Erica Bauermeister is the author of The School of Essential Ingredients (Jan 2009), a novel of eight students and their cooking teacher, set in a restaurant kitchen. Her non-fiction work includes 500 Great Books by Women: A Reader's Guide and Let's Hear It For the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14. She received a Ph.D. in literature from the University of Washington and has taught at both the U.W. and Antioch. Her love of slow food and slow living was inspired during the two years she spent living with her husband and two children in northern Italy. She currently lives in Seattle with her family.
The following is from her website:
I was born in Pasadena, California in 1959, a time when that part of the country was both one of the loveliest and smoggiest places you could imagine. I remember the beautiful arching branches of the oak tree in our front yard, the center of the patio that formed a private entrance to our lives; I remember leaning over a water faucet to run water across my eyes after a day spent playing outside. It's never too early to learn that there are always two sides to life.
And two sides to the country -- when I was nine, we moved to the east coast, with all its history and old, atmospheric houses; then when I was 15 we moved back to (northern) California. College was in Los Angeles again -- not because of Los Angeles, but because I fell in love with Occidental College and its campus (must have been the trees).
I have always wanted to write, but when I read Tillie Olsen's "I Stand Here Ironing" in college, I finally knew what I wanted to write books that took what many considered to be unimportant bits of life and gave them beauty, shone light upon their meaning. The only other thing I knew for certain back in college, however, was that I wasn't grown up enough yet to write them.
So I moved to Seattle, got married, and got a PhD. at the University of Washington. Frustrated by the lack of women authors in the curriculum, I wrote 500 Great Books by Women: A Reader's Guide with Holly Smith and Jesse Larsen and Let's Hear It For the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14 with Holly Smith. In the process I read, literally, thousands of books, good and bad, which is probably one of the best educations a writer can have. I still wrote, but thankfully that material wasn't published. I taught writing and literature. I had children.
Having children probably had the most dramatic effect upon how I write of anything in my life. As the care-taker of children, there was no time for plot lines that couldn't be interrupted a million times in the course of creation. I learned to multi-task, and when the children's demands were too many, we created something called the mental hopper." This is where all the suggestions went -- "can we have ice cream tonight?" "can we go to Canada this summer?" "can I have sex when I am 14?" The mental hopper was where things got sorted out, when I had time to think about them. What's interesting about the mental hopper is that when something goes in there, I can usually figure out a way to make it happen (except sex at 14).
And that is how I write now. All those first details and amorphous ideas for a book, the voices of the characters, the fact that one of them loves garlic and another one flips through the pages of used books looking for clues to the past owner's life, all those ideas go in the mental hopper and slowly but surely they form connections with each other. Stories start to take shape. It's a very organic process, and it suits me. So when people say being a mother is death for writers, I disagree. Yes, in a logistical sense, children can make writing difficult. In fact, I don't think it is at all coincidental that my first book of fiction will be published after both my children are in college. But I think differently, I create the work I do, because I have had children.
It's been almost thirty years since I first read Tillie Olsen. My children are now mostly grown. I've been married for twenty-five years to the same man; I've lived in Italy; I've stood by friends as they faced death. I've grown up a bit, and my mind has turned back, happily and naturally, in the direction of fiction.
So look for the next book, just published by Putnam in January of 2009. The School of Essential Ingredients is about a group of cooking students and their teacher, in a school held in the kitchen of Lillian's restaurant. It's about food and people and relationships about taking those "unimportant" bits of life and making them beautiful.
About This Biography
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An Interview with Erica Bauermeister, author of The School of Essential Ingredients and Joy for Beginners
When did you decide to be a writer? Was it your dream since you were a
child, or did it happen 'by accident'? What made you feel you were ready to write?
I have always loved books and reading, and I wanted to be a writer from the time I was small. I read constantly and studied literature in college, and then graduate school. I taught literature, I wrote reader's guides to books (which meant I read thousands of books to select a far smaller number). All of that taught me a great deal about the beautiful machines that are books their parts, the connections between them, the stroke of magic or imagination that brings them alive.
I think the reason I waited until I was 43 to start writing fiction, however, was that I knew from the time I was in college the kind of book I wanted to write and that I wasn't mature enough to write it yet. I wanted to write books about the small, "unimportant" things in life the ways we interact with each other as parents and friends and lovers and spouses, those subtle moments of miscommunication ...
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