Born in New York, NY; daughter of Henry and Sylvia Lefer. Education: Attended Radcliffe College, 1968-70. Politics: "Left."
Writer, playwright, educator, and activist. Vermont College, Montpelier, member of faculty in M.F.A. in Writing Program, 1987—. Antioch University, Los Angeles, CA, fiction mentor for creative writing program, 2000-01. Triumvirate Pi Theatre Company, cofounder and co-artistic director, 2000-03; National Writers Voice, member of advisory committee, 1997-98; gives readings from her works. Los Angeles Zoo, research department volunteer, 1987—; Central American Resource Center, volunteer legal assistant/ Spanish-English interpreter, 1999-2000.
PEN USA West, Dramatists Guild, Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights (vice chair, 2000-02), Applied Theatre Arts/Center for Theater of the Oppressed collective.
Creative writing fellow, National Endowment for the Arts, 1983; five fiction prizes from International PEN, including Syndicated Fiction prize, 1983, 1985, 1987; fiction fellow, New York Foundation for the Arts, 1986; Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction, 2005, for California Transit; literary arts fellowship, City of Los Angeles, 2006.
(With William Folprecht) Super Stars of Sports, Newbury House Publishers (Rowley, MA), 1979.
Emma Lazarus (young adult biography), Chelsea House (New York, NY), 1988.
Radiant Hunger (novel), Authors Choice Press (Lincoln, NE), 2001.
Work represented in anthologies, including Women's Glibber, Crossing Press (Trumansburg, NY), 1992; Breaking up Is Hard to Do, Crossing Press (Trumansburg, NY), 1994; Best Writing on Writing, Story Press (Cincinnati, Ohio), 1994; Sacred Ground, Milkweed Editions (Minneapolis, MN), 1996; Many Lights in Many Windows, Milkweed Editions (Minneapolis, MN), 1997; and The Inn at Kyoto, New Rivers Press (St. Paul, MN), 1997. Contributor to periodicals, including Santa Monica Review, Quarterly West, Western Humanities Review, Kenyon Review, Chariton Review, Punch Digest, Mind in Motion, Vogue, Other Voices, Sun, and L.A. Stage.
SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS
The Circles I Move In, Zoland Books (Hanover, NH), 1994.
Very Much Like Desire, Carnegie-Mellon University Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 2000.
California Transit, Sarabande Books (Louisville, KY), 2007.
American Buggery, produced in Columbia, SC, 2001.
Tell Me Which Way a Hanged Man's Feet Will Hang (one-act play), produced in North Hollywood, CA, 2001.
Fix, produced in Chicago, IL, 2002.
Interrogating the Power of Art, produced at Chapel Hill-Carrboro, NC, 2004.
(With Hector Aristizábal) Nightwind, first performed in Los Angeles, CA, 2004.
Harvest, produced in Los Angeles, CA, 2005.
(With Hector Aristizábal) In the Forest de/Lirios, performed in Los Angeles, CA, 2005.
Majikan, produced in New York, NY, 2007.
Star Jasmine, performed at Brooklyn College, New York, 2007.
Also author of the plays Brave New Tiger, Darwinville, The Parting Glass, Power Grab, The Still Point, Sweet City, Tangerine Quandary, and Woman with a Hobby.
Diane Lefer is a Los Angeles-based writer and playwright. She has published a novel and short story collections, and her work has been included in numerous anthologies and periodicals.
Lefer's first short story collection was The Circles I Move In. The twelve stories included in this collection feature a variety of powerless women, in settings varying from New York to Mexico, attempting to escape from their constraining lives. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that the twelve stories of The Circles I Move In "add up to a cohesive unit of vivid sensual imagery and visceral impact." Booklist contributor Theresa Ducato described the characters as "gutsy, stylish, and tough and often larger than life."
Lefer continued her social commentary in her second collection of short stories, Very Much Like Desire. These stories are about a variety of politically conscious characters who face a host of complex moral issues. Although Lefer's stories highlight social issues, they are not mere polemics. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote of Very Much Like Desire: "Lefer's often oblique subtlety is skillfully balanced by her clear, sympathetic characterizations."
In her third collection of short fiction, California Transit, Lefer provides "a sunshine noir's-worth of uneasy left coast tales," according to a Publishers Weekly contributor, who wrote that the author's "staccato prose adds urgency to her suburban grotesques, giving a disquieting look at everyday lives."
Lefer once told CA: "Growing up, books were my best friends. I think that's true for many of us, and that's why the state of contemporary publishing fills me at times with rage, at better times merely with dismay. It's not just that the industry consigned me for years to poverty and scorn, but in trying to sell to everyone, U.S. publishers have dedicated themselves to manufacturing books that will never be friends to anyone.
"Though I always knew I'd be a writer—I made up and memorized stories even before I could read—I've always been torn between commitments: the creative imperative and the struggle for social justice. Coming of age in the sixties gave me the exalted and unfortunately unrealistic view that the two went naturally together, that the author earned a platform in the public debate.
"I lived the life I thought writers led, at least from their book jackets, in the old days before people listed their M.F.A. degrees. I worked in factories, was a short order cook, a ‘temp,’ and dropped out of college because running away to Mexico seemed like a much better idea. It was. Since the day I quit school, I have rarely if ever been bored.
"The early seventies were a time of great idealism along with profound social change in rural Oaxaca, Mexico. The people I met and events I witnessed made a deep impression and figured in much of my early published work. Now that I teach in two graduate programs (without ever having received any sort of degree) and have seen some great and inspired teaching, I recognize that education, even within an institution, doesn't have to be intellectually stultifying.
"The drawback to the life I chose was artistic isolation. I didn't know other writers. My work was published now and then, but I wasn't growing. When I wrote, all I thought about was getting the story, the ideas on paper. I didn't think of myself as a literary writer; it had never occurred to me to make distinctions. It wasn't until I met Oscar Hijuelos and Sharon Sheehe Stark that the beauty of their prose and the passion of their aesthetic commitment startled me into caring about language. Since then I've read differently and written differently. I've continued to learn from my students and other writers.
"I continued to have a divided focus, creative work here, political work there, rarely if ever being paid for either, so the get-the-rent work had to be done as well. Even when I wrote about political subjects, I had to keep the emphasis on larger principles, as it has often taken me ten years of submissions or more for a story to appear in print, and by then the specific issue may no longer be pertinent. So I wrote literary fiction while also putting in time working for welfare and disability rights, doing bilingual AIDS education, volunteering on political campaigns, and serving as an interpreter for people imprisoned by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
"I've lived in Los Angeles since 1996, having been driven out of my birthplace, New York City, by soaring rents, an economic environment that ran a steamroller over communities and grassroots culture. Here in Los Angeles, theater and books may be economically marginalized but, paradoxically, that grants you respect and a great deal of freedom. Andrew Tonkovich of the Santa Monica Review has given my work more exposure and support in the last few years than I ever knew before.
"Soon after I relocated and began to work in theater, A.S.K. Theater Projects gave me the chance to participate in a theater lab with the great Ruth Maleczech. She set off explosions in my mind and heart and, beyond that, her grace and skill at setting rigorous standards without ever making anyone feel inadequate led me to recommit myself to teaching at a time I had begun to feel burned out.
"It's only recently that I've been able to bring the aesthetic, activist, and wage-earner aspects of my life more or less together. I earn a modest living, primarily through teaching people who care deeply about writing and books. In the winter of 2000, along with Leslie K. Gray and Sachi Oyama, I helped found and launch Triumvirate Pi, a playwrights' collective and producing organization that seeks to break down barriers of race, gender, and disability for Los Angeles theater artists and audiences. Our plays may or may not be political in content, but our process is always political. We bring together new, diverse teams of people who might not otherwise have met so that we can put up high-quality productions and at the same time forge relationships among people of different races and with inclusion of artists and audiences with disabilities.
"As I learned how to produce for theater, I also began to take responsibility for the public production (as well as the private creation) of my fiction. What pushed me over the edge was when Radiant Hunger, my exploration of the aftermath of an apocalyptic cult—probably the best work I've ever done, perhaps ever will do—was rejected over the course of seven years by every publisher large and small, commercial and nonprofit, in America. I'm tired of being told what a great writer I am by editors who wring their hands as they confess their lack of ‘courage.’ I don't believe in burying ‘secrets’ in a text for some scholar to dig out, and I resist the prevailing practice of envisioning readers as a mass. Do that and you're condemned to a relentless dumbing down to the lowest common denominator. If readers are individuals—which, of course, in fact, they are—you need never hold back or stint on what you have to say. Your work can be multileveled, allowing a different sort of experience for each reader.
"New technologies put the means of production in reach of many of us. I wish I had stopped grumbling and started taking control years ago when I was younger and had more stamina and didn't find it quite this hard to get by without sleep. Still, with so much to do in Los Angeles, who can sleep? I'm excited by multiple projects and am enjoying (almost) every minute."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Back Stage West, November 22, 2001, Terri Roberts, "Collected Shaddows," p. 13.
Booklist, August, 1994, Theresa Ducato, review of The Circles I Move In, p. 2023.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2007, review of California Transit, p. 188.
Library Journal, August, 1994, Harold Augenbraum, review of The Circles I Move In, p. 136.
Los Angeles Times, June 17, 2007, Judith Freeman, review of California Transit.
Publishers Weekly, July 11, 1994, review of The Circles I Move In, p. 64; September 11, 2000, review of Very Much Like Desire, p. 70; February 19, 2007, review of California Transit, p. 149.
San Francisco Chronicle, April 22, 2007, Stephan Clark, review of California Transit.
State (Columbia, SC), March 16, 2001, "Late Nights: American Buggery Debuts at Trustus," p. E15.
Diane Lefer Home Page,http://www.dramatistsguildweb.com/members/diane (October 19, 2007).
Sarabande Books,http://www.sarabandebooks.org/ (October 19, 2007), interview with author.
Taco,http://www.lataco.com/ (September 9, 2007), "Interview with Diane Lefer, Writer/Human Rights Activist."
Triumvirate Pi Web site,http://www.tri-pi.org/ (September 9, 2007), brief profile of author.