Zarin, Cynthia 1959-
Zarin, Cynthia 1959-
Born July 9, 1959, in New York, NY; daughter of Michael (a lawyer) and Renee (an administrator) Zarin; married Michael Seccareccia, January 24, 1988 (divorced, 1996); married Joseph Goddu (an art dealer), December 6, 1997; children: Rose; stepchildren: Anna, Jack. Education: Radcliffe College, B.A., 1981; Columbia University, M.F.A., 1984.
New Yorker magazine, New York, NY, staff writer, 1984-94, 2004—; Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, lecturer in creative writing, 1993-97; Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York, NY, artist-in-residence, 1994—; Yale University, New Haven, CT, instructor in English, 2008—. Columbia University, New York, NY, adjunct faculty; Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, Baltimore, MD, visiting poet, 1998.
Ingram Merrill Award, 1989, for The Swordfish Tooth; Lavan Award, Academy of American Poets, 1994; National Endowment for the Arts Award, 1997; Los Angeles Times Book Award, 2002, for The Watercourse; Front Page Award, 2006, Newswomen's Club of New York, for "Not Nice: Maurice Sendak and the Perils of Childhood"; Richard T. Liddicoat Award, Consumer National Reporting, 2006, for "Seeing Things: The Art of Olafur Eliasson."
Rose and Sebastian, illustrated by Sarah Durham, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1997.
What Do You See When You Shut Your Eyes?, illustrated by Sarah Durham, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1998.
Wallace Hoskins, the Boy Who Grew Down, illustrated by Martin Matje, DK Ink (New York, NY), 1999.
Albert, the Dog Who Liked to Ride in Taxis, illustrated by Pierre Pratt, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2004.
Saints among the Animals, illustrated by Leonid Gore, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2005.
The Swordfish Tooth, Knopf (New York, NY), 1989.
Fire Lyric, Knopf (New York, NY), 1993.
The Watercourse, Knopf (New York, NY), 2002.
Contributing editor at Gourmet. Contributor to Architectural Digest, New York Times Book Review, New York Times Magazine, and Paris Review.
Cynthia Zarin, a staff writer at the New Yorker and an instructor at Yale University, is the author of three highly regarded books of poetry, including Fire Lyric and The Watercourse. Zarin's poems, according to Boldtype online contributor Ernest Hilbert, "tend toward the symmetrical: orderly stanzaic patterns, metrical figures, and regular rhymes," and they offer a purity of language and a slightly offbeat perspective on mundane, typically overlooked topics. Her books for children, including Rose and Sebastian, Albert, the Dog Who Liked to Ride in Taxis, and Saints among the Animals, encourage young readers to look at things from a fresh perspective.
In Rose and Sebastian, Zarin's debut picture book, Rose is a young child who is used to the noisiness of New York, where she lives in an apartment with her mother. The noises made by Sebastian, the rowdy boy who lives upstairs, are a different story, however—they are scary. Summoning her courage, Rose goes upstairs to confront her fear and meet Sebastian. To her delight, she learns to appreciate the exuberance of a noisy new friend. "Zarin offers not only a glimpse of apartment life, but establishes Rose as a captivating heroine who wants to overcome her fears, and does," remarked a critic in Kirkus Reviews. Susan Hepler, a reviewer for School Library Journal, likewise called Rose and Sebastian "a nice supplement to the preschool read-aloud shelf on overcoming fears."
What Do You See When You Shut Your Eyes? is less a storybook than a humorous game. Rhyming questions and answers encourage children to use their five senses and their imaginations to participate in the fun. Zarin's text "expresses a poet's sensibility," asserted a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, "an ability to observe, a sense of the absurd, an affection for the everyday, an eye for juxtaposition." Noting that the author ends with a question about dreams, School Library Journal contributor
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Olga R. Barnes called What Do You See When You Shut Your Eyes? "a pleasant addition to a lesson on imagination or the senses."
A youngster's bizarre physical appearance is the focus of Wallace Hoskins, the Boy Who Grew Down, a "convoluted tall tale," in the words of a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Eight-year-old Wallace, whose red fireman's helmet never leaves his head, has stopped growing for a number of years, much to the dismay of his mother, Gladys. When Wallace finally sprouts because his legs—and no other part of him—are getting longer, Gladys pays a visit to Nanny Heppleweather. Taking the wise old woman's advice, Gladys removes the helmet one night and picks the toadstool that grows beneath it. Wallace Hoskins, the Boy Who Grew Down earned mixed reviews. Though some critics faulted the work for the complexity of its language, Booklist contributor Tim Arnold noted that the "highly original, clever tale is a gentle reminder that children need some adult help from time to time."
In Albert, the Dog Who Liked to Ride in Taxis, a dachshund embarks on an adventure in the big city. Albert loves to ride along with his owner, Mrs. Crabtree, as she taxis around New York, but when the canine spies an opportunity to travel solo, he begins hopping from cab to cab. While touring the town, Albert is invited to the Kalahari Desert by an elderly woman, and he later accepts a ride to the airport from two youths bound for California. Arriving at the terminal, Albert is greeted by a startled and amazed Mr. Crabtree, who has just returned from a business trip. "As much as what happens, equally enjoyable is the way Zarin tells it," observed Booklist reviewer Ilene Cooper, and a critic in Kirkus Reviews stated that the author "tells the tale in an off-hand, tongue-in-cheek tone." According to a Publishers Weekly contributor, "Zarin's story blends realism and fiction with quirky verve, and the memorable Albert is Fred Astaire-suave."
Inspired by Margaret Ward Cole's 1905 book of the same title, Zarin's Saints among the Animals contains ten stories that explore the often remarkable relationship between a holy figure and a wild creature. In one familiar tale, Saint Francis tames a wolf that was terrorizing the townspeople of Gubbio, and in another, Saint Jerome pulls a thorn from a lion's paw. Zarin also includes the stories of Saint Werburge, an English abbess who orders a flock of geese to stop destroying her crops; Saint Brendan, an abbot who is rescued by a whale when his boat catches fire on the Irish Sea; and Saint Hilda, who prevents an infestation of serpents. Zarin's "folksy, matter-of-fact telling roots the iconic figures firmly in the natural world, emphasizing their humanity," wrote Horn Book contributor Lauren Adams. "The tales are neatly told," Cooper stated, and a Publishers Weekly reviewer commented that the "entries reflect a sense of wonderment and mystery, something that will likely enchant readers."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Antioch Review, fall, 2002, John Taylor, review of The Watercourse, p. 714.
Booklist, October 15 1999, Tim Arnold, review of Wallace Hoskins, the Boy Who Grew Down, p. 457; December 15, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of Albert, the Dog Who Liked to Ride in Taxis, p. 749; December 1, 2006, Ilene Cooper, review of Saints among the Animals, p. 44.
Horn Book, January-February, 2006, Lauren Adams, review of Saints among the Animals, p. 87.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1997, review of Rose and Sebastian, p. 1316; January 1, 2004, review of Albert, the Dog Who Liked to Ride in Taxis, p. 43.
New York Times Book Review, March 31, 2002, Ken Tucker, "Address to a Hot, Wet Place," review of The Watercourse, p. 17.
Publishers Weekly, August 17, 1998, review of What Do You See When You Shut Your Eyes?, p. 71; August 16, 1999, review of Wallace Hoskins, the Boy Who Grew Down, p. 84; January 21, 2002, review of The Watercourse, p. 87; January 19, 2004, review of Albert, the Dog Who Liked to Ride in Taxis, p. 74; October 20, 2006, review of Saints among the Animals, p. 65.
School Library Journal, September, 1997, Susan Hepler, review of Rose and Sebastian, p. 198; September, 1998, Olga R. Barnes, review of What Do You See When You Shut Your Eyes?, p. 186; September, 1999, John Sigwald, review of Wallace Hoskins, the Boy Who Grew Down, p. 210; February, 2004, Mary Ann Carcich, review of Albert, the Dog Who Liked to Ride in Taxis, p. 125; January, 2007, Linda L. Walkins, review of Saints among the Animals, p. 121.
New Yorker Web site,http://www.newyorker.com/ (August 15, 2008), "Cynthia Zarin."
Boldtype Web site,http://www.randomhouse.com/boldtype/ (May 17, 2006), Ernest Hilbert, "Cynthia Zarin."