Raffa, Elissa A.

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Raffa, Elissa A.

PERSONAL: Female. Education: Earned a B.S.; University of Minnesota, M.F.A.

ADDRESSES: Home—P.O. Box 59, 18010 Aegina, Greece. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: Educator and writer. Minnesota Online High School, Minneapolis, MN, co-director of curriculum and teaching; American College of Greece School of Continuing and Professional Studies, instructor of writing and theater arts.

AWARDS, HONORS: Fellowship in fiction, Minnesota State Arts Board, 1994; Edelstein-Keller teaching and writing fellowship, University of Minnesota, 1995; Emerging Lesbian Writers Award in Fiction, Astraea Foundation, 1995; grant from Puffin Foundation, 2005.

WRITINGS:

Freeing Vera (fiction), Permanent Press (Sag Harbor, NY), 2005.

Contributor to periodicals, including Water-Stone Hamline Literary Review, Blink, Siren, Evergreen Chronicles, and Sinister Wisdom.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Speech Acts, a novel.

SIDELIGHTS: In her debut novel, Elissa A. Raffa tells the story of Frannie D'Amato, a lesbian artist and narrator whose tale takes place during the 1970s and 1980s. An activist from a small New York town, Frannie grows up the youngest of four brothers and sisters. Frannie loves her mother, Vera, who has multiple sclerosis, but is also angry at her because she is passive and unwilling to try for a better life. Frannie's father, Anthony, is by turns, both emotionally abusive and neglecting of his family. Frannie takes the first chance she gets to leave and sets out for Chicago the day after she graduates from high school. Once there, she associates with a group of lesbian social activists and takes up the cause of fighting for disability rights. Although she has moved on and falls in love with someone, Frannie is still haunted by her family; she keeps returning home for visits with the goal of trying to change her mother's situation but cannot get her three older sisters to help. She is hurt even more when her father reveals he is a homosexual himself, and he leaves Vera for a younger man. Although Anthony seeks to form a bond with his daughter based on their mutual homosexuality, he has few redeeming qualities that would lead Frannie to accept him. A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that Raffa has "a lot of rich material to work with," while a reviewer writing in Publishers Weekly called Raffa's effort an "earnest, angry debut novel."

Raffa told CA: "My maternal grandmother told wonderful stories; this and my love of reading first sparked my interest in writing. In Living by Fiction, Annie Dillard wrote, 'The critic is interested in the novel; the novelist is interested in his neighbors.' Marisha Chamberlain, playwright and teacher, once said that a writer is like a perverse traffic cop beckoning characters into collision with one another. These two ideas help to define my process: my characters are like people I'm acquainted but also wholly invented; I'm interested in seeing what happens when I place them in a scene with one another.

"I often write about a decade that has recently passed. Freeing Vera is set in the 1970s and 1980s and I wrote it in the 1990s. Speech Acts (working title), my new novel-in-progress, is about an American (Minnesota) small town in the 1990s. So, in addition to being a part-time expatriate seeing the United States from a distance, I'm often seeing cultural moments from a distance as well. At the same time, I'm often drawing on very immediate emotional resources—for example my current work is informed by the experience of living on a small island and of being not-quite-fluent in a language I use daily.

"I see fighting for justice as a form of loving other people and loving the world, even when the fight has no end. For me, writing is an important part of this struggle. I also love the fictional process, which weds discovery and invention—and the thought of certain very good friends reading the scenes as they develop."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2005, Freeing Vera, p. 662.

Publishers Weekly, June 27, 2005, review of Freeing Vera, p. 41.

ONLINE

Hedgebrook Web site, http://www.hedgebrook.org/ (November 15, 2005), profile of Elissa Raffa.