Herman, Michelle 1955-
Herman, Michelle 1955-
Born March 9, 1955, in Brooklyn, NY; daughter of Morton and Sheila Herman; married Glen Holland (a painter); children: Grace. Education: Brooklyn College, City University of New York, B.S., 1976; University of Iowa, M.F.A., 1986. Religion: Jewish.
Home—Clintonville, OH. Office—Department of English, Ohio State University, 165 Den- ney Hall, 164 West 17th Ave., Columbus, OH 43210; fax: 614-292-7816. E-mail—[email protected]
Associated Press, reporter, 1976; freelance editor, 1976-84; M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing, Ohio State University, Columbus, director and associate professor of English, 1988—, now professor of English.
Teaching-writing fellow, University of Iowa, 1985-86; creative writing fellow, National Endowment for the Arts, 1986; Syndicated Fiction Award, PEN, 1986, for "All I Want to Know"; James Michener fellow, 1987; individual artist's grants, Ohio Arts Council, 1989 and 1998; Lilly Foundation fellow, 1990; Ohio State University research awards, 1990 and 1991, and University Alumni Distinguished Teaching Award; Harold U. Ribalow Award, Hadassah, 1991, for Missing; Copernicus Foundation grant.
Missing (novel), Ohio State University Press (Columbus, OH), 1990.
A New and Glorious Life (novellas), Carnegie Mellon University Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1998.
Dog: A Short Novel, MacAdam/Cage (San Francisco, CA), 2005.
The Middle of Everything: Memoirs of Motherhood (essays), University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 2005.
Work represented in anthologies, including Twenty under Thirty: Best Stories by America's New Young Writers. Contributor to periodicals, including North American Review, Story, Southern Review, and American Scholar. Fiction editor of Journal.
Michelle Herman has won significant acclaim for her novel Missing and her collection of three novellas, A New and Glorious Life. Missing concerns an elderly Jewish woman, Rivke Vasilevsky, who lives alone in her small apartment in Brooklyn. Vasilevsky's ties to the rest of the world are somewhat tenuous. Although her children and grandchildren visit and phone regularly, the old woman lives in relative isolation, napping most days and lying awake most evenings. Among her few consolations are visits from her granddaughter Rachel, a photographer. While sharing her own photographs with Rachel, Vasilevsky determines to salvage the beads from a dress she is wearing in one of the pictures. When she is unable to find the dress, she immediately springs into action, even drawing up a list of possible suspects who may have stolen the dress. Gradually, she becomes unhinged by the incident, which serves as a catalyst for the old woman's recollections of her long, rather depressing life. This flood of memories, in turn, leads to greater realization of life's often sad ways.
Missing won praise as a profound and refreshing literary debut. "What a relief," exclaimed Eve Shelnutt in the Columbus Dispatch, "to observe a young writer forgoing youth-culture portrayals for a searing investigation into the mind of an 89-year-old Jewish widow." Frances A. Koestler in the New York Times Book Review believed that Herman "has managed an impressive feat of transgenerational empathy by penetrating the psyche of an old woman, [but] her book lacks structure." Reviewing the work in Ohio Writer, Abby Frucht found Missing "beautiful" and added that the novel "is an act of devotion, and its final sad moments are deeply satisfying." Kathryn Ruth Bloom wrote in Hadassah that the novel "demonstrates [Herman's] talents as a novelist." Bloom declared that "Herman's is a name to look for in the future." Similarly, Shelnutt concluded by affirming that Herman is a writer whose "gaze is unflinching and whose characters in future novels will doubtlessly compel." Publishers Weekly critic Sybil Steinberg called Missing "a small triumph: the creation of a character, and a way of life, in all their poignant human complexity."
A New and Glorious Life contains three novellas focusing on artists and academics trying to find themselves. "Filled with warm, eccentric characters," wrote a critic in Publishers Weekly, "each novella explores the difficulties faced by an assortment of individuals intellectually rich but emotionally uncertain." In "Auslander," a translator is drawn into the lives of a Romanian poet and her husband when the poet refuses to have her work published. "Hope among Men" tells of a woman suffering from two broken romances. The title novella, "Herman's strongest work," as Patrick Giles noted in the New York Times Book Review, is a love story between a composer and a poet who meet at a writers' colony. Giles called their relationship "an unexpectedly moving experience," while the Publishers Weekly critic felt that "Herman explores the full length of this friendship, slowly guiding the story toward a bright, charged conclusion."
Dog: A Short Novel is the story of Jill Rosen, originally from Queens, New York, and now a poet and professor at a Midwestern college. Jill, who lives alone and is distrustful of people in general, finds a beagle puppy on a foster care Web site and names him Phil, after a first failed relationship and the Phils whose books she keeps by her bed, including Roth, Larkin, Levine, and Lopate. Phil is an intelligent dog and extremely devoted to Jill, and Jill's life is made happier as she learns from Phil about loyalty, trust, and love. Booklist contributor Elizabeth Dickie concluded by saying that "this novel is as thought-provoking as it is charming."
Booklist reviewer Margaret Flanagan described The Middle of Everything: Memoirs of Motherhood as being "a unique primer on the pitfalls of striving for parental perfection." Herman writes about her childhood and her mother who suffered from depression and mental illness. She reveals how she tried to be the perfect mother to her own daughter, Grace, who suffered a breakdown at age six because she was so closely tied to Herman. Grace recovered with therapy, and Herman's memoir is an enlightening warning about attempting to reach the goal of perfection when parenting a child. "Herman writes about the multifaceted experience of parenting with elegance and hard-earned humility," commented a Publishers Weekly contributor.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Herman, Michelle, The Middle of Everything: Memoirs of Motherhood, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 2005.
Booklist, February 15, 2005, Margaret Flanagan, review of The Middle of Everything: Memoir of Motherhood, p. 1051; March 1, 2005, Elizabeth Dickie, review of Dog: A Short Novel, p. 1137.
Columbus Dispatch, March 25, 1990, Eve Shelnutt, review of Missing.
Entertainment Weekly, March 25, 2005, Leah Greenblatt, review of Dog, p. 79.
Hadassah, August-September, 1990, Kathryn Ruth Bloom, review of Missing.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2005, review of Dog, p. 10.
Library Journal, February 1, 2005, Lisa Nussbaum, review of Dog, p. 68.
New York Times Book Review, February 17, 1991, Frances A. Koestler, review of Missing, p. 14; December 20, 1998, Patrick Giles, review of A New and Glorious Life, p. 18.
Ohio Writer, July-August, 1990, Abby Frucht, review of Missing, p. 7.
Publishers Weekly, February 9, 1990, Sybil Steinberg, review of Missing, p. 47; June 1, 1998, review of A New and Glorious Life, p. 47; January 31, 2005, review of Dog, p. 49, review of Memoirs of Motherhood, p. 57.
Collected Miscellany,http://kevinholtsberry.com/blog.html (June 8, 2005), Kevin Holtsberry, "A Conversation with Michelle Herman: Part I;" (June 9, 2005), Kevin Holtsberry, "A Conversation with Michelle Herman: Part II."
Conversations with Famous Writers, http://conversationswithfamouswriters.com/ (January 12, 2006), interview.
Michelle Herman Home Page,http://people.cohums.ohio-state.edu/herman2 (November 30, 2006).