Leegant, Joan 1951(?)–
Leegant, Joan 1951(?)–
PERSONAL: Born c. 1951; married; children: two sons.
ADDRESSES: Home—Newton, MA. Agent—c/o W. W. Norton & Co., 500 5th Ave., New York, NY 10110.
CAREER: Writer. Harvard University and Hebrew College, writing instructor. Has also worked as a lawyer.
AWARDS, HONORS: Edward Lewis Wallant Award, Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies, 2002, and L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award, Boston Globe/PEN New England, 2004, both for An Hour in Paradise; Lawrence Foundation Award, Prairie Schooner, 2002, for "The Seventh Year"; grant, Massachusetts Cultural Council; fellowships, MacDowell Colony.
An Hour in Paradise (stories), Norton (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor of stories to anthologies and to periodicals, including Nimrod, Bellingham Review, Columbia, Kalliope, Prairie Schooner, Pakn Treger, Crazyhourse, New England Review, and American Literary Review.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A novel about young expatriate Americans and Brits, mostly women, set in Jerusalem in 1980.
SIDELIGHTS: In 2003 Joan Leegant celebrated the publication of An Hour in Paradise, a collection of ten stories on Jewish themes.Set in the mid-and later-twentieth century, these stories—most of which had previously been published in prestigious literary journals—portray characters of all ages as they try to answer perennial questions about faith and love. While some of the tales are told in a realistic and conventional narrative style, other are more fabulistic. For the subject matter, spirituality, and pathos of her stories, the author has been compared to Nathan Englander and Allegra Goodman; yet according to Jerusalem Report reviewer Sara K. Eisen, Leegant's is a new voice. She "has a way of penetrating life's desperateness without ever rendering it sad," Eisen wrote. "Hers is a world where no experience is worth undoing, for it always offers some indiscernible remuneration. Hers is a world where the supernatural and the deeply human are one and the same thing."
The title, An Hour in Paradise, derived from a Yiddish proverb, reveals the stories' overarching theme, paraphrased by Eisen as: "There is no happiness without the hard work involved in being a decent human being, and yet to be without this burden would be the greatest possible bliss." The fictional forms this proverb take vary dramatically. For example, in "How to Comfort the Sick and Dying" a yeshiva student who is given the task of comforting a dying man experiences a crisis of faith; in "The Tenth" a rabbi sends a young man to find someone on the streets who can complete the required number of participants for the morning service; and in "Accounting" parents of a ne'er-do-well are unable to see that they cannot fix all the problems their son causes. Leegant gives readers two different perspectives on love and marriage in the stories "The Diviners of Desire," which pokes fun at matchmakers in Jerusalem, and "Henry's Wedding," in which the younger sister of a pregnant and morning-sick bride, is strangely excited by her sister's predicament.
Reviewers of An Hour in Paradise found much to like in the collection. In the New York Times Book Review Louis Bayard praised Leegant's "prose of fine-boned clarity and compassion" and likened the work as a whole to "a series of chord changes between the secular and mystical, never quite resolving." Booklist reviewer Karen Jenkins Holt called the stories "emotionally powerful," and Kliatt critic Nola Theiss found "universal truths in these well-written tales." In addition, a Publishers Weekly contributor described the stories in Leegant's "auspicious debut" as "thought provoking and funny, touching and disturbing."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, August, 2003, Karen Jenkins Holt, review of An Hour in Paradise, p. 1954.
Harvard University Gazette, June 3, 2004, "Leegant Wins Distinguished Writing Awards."
Jerusalem Report, February 9, 2004, Sara K. Eisen, "Writing with a Retractable Lens," review of An Hour in Paradise, p. 42.
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2003, review of An Hour in Paradise, p. 827.
Kliatt, November, 2004, Nola Theiss, review of An Hour in Paradise, p. 28.
Library Journal, July, 2003, Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, review of An Hour in Paradise, pp. 127-128.
New York Times Book Review, October 5, 2003, Louis Bayard, "Was That Elijah?," review of An Hour in Paradise, p. 18.