Steinke, Rene 1964–

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Steinke, Rene 1964–

PERSONAL: Born August 27, 1964, in Richmond, VA; daughter of Peter (a Lutheran minister and lecturer) and Kelly (an artist; maiden name, Wagner) Steinke; married Craig Marks (a magazine editor), November 1, 1997; children: one son. Ethnicity: "Caucasian." Education: Valparaiso University, B.A., 1986; University of Virginia, M.F.A., 1988; University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, Ph.D., 1993. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Lutheran. Hobbies and other interests: Playing music in a rock-and-roll band.

ADDRESSES: Office—Fairleigh Dickinson University, English Department, M-MS3-01, College at Florham, 285 Madison Avenue, Madison, NJ 07940. Agent—Ira Silverberg, Donadio and Olson, 121 W. 27th St., Ste. 704, New York, NY 10001. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: Writer, novelist, editor, and educator. Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, IN, assistant professor, 1993–94; Queensborough Community College, Bayside, NY, assistant professor of English, beginning 1995; Fairleigh Dickinson University, College at Florham, Madison, NJ, associate professor of English, 2000–.

AWARDS, HONORS: Academy of American Poets prize; National Book Award for fiction nomination, National Book Foundation, 2005, for Holy Skirts.


The Fires (novel), William Morrow (New York, NY), 1999.

Holy Skirts (novel), William Morrow (New York, NY), 2005.

Contributor to periodicals, including New York Times Sunday Magazine, Vogue, Newsday, and TriQuarterly. Contributor to books, including Dog Culture and With Love and Squalor: Writers on the Work of J.D. Salinger.

Editor-in-chief of Literary Review.

SIDELIGHTS: Rene Steinke's first novel, The Fires, "is hot—in more ways than one," remarked Kara A. Frye in the New York Post. "Madonna purchased the film rights before the book even hit the stores." Laura Jamison, writing in Village Voice, complimented the work, "with its brittle female characters and the disturbing allure of Ella's pain," and stated: "Steinke's prose is often dark, lovely, and poetic."

The Fires examines the life of twenty-two-year-old pyromaniac Ella. Ella works at the front desk of the Linden Hotel in a small Indiana town. The scars of a mysterious leaf fire into which she fell years before, as well as her family's deeply hidden history, haunt her into adulthood. "Much remains unspoken in her family—her grandfather's suicide, old photos of the neighborhood women (including her grandmother) dressed in Klan garments, and the defection from the family of Ella's favorite aunt, Hanna," a Publishers Weekly reviewer explained. Ella turns more and more often to alcohol and sexual promiscuity to relieve her feelings about her life and family past. "Increasingly driven," wrote Grace Fill in Booklist, "she makes repeated escalating attempts to burn through the layers of cover-up, half-truths, and outright lies that prevent her from finding the healing she needs."

Steinke's next novel, Holy Skirts, offers a fictionalized biography of the quirky, flamboyant German Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, an avant-garde poet, an artist's model, and a close friend of Marcel Duchamp. Steinke's "lively, sympathetic" story revolves around a subject whose "irrepressible life bordered on the fashionably sordid," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Leaving her hometown of Swinemunde, Germany, for Berlin at age nineteen, the Baroness endured three failed marriages but developed the intellectual survival skills and outrageous sense of style that served her well in New York. The Baroness's conversation skills, wit, and unusual wardrobe allowed her access to high society, though she was barely able to support herself. Her peculiar clothing—including birdcage hats, brassieres made from soup cans, and a bustle with a blinking taillight—were often worn in protest of censorship, sexism, and other social ills, caused a continual stir, and made her the topic of conversation among artists and the dadaist elite of the time. Despite her external bravado, however, Baroness FreytagLoringhoven struggled with loneliness, tragedy, poverty, and a life that often seemed out of control. Steinke demonstrates the ability to "embrace and transmute biographical fact" about the Baroness, commented Booklist reviewer Donna Seaman, forming "a fascinating character within a world-altering milieu, and exploring the dark side of creativity." While Entertainment Weekly reviewer Susanna Sonnenberg claimed that "Steinke's graceful prose adds intimate texture" to the biographical portrait of the Baroness, the Publishers Weekly contributor called the book "an intelligent, spirited work that stimulates interest in the Baroness's work and times."

Steinke once told CA: "I am fascinated by the connections between poetry and fiction. My favorite writers, Virginia Woolf, Vladimir Nabokov, William Goyen, are not afraid of sentences as rich and complex as lines of poems. I seem to be drawn to female characters in extreme situations, characters who possess strong imaginations and drives."



Booklist, December 15, 1998, Grace Fill, review of The Fires, p. 725; March 15, 2005, Donna Seaman, review of Holy Skirts, p. 1267.

Entertainment Weekly, March 18, 2005, Susanna Sonnenberg, review of Holy Skirts, p. 75.

Library Journal, December, 1998, Beth Gibbs, review of The Fires, p. 158.

New York Post, May 2, 1999, Kara A. Frye, review of The Fires, p. 48.

Publishers Weekly, December 14, 1998, review of The Fires, p. 54; January 3, 2005, review of Holy Skirts, p. 33.

Village Voice, March 23, 1999, Laura Jamison, review of The Fires, p. 137.