Kafka, Phillipa 1933-
KAFKA, Phillipa 1933-
Born March 22, 1933, in New York, NY; daughter of Maurice (a certified public accountant) and Gladys (a homemaker; maiden name, Rockfeld) Krotenberg; married Irving Holzschlag, 1958 (divorced, 1977); married Oliver K. Kenen (a geologist and physics teacher), 1985; children: (first marriage) Molly Holzschlag, Morris Kafka, Linus Kafka. Education: Washington Square College, New York University, B.A. (with honors); University of Arizona, certificate of secondary education; New York University, M.A., Ph.D. Politics: "Feminist." Religion: Jewish. Hobbies and other interests: Restoring homes.
Home—Boulder City, NV. Office—c/o Office of Academic Affairs, Kean University, Union, NJ 07083. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 275 Seventh Ave., 28th Fl., New York, NY 10001-6708. E-mail—[email protected]
Author and educator. Washington Square College, New York University, New York, NY, instructor, 1958-61; Rider University, Lawrenceville, NJ, assistant professor of English, 1965-68; Kean College of New Jersey, Union, associate professor, 1969-83, professor of English, 1983-98, director of Women's Studies, 1993-98, professor emerita, 1999—. Cofounder, Boulder City Upgraders, Boulder City, NV.
Modern Language Association, Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States (MELUS), National Association for Ethnic Studies, National Organization for Women, National Women's Studies Association.
The Great White Way: Selected African American Women Writers and American Success Mythologies, Garland Publishing (New York, NY), 1993.
(Un)Doing the Missionary Position: Gender Asymmetry in Contemporary Asian American Women's Writing, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1997.
"Saddling La Gringa": Gatekeeping in Literature by Contemporary Latina Writers, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 2000.
(Out)Classed Women: Contemporary Chicana Writers on Inequitable Gendered Power Relations, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 2000.
(Editor) Lost on the Map of the World: Jewish-American Women's Quest for Home in Essays and Memoirs, 1890-Present, Peter Lang Publishing (New York, NY), 2001.
On the Outside Looking In(dian): Indian Women Writers at Home and Abroad, Peter Lang Publishing (New York, NY), 2003.
Essays represented in collections, including Practicing Theory for Introductory College Literature Courses, edited by James Cahalan and David Downing, NCTE (Urbana, IL), 1992; American Mythologies at the Turn of the Century: New Essays on Contemporary Literature, edited by William Blazek and Michael K. Glenday, Liverpool University (Liverpool, England), 1999; and Women and the Holocaust: Narrative and Representation, edited by Esther Fuchs, Studies in the Shoah Series, Volume 22, University Press of America (Lanham, MD), 1999. Contributor of essays, reviews, and poems to journals, including the Journal of MulticulturalEducation of New Jersey, Ethnic Studies Review, Explorations in Sight and Sounds, Sage: A Scholarly Journal on Black Women, Belles Lettres, Findings, San Fernando Poetry Journal, Palindrome Press, Poetry in the Mainstream, and CEA Forum.
Scholar Phillipa Kafka has for several decades been an influential voice in promoting the inclusion of multicultural, gender-fair curricula in literary courses. Her appreciation for multiethnic writers includes such different cultural traditions as Chicana, Asian, African American, Jewish, and Caribbean. In bringing these underrepresented perspectives to the attention of academics and classroom teachers through her numerous publications and speaking engagements, Kafka has attempted to undo the marginalization of ethnic women writers and bring a multicultural feminist perspective to literary studies.
In The Great White Way: Selected African American Women Writers and American Success Mythologies, Kafka examines the American dream from the point of view of African-American women, who have often been excluded from such rewards. Drawing from the works of this group of women writers, she notes the different approaches to these rags-to-riches mythologies, from embracing the American dream to subverting the system that promotes the myth.
In her next book, (Un)Doing the Missionary Position: Gender Asymmetry in Contemporary Asian American Women's Writing, Kafka examines the work of five Asian-American women writers: Amy Tan, Faye Mynne Ng, Gish Jen, R. A. Sasaki, and Cynthia Kadohata. Kafka asserts that representing Asian women writers without also recognizing "gender asymmetry"—that is, the patriarchal structure of Asian culture—is a misrepresentation of them. Assuming that mainstream feminist theory speaks for all women is incorrect, according to Kafka, because this theory predominantly represents a white perspective. Choice reviewer R. Welburn noted that while Kafka mines the obtuse poststructural literary domain, her "writing style and organization make this book accessible." In her review for Modern Fiction Studies, Monica Chiu recognized the importance of Kafka's work, stating, "While a concentration on race and class has been essential to investigating literature, the advances of feminism, for both authors and characters, cannot be overlooked if the experiences and critiques of Asian-American women themselves, who often speak of gender asymmetry, are to be acknowledged."
Since 2000 Kafka has made a significant effort to expose the gender biases of various ethnic literatures in a quartet of works. In "Saddling La Gringa": Gatekeeping in Literature by Contemporary Latina Writers, she discusses works by Judith Ortiz, Christina Garcia, Julia Alvarez, Rosario Ferre, and Magali Garcia Ramis, while in (Out)Classed Women: Contemporary Chicana Writers on Inequitable Gendered Power Relations, she explores the works of Sandra Cisneros, Roberta Fernandez, Kathleen Alcala, Gloria Anzaldua, and Ana Castillo, among others. In On the Outside Looking In(dian): Indian Women Writers at Home and Abroad, she offers a similar treatment of female Indian authors. Lost on the Map of the World: Jewish-American Women's Quest for Home in Essays and Memoirs, 1890-Present, which she edited, examines the quest of Jewish-American women from about 1890 to the modern day to enjoy gender equality.
Kafka told CA: "My major influences have been Swift, Dickens, Austen, Proust, James, Malcolm X, and Alice Walker. I most enjoy reading contemporary American ethnic and women of color writers and critics, as well as contemporary women authors from around the world, such as the Puerto Rican Rosario Ferre, the Canadian Margaret Atwood, the Indians Bharati Mukherjee and Anita Desai, the Nigerian Buchi Emecheta, and the Japanese Fumiko Emchi and Swako Ariyoshi.
"For scholarly work, I research my topic, noting citations as I read, until I feel that I have 'mastered' the subject matter. Next I write a first draft in my own words only, then integrate relevant citations into my text. For creative work, I just write as it pours out. Finally, in the case of both my creative and scholarly work, I rewrite many more drafts after the first draft until I reach mental exhaustion.
"My advice to aspiring writers is the same as that which a character in Henry James's The Ambassadors gives to a much younger man, 'Live. Live all you can.' To which I would add, 'Read also. Read all you can.'"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Choice, December, 1997, R. Welburn, review of (Un) Doing the Missionary Position: Gender Asymmetry in Contemporary Asian American Women's Writing, p. 636.
Modern Fiction Studies, Volume 44, issue 2, Monica Chiu, review of (Un)Doing the Missionary Position, p. 407.
Signs, fall, 1999, Karen Shimakawa, review of (Un) Doing the Missionary Position, p. 269.*