Pietrzyk, Leslie 1961-
Pietrzyk, Leslie 1961-
(Leslie Jeanne Pietrzyk)
Born June 24, 1961, in Boston, MA; married Robert K. Rauth Jr., August 23, 1986 (deceased). Education: Northwestern University, B.A., 1983; American University, M.F.A., 1985.
Writer and editor.
Poets and Writers, Women's National Book Association.
First place award, University of Alaska Southeast Fiction Contest, 1995; Chris O'Malley Fiction Prize, Madison Review, 1995; scholarship, Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, scholar, 1996, fellow, 1999; Frank O'Connor Memorial Award, Descant, 1996; Whetstone Prize, Whetstone, 1996; Jeanne Charpiot Goodheart Prize for Fiction, Shenandoah, 1996; Walter E. Dakin Fellow, Sewanee Writers' Conference, 1998; Editor's Choice Award, Columbia, 1999; Julia Peterkin Award, Converse College, 2003.
Pears on a Willow Tree (novel), Avon/Bard (New York, NY), 1998.
A Year and a Day (novel), William Morrow (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor to periodicals, including Epoch, Gettysburg Review, Iowa Review, Nebraska Review, New England Review, TriQuarterly, Shenandoah, and Massachusetts Review.
Leslie Pietrzyk's book Pears on a Willow Tree is the fictional story of four generations of Polish American women. The novel traces the lives of these women from 1919 into the 1990s, from the family's original emigration from Poland to the United States, life in Michigan and Arizona, and another migration, this time to Thailand. Of Pietrzyk's characters, the older women easily hang onto ethnic tradition, while the younger women struggle over disregarding such customs. The title is taken from a Polish saying that means you are looking for something you can never find. Pietrzyk's characters include strong matriarch Rose; Helen, Rose's depressed daughter; Helen's rebellious daughter, Ginger, an alcoholic; and Ginger's responsible daughter Amy.
According to Ann Harleman in the New York Times Book Review, Pears on a Willow Tree depicts the feminine strength within one family. Harleman pointed out that the book's style—linked monologue chapters in the voices of the different characters—captures interest but leads to "a sketchy rendering of character and setting, the compression of insights into formulas that seen at once too pithy and pat." Harleman added that Pietrzyk's prose occasionally "opens up, rendering the everyday world in fresh ways," concluding that "this novel, heartfelt and game, augers well."
Reba Leiding, reviewing Pears on a Willow Tree in the Library Journal, noted Pietrzyk's "stereotyped" descriptions of the family's older women, but wrote that the author's observations of Ginger's tumultuous life accurately depict "the edginess and black humor of a not-quite-recovered alcoholic." In a starred Publishers Weekly review of the book, a contributor called the author's language "as plain and four-square as her protagonists," noting that Pietrzyk skillfully captures the different voices of her characters. This reviewer warned that "once you pick up this book, it's hard to put it down." Washington Post reviewer Roland Merullo concluded "Pears on a Willow Tree marks the debut of a genuine and fully developed talent with a most promising future. It is a rich, intricate, heartfelt novel that moves with a smoothness and sureness many experienced novelists will envy."
Pietrzyk once told CA: "My first novel Pears on a Willow Tree actually started as a short story about four generation of Polish-American women making pierogi (Polish dumplings). I came up with the idea of the four women in the kitchen after a visit to my grandmother's house in Detroit. I'd recently attempted to make pierogi and failed miserably, so my grandmother and I spent a lot of time talking about cooking, the two of us connecting in a way we never had before. I discovered that my grandmother was the one in the family who made the best pierogi—it was an accepted fact among her sisters, and I suddenly saw my grandmother in a whole new way.
"After finishing the story (which is now the book's first chapter). I wanted to know more about the four characters I'd created. So I wrote another story, then another. I quickly realized I was interested enough to write a whole novel about these women and their tangled relationships.
"While I consulted a lot of books to learn more about immigration to the United States, Polish customs, cooking, alcoholism, and other related topics, the most interesting research I did was sitting around the dinner table with my Polish-American grandmother, her two sisters, and a second cousin. I asked them questions about their lives and about my great-grandmother who had come to this country from Poland (I knew her—she lived to be 103—but I didn't know much about her early life). The discussions became so lively that I didn't even have to talk-the sisters just went on and on and on, getting into bitter fights about the most trivial details (like whether in was 1945 or 1946 when they got rid of the Ford car)! Again, these conversations connected me to my family in a new and different way.
"People always say to writers, write about what you know. But I prefer Eudora Welty's advice: Write about what you don't know about what you do know."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Library Journal, October 15, 1998, Reba Leiding, review of Pears on a Willow Tree, p. 101.
New York Times Book Review, October 18, 1998, Ann Harleman, review of Pears on a Willow Tree, p. 21.
Publishers Weekly, August 24, 1998, review of Pears on a Willow Tree, p. 46.
Washington Post, October 19, 1998, Roland Merullo, review of Pears on a Willow Tree, p. D9.
Leslie Pietrzyk Home Page,http://www.lesliepietrzyk.com (March 9, 2007).