Reisman, Nancy 1961-

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Reisman, Nancy 1961-

PERSONAL: Born 1961. Education: Tufts University, B.A., 1984; University of Massachusetts, M.F.A., 1991.

ADDRESSES: Office—Department of English, Vanderbilt University, Box 1654, Station B, 331 Benson Hall, Nashville, TN 37235. Agent—Gail Hochman, Brandt & Brandt Literary Agents, Inc., 1501 Broadway, No. 2310, New York, NY 10036. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: Writer and educator. University of Florida, Gainesville, assistant professor; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Helen Herzog Zell Visiting Associate Professor; Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, assistant professor, 2005–.

AWARDS, HONORS: New York Times Notable Book, 2004, for The First Desire; Raymond Carver Award for short fiction, 1996; Iowa Short Fiction Award, 1999, for House Fires; O. Henry Prize, 2005, for the short story "Tea"; Samuel Goldberg Award in Fiction, National Foundation for Jewish Culture, 2005; fellowships from National Endowment for the Arts, Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, University of Wisconsin—Madison, Florida Arts Council, Heekin Group Foundation, and Rhode Island State Council on the Arts.


House Fires, University of Iowa Press (Iowa City, IA), 1999.

The First Desire (novel), Pantheon (New York, NY), 2004.

Stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories, 2001 and in periodicals, including Tin House, Five Points, Glimmer Train, Michigan Quarterly Review, Kenyon Review, New England Review, Press, Conduit, American Fiction, and Lilith.

SIDELIGHTS: "When Randi died, my family went haywire: one by one we shorted out. My father, a dignified cardiologist, took to drinking and belligerence. My mother's mannered calm gave way to hysteria. I became pale and inept and forgot how to hold conversations."

Storytelling like this, from Nancy Reisman's House Fires, illustrates why the author has been accorded such honors as the Iowa Short Fiction Award and the Raymond Carver Award. Reisman, a teacher of creative writing, had stories published in several literary magazines before her solo collection was published in 1999. House Fires consists of the title story, about a family's unraveling, followed by three sets of intertwined tales. The "Buffalo Series," for example, centers on a Jewish family in upstate New York from 1940 to 1980. The characters include the unmarried Edie and her siblings, Marilyn and Manny—and Arthur, Manny's lover. The story "Confessions" watches what happens to Arthur and Manny's relationship after Arthur returns home with a bride after fighting in World War II.

Reisman's work on "Confessions," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer, showcased the author's "gift for dialogue in an intimate, affecting portrait." Likewise, the reviewer continued, Reisman infuses her "Jessie Stories" with "the comforting power of small gestures" as Jessie's mother comes to terms with unexpected developments in her close-knit family. A Kirkus Reviews contributor observed that the author "can rise to the occasion when she aims high enough."

New York Times Book Review contributor Meghan O'Rourke's attention was caught by the idea that "the stories often end with a sweeping gesture that doesn't truly resolve the tension at hand." O'Rourke went on to note that the author "writes with a notable honesty, and if the stories' lack of real closure is occasionally frustrating, it's also purposeful. Reisman is interested, after all, in the way that loneliness—in love, in motherhood, in success—punctuates intimate relationships but doesn't necessarily change them."

After refining her craft with the short story, Reisman turned to the novel with The First Desire. The story revolves around a Buffalo, NY, Jewish family and their lives beginning in the 1920s and on into the 1950s. After his wife dies, Abe Cohen is left with his five adult children, four girls and a boy. Each of the children has problems, such as the mentally unstable Celia, the runaway Goldie, and the compulsive gambler Irving, who joins the army to escape his debts. Abe has his own problems with coping as well and finds solace in the arms of a woman of dubious repute. A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that "incantatory prose and painstaking attention to mundane domestic detail … deepen our identification with the characters' plights." Karen Karbo, writing in Entertainment Weekly, called The First Desire an "accomplished first novel," while in Publishers Weekly, a reviewer commented that the author "writes with beauty and precise imagery."



Reisman, Nancy, House Fires, University of Iowa Press (Iowa City, IA), 1999.


Entertainment Weekly, September 17, 2004, Karen Karbo, review of The First Desire, p. 84.

Kirkus Reviews, 1999, review of House Fires; July 15, 2004, review of The First Desire, p. 654.

New York Times Book Review, October 31, 1999, Meghan O'Rourke, review of House Fires, p. 41.

Publishers Weekly, August 30, 1999, review of House Fires, p. 49; July 19, 2004, review of The First Desire, p. 141.