Debra Dean attended Whitman College where she double-majored in English and Drama. She worked in New York and regional theatre for nearly a decade. She received her MFA degree from the University of Oregon and has written 3 novels, The Madonnas of Leningrad (2006) which has been published in twenty languages, a set of short stories Confessions of a Falling Woman (2008) and The Mirrored World (2012).
She now lives in Miami where she teaches in the MFA program at Florida International University.
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The Madonnas of Leningrad : The Story Behind The Book by Debra Dean
In 1995, I watched a PBS series on the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg. My journal entry for the next day read in part: "I was particularly struck by one incident which might make a story (even a novel, but for the research)." During the first winter that the Nazis lay siege to Leningrad, the Hermitage staff and their families nearly 2000 people - lived in the basement of the museum itself. In the first days of the war, they had evacuated all the art millions of objects, thousands of undisputed masterpieces - but they had left the empty frames hanging on the walls of the museum as a token of their pledge that the art would return. A story was related that one of the staff, a former guide now living in the cellar, began to give tours of the empty museum to visitors. It was said that he described the paintings so well that the visitors could almost see them.
This image gripped me. Still, I was a short story writer and even my short stories tended towards the brevity of poems, so the prospect of writing something the size of a novel terrified me. Let alone a novel set in a country that I had never visited and during a tumultuous period ...
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