a seminal time in literary history, Fitch's book, according to Broyard, is "a lively collection of anecdotes" that is, in addition to its other virtues, simply a pleasure to read.

Fitch continued her exploration of American literary life in Paris with a number of other books on that period, including the well-received Walks in Hemingway's Paris. A reviewer for the Los Angeles Times Book Review found the book a useful guide to all who have ever wondered about where Hemingway and his friends lived, ate, and socialized. Another prominent Paris personality is investigated in Fitch's 1993 work, Anaïs: The Erotic Life of Anaïs Nin. The volume analyzes the novelist and diarist's own writings to create an in-depth look at the woman known for her numerous and unconventional love affairs as well as for her work. John Peter Applebranch, reviewing Anaïs in the San Diego Weekly Reader, praised Fitch's detailed research, calling it "detective work of the first order, carried out with relentless skill."

Fitch is also the author of Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child, a departure from her usual subject matter and a work that engendered some heated commentary from critics. For this work, Fitch drew upon interviews with Julia Child, who has often been cited as the most influential culinary expert on the American scene in the second half of the twentieth century, as well as diaries, letters exchanged by Child and her husband of many years, Paul Child, countless magazine articles and reviews, and reminiscences supplied by Child's friends and colleagues. The story Fitch tells is one of American enterprise triumphing over what at first appears to be inauspicious material. Born Julia McWilliams to wealthy parents in California, the 6'2" young woman was in danger of spending her life as a partygoer when she was galvanized by the onset of World War II into joining the British Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which stationed her in China. There she met Paul Child, an epicure ten years her senior; the two married after the war, and when they traveled to France, Julia Child found the inspiration of her life in the gustatory delights to be savored there. She enrolled in the famed Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris and within a few years had started her own school and ventured upon the research for the first volume of her pivotal series of books on French cooking for American cooks. Child's rise to fame, cast as a by-product of her Public Television series, which seemed to prove that if someone as awkward as Child could master the techniques of French cooking then anyone could, as well as the continuing success of her marriage, are detailed in a "meticulously researched and satisfying biography," according to Thomas Fields-Meyer writing in People.

Fitch told CA: "Writing biography involves a very personal journey with your subject. It is like living with a person for years. And the biography has many tensions: the struggle of judging someone's life and actions, but not sitting in judgment; respecting the dead and yet telling the truth; invading people's privacy yet knowing I am the keeper of the record; getting inside someone's skin yet retaining my own mind; having empathy and yet, as much as possible, remaining uninvolved and objective. Transcending my own being in order to capture another's life and illuminate it from within and yet maintaining my own emotional identity. This tension was most difficult with Julia Child, whom I knew."



Booklist, August, 1997, p. 1843.

Chicago Tribune, October 24, 1993.

Economist, December 13, 1997, p. S13.

Entertainment Weekly, October 17, 1997, p. 68.

Idaho Statesman, September 30, 1993, p. D1.

Library Journal, September 13, 1997, p. 82.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 10, 1983, p. 1; October 23, 1983; December 9, 1990, p. 6; December 26, 1993, p. 6; November 9, 1997, p. 10.

Nation, December 15, 1997, pp. 30-34.

New Yorker, October 13, 1997, pp. 86, 88-91.

New York Times, June 18, 1983.

New York Times Book Review, July 31, 1983; October 17, 1993; October 26, 1997, p. 13.

People, November 3, 1997, p. 31.

Publishers Weekly, April 22, 1983, p. 90; June 28, 1993, p. 61; August 25, 1997, p. 51.

San Diego Weekly Reader, September 30, 1993, p. 53.

Times (London, England), March 15, 1984.

Times Literary Supplement, May 25, 1984, p. 590.

Washington Post Book World, June 12, 1983, p. 3; October 26, 1997, p. 1.


Noel Riley Fitch Web site, (February 15, 2005).