Zackheim, Michele 1941–

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Zackheim, Michele 1941–


Born May 5, 1941, in Reno, NV; daughter of Samuel and Elizabeth Zackheim; married Charles Ramsburg (an artist), May 29, 1980; children: Benjamin, Maggie. Education: College of Santa Fe, B.A., 1989. Religion: Jewish.


Home—New York, NY. Home and office—New York, NY. Agent—Ellen Levine/Alanna Rameriz, Trident Media Group, 41 Madison Ave., Fl. 36, New York, NY 10010. E-mail—[email protected].


National Broadcasting Co. (NBC), New York, NY, graphic designer, 1960-63; Metromedia, New York, NY, art director, 1963-65; Advertising Design Associates, New York, NY, creative director, 1965-69; freelance artist, New York, NY, and New Mexico, 1969—. School of Visual Arts, New York, NY, graduate school teacher, 1998-2008; guest lecturer at the College of Santa Fe, Santa Fe Community College, Oklahoma State University, San Francisco Institute of Fine Arts, San Francisco State College, Scottsdale Center for the Arts, United Theological Seminary, Bryn Mawr College, Sarah Lawrence College, University of California at Dominquez Hills, and Queens College. Exhibitions: Work exhibited at Bryn Mawr College, 1981, 1983, 1985, Art Museum of South Texas, 1985, Scottsdale Center for the Arts, 1987, Oklahoma State University, 1989, and University of Wyoming Art Gallery, 1992; work represented in solo exhibitions at Judah L. Magnes Memorial Museum, Berkeley, CA, 1980, Bronfman Museum, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 1981, Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, NY, 1981, New Mexico Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe, 1985, Yale University, 1985, and Museum of Jewish American History, Philadelphia, PA, 1985.


PEN, Author's Guild, Authors League of America, Women Writing Women's Lives.


Awards from American Institute of Graphic Arts, 1965, Art Directors Club of New York, 1966, Graphic Arts/Printing Industries, 1967, New Mexico Advertising Association, 1981, Western State Arts Federation, 1988, National Endowment for the Arts, 1988, 1990, and National League of Pen Women, 1989.


Violette's Embrace (novel), Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1997.

Einstein's Daughter: The Search for Lieserl (nonfiction), Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1999.

Broken Colors, Europa Editions (New York, NY), 2007.

Author of a television special, The Path to Nuclear Fission: The Story of Lise Meitner and Otto Hahn, for Public Broadcasting System. Contributor to graphic art and fine art magazines and to newspapers; some of Zackheim's writings have been translated into German; her papers and research materials have been archived in the Fales Library and Special Collections of New York University, New York, NY.


An established visual artist with an impressive record of professional achievement behind her, Michele Zackheim has also authored books that delve into places and personas she considers particularly intriguing. Raised in Compton, California, Zackheim spent a year at the University of California at Santa Barbara before moving to New York City in 1960, where she found work as a graphic designer with the NBC television network. By the end of the decade, she had left a job as creative director at an advertising agency to pursue freelance work instead, and she also began showing her paintings in galleries and museums.

Zackheim's first book was a novel, Violette's Embrace, a fictional treatment of a real-life figure, acclaimed French novelist Violette Leduc (1907-1972). Leduc, a friend of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Genet, suffered in obscurity for much of her career until her 1965 autobiography, La Batarde, caused a literary stir in France. The book had made an impact upon the fictional heroine of Violette's Embrace, an American woman who decides to write her own account of Leduc's eventful life. She travels to France to conduct research and, through a variety of interesting sources, learns much about Leduc's illegitimate birth, difficult childhood, and alternative sexual orientation. She visits several spots in both Paris and the countryside that were central to events in the writer's life, and finds an important ally in the fictional Lili Jacobs, a friend of Leduc's who allows her access to a trove of letters and her own recollections. In the Los Angeles Times, Susan Salter Reynolds wrote: "This is a story of dignified pursuits, of efforts that in the end are rewarding, of interests that, when pursued, make life richer than it was before."

Throughout it all, the American writer recalls events in her own life, including a childhood that was also less than idyllic. "Unfortunately, Violette's Embrace cannot link Leduc's intense inner existence and the narrator's accounts of her unremarkable experiences growing up in America," observed New York Times Book Review contributor Allen Lincoln. A Kirkus Reviews assessment noted that "the subject has great intrinsic interest, but the challenge of communicating something essential about Leduc, or about the sources of her art, has not been met here." Janine Ricouart's assessment in Lambda Book Report, however, was positive: "While searching for Violette Leduc, Zackheim may have found herself, and this original first ‘novel’ will no doubt intrigue her readers." A Boston Globe reviewer wrote, "Zackheim gracefully tells Leduc's sensational story through a personal prism that neither enhances nor diminishes its great literary and historical interest and appeal." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly reported: "Overall, this is a quiet, moderately well-written book, with occasional flashes of fascinating material."

Zackheim's next book is a nonfiction examination of the personal life of scientist Albert Einstein. In her youth, Zackheim was fascinated by the physicist, who is considered by some to be the greatest scientific mind of the twentieth century. As an adult, however, Zackheim became acutely interested in the revelation of some letters released by the Einstein estate in 1986, which made references to a daughter born prior to his first marriage. "It fascinated me from a psychological point of view," Zackheim told Time contributor Andrea Sachs. "How did this daughter feel about being abandoned, especially by somebody who was so important to the culture?"

Zackheim spent five years researching the matter, embarking upon a trail of biographical clues that took her to Switzerland, where Einstein lived and worked as a young man, to England, Hungary, and even Serbia during the dangerous Balkan War in the 1990s. The result was Einstein's Daughter: The Search for Lieserl. Through her investigations, Zackheim was able to piece together a tragic life that began with Einstein's youthful ardor for a gifted fellow university student, Mileva Maric. Both Maric's Serbian family and the Einsteins, of German-Jewish extraction, objected to the relationship, but the couple still managed to vacation together at Italy's romantic Lake Como on one occasion. Nine months later, in 1902, Maric gave birth to a daughter. Upon learning of the pregnancy, Einstein had refused to marry her—fearing the wrath of his parents—but he and Maric eventually reunited and were wed. They became parents to two sons, but Einstein divorced Maric in 1919, to marry his own cousin.

When the letters between Maric and Einstein were made public in the 1980s, many wondered what had happened to the infant. In many cases, such children were taken in by relatives who already had several children. Across Serbia, Zackheim visited numerous Maric family members and acquaintances, and learned that the little girl, Lieserl, was likely born severely retarded; left with Maric's parents in Novisad, a Serbian city in Vojvodina, she was a sickly baby who probably died of scarlet fever as an infant. Throughout Zackheim's book, Einstein is revealed as a chronic philanderer, a genius whose intellectual gifts were marred by a callous, insensitive personality. "Writing elegantly … her remarkable sleuthing turns up new details of Einstein's personal life," stated a Publishers Weekly review. In the Time article, Sachs commented on Zackheim's dogged efforts to uncover the fate of Lieserl in the war-torn Balkans. "The result is a colorful glimpse of rural Serbia culture, with its patrimonial society, strong family loyalties, female subservience, [and] slow, leisurely discourse." David Chute of the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review called the book an "absorbing account," and Booklist reviewer Donna Seaman praised Zackheim for "follow[ing] every lead." "It takes a certain kind of mettle to do research on—and in—Serbia and yet refuse to line up on either side of the conflagration there," wrote Etelka Lehoczky in the Chicago Tribune, calling Zackheim "hardly a typical researcher. The New York City writer and artist came to her project through a combination of kismet and courage."

Broken Colors is the story of Sophie Marks, an orphan from a young age who, coming from an artistic family, is therefore destined to be an artist herself. She grows up in the English Midlands and is raised by her grandfather Eli, who paints portraits, and her grandmother Claire, who is a poet. Her childhood is filled with art and words and philosophy, but is also somewhat insular due to the isolation of the Midlands and her enclosed family. But she does grow up to be an artist, takes a lover, and has an illegitimate child. When her entire family is killed in a German bombing during World War II, Sophie picks up and begins an entirely new life, living in Italy with her new lover, Luca Bondi, who is a sculptor. Her life and art seem to be progressing well until Luca seeks out a new lover to have the child he dreams of, as Sophie has been unable to give him one. Zackheim then skips over several decades, jumping to Sophie's old age, where she is living in the American Southwest and still working as an artist. Through her eventual reunion with Luca's son and then Luca himself, we learn only vaguely what has occurred during the years between. A contributor for Kirkus Reviews found this structure somewhat confusing, and concluded that the book was "occasionally engaging but plagued by flat prose and bewildering chronological gaps."



Booklist, November 1, 1999, Donna Seaman, review of Einstein's Daughter: The Search for Lieserl, p. 495; October 1, 2007, Carol Haggas, review of Broken Colors, p. 29.

Boston Globe, September 1, 1999, Barbara Fisher, review of Violette's Embrace.

Chicago Tribune, April 20, 2000, Etelka Lehoczky, "Einstein's Forgotten Daughter," section 2, p. 1.

Daily News (New York, NY), October 31, 1999, Sherryl Connelly, "The Other Side of Genius."

Internet Bookwatch, February 1, 2008, review of Broken Colors.

Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 1996, review of Violette's Embrace, p. 927; August 15, 2007, review of Broken Colors.

Lambda Book Report, January, 1997, Janine Ricouart, review of Violette's Embrace, p. 18; September, 1997, Charles A. Mitchem-Diago, interview with Michele Zackheim, p. 43.

Library Journal, September 1, 2007, Mary Margaret Benson, review of Broken Colors, p. 131.

Los Angeles Times, August 23, 1996, Susan Salter Reynolds, "The Codependent Life of the Avid Reader."

New Mexican, January 23, 2000, Betty Kronsky, "Author Blends Genres in Engaging Search for Einstein's Daughter," p. F2.

New York Times Book Review, December 15, 1996, Allen Lincoln, review of Violette's Embrace.

Publishers Weekly, July 8, 1996, review of Violette's Embrace, p. 73; October 25, 1999, review of Einstein's Daughter, p. 59; July 23, 2007, review of Broken Colors, p. 42.

San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, January 9, 2000, David Chute, "Einstein—Better with Relativity than Relatives?"

Time, October 4, 1999, Andrea Sachs, review of Einstein's Daughter, p. 89.