Doris Grumbach, multi-talented novelist and literary critic, dies at 104

Doris Grumbach, a wide-ranging writer and literary critic who has written about love, sex, religion, and aging, explores gay themes in her fiction, and has written about it for her The humorous, outspoken memoir of old age frustration has won critical acclaim. A retirement community in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, on Nov. 4. She is 104 years old.

Ms. Glennbach likes to point out that she was one of the few who survived the coronavirus pandemic and the 1918 flu pandemic, which spread when she was an infant. “No one has ever had this experience — the president should put me on some kind of task force,” she joked to her daughter Barbara Wheeler, who confirmed the death but didn’t say why.

Ms. Glennbach is an accomplished and observant writer with a voice that is at times graceful and grumpy, and she has published seven novels, six memoirs, a children’s book and a biography of author Mary McCarthy — a whole shelf of books, even though she starts late from work.

Her first work was a novel called The Waste of Flowers (1962), published when she was 44 years old, and it was another 17 years before she took the novelist title of Chamber Music (1979). Identity is spotlighted as a memoir of the famous composer’s 90-year-old widow.

Roughly inspired by the lives of composer Edward McDowell and his wife Marianne, the novel follows an unsatisfactory marriage, a fatal case of syphilis and a lesbian relationship that provides extraordinary comfort in later life. story. In a review of the book for The New York Times, John Leonard wrote that Ms. Glennbach “approached inflammatory material with such dispassionate authority, with such rhythmic precision, with such unobtrusiveness. care The effect of prose is subversive. “

“I’d love to,” he added, “to say that this book is all bones; instead, it’s all strings—gut and nerves—and that each one vibrates.”

In addition to writing novels and memoirs, Ms. Glennbach teaches English literature and works as a literary critic, contributing to publications such as The Times, The Saturday Review and The Public Interest. During the 1970s, she also served as literary editor for The New Republic for two years, book reviewer for NPR’s “Morning Edition” and PBS’s “McNeil/Lehrer News Hour,” and co-author of Wayward Books, a bookstore in Washington, D.C. all. Her partner for nearly five years was Sybill Hillman Pike.

But Ms. Glennbach is probably best known for her novels that explore the triumphs and setbacks of women’s efforts to assert their independence and break through the confines of cold marriages, exploitative business worlds or societies that do not tolerate lesbian relationships .

Many of her characters are based on real people: “The Missing Man” (1981) chronicles the rise and fall of a movie star reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe; “The Ladies” (1984) was inspired by two Irish 18th century romantic relationship between a nobleman; and “The Magician’s Girl” (1987) featuring a Diane Arbus-style photographer and a poet imitating Sylvia Plath.

Ms. Glennbach told the reference book Contemporary Novelists in 2000: “I write novels to understand the world I know in my 82 years of life.” I use people I know, people I think may have been Exist, and myself, as I imagine myself to be or to be. …there is no lesson in any of these seven novels, except that life is infinitely variable, characters (people) are never typical, and that place/setting is always filtered from the vagaries of memory. “

In her 70s, Ms. Glennbach began to focus on the difficulties and disappointments of aging. Her first memoir, Into the End Zone (1991), was also a way for her to take writers, editors, and other friends who died of AIDS and commemorate their lives in print.

She never considered herself “a major talent,” she told Publishers Weekly — more like “a second-rate writer and critic who made some noise, but not a lot” — – It’s really depressing to see yourself living in someone else’s life and dying early.

“I think writing is a healing act,” she added. “It’s an exorcism, expressing this almost inexpressible pain in words and symbols. That’s why I started trying to alleviate my despair.”

The older of the two children, Doris Muriel Isaac born in manhattan July 12, 1918. Her father sold men’s clothing, Her mother is a housewife.

According to biographical information from the New York Public Library, which has her file, Ms. Glennbach excelled in the classroom, skipping grades and entering high school at age 11, before losing confidence, stuttering and taking a year off. By the time she graduated from Manhattan Public Girls’ School, she said, she “had accumulated the highest total number of unexplained absences on record at Julia Richman High School.”

Ms. Glennbach received a BA in Philosophy from New York University in 1939 and an MA in Medieval Literature from Cornell University in 1940. The following year, she married Leonard Grunbach, a fellow Cornell University student who was working on a Ph.D. in neurophysiology.

They moved to New York, where Ms. Glennbach wrote subtitles for Hollywood films that were distributed overseas and served as a proofreader for Mademoiselle magazine. As part of her work, she wrote captions for lingerie photos. She was fired after announcing that the belt would “make you look really incredible”.

During World War II, Ms. Glennbach served as an officer in WAVES (Women’s Branch of the Naval Reserve). She and her husband later settled in the Albany, NY area, where he taught at a medical school, she taught English at a girls’ preparatory school, and then at St. Rose’s College, a Catholic school.

She grew up in a largely unruly Jewish family and became a Catholic in the late 1940s. Before adopting “secular spirituality,” her daughter said, she wrote her first essay for Catholic publications as part of a religious journey she documented in her memoirs, including “The Presence of Absence” (1998). ).

Ms. Grumbach’s biography of McCarthy, “The Company She Kept” (1967), first attracted attention, in part from an interview she conducted with the author at McCarthy’s home in Paris. The book argues that McCarthy’s novel is essentially autobiographical — a premise that infuriated the subject, who saw the kitchen and threatened to sue Ms. Glennbach until she agreed to “minor deletions, some revisions, a little paraphrase here and there. ”, according to an article written by Ms. Grumbach for The New York Times.

Ms. Glennbach’s marriage ended in divorce in 1972, and she moved with Parker to Washington and taught at American University. She and her partner started the Wayward Bookstore in the basement of their home in the Barnaby Woods neighborhood, and later moved the store to a two-story building near the East Market despite the objections of friends who insist people on Capitol Hill never read. building in the building. The store sells used and “moderately rare” books, including a large selection of feminist, LGBTQ, and African-American literature.

In 1990, Ms. Glennbach and Pike packed up the bookstore—and their own personal library, which included a 16-volume Oxford English Dictionary—to a house overlooking the bay in Sargentville, Maine where they ran the bookstore until retiring to Pennsylvania in 2008.

Ms. Glennbach’s other books include “Fifty Days of Silence” (1994), about her attempt to live a lonely life, and “Life in a Day” (1996), about the events of a day at age 77 that she won Lambda Literary Award. In 2000, she received the Publishing Triangle’s Bill Whitehead Award, a lifetime achievement honor for LGBTQ writers.

Her daughter Jane Emerson died in 2011 and Pike in 2021. In addition to her daughter, Barbara Wheeler, survivors include two other daughters, Elizabeth Kyle and Katherine Grenbach-Jalovsky; Pike’s four children, Christopher Pike, Susan Pike, Carol Ann Pike Kostecki and Mary Pike Azam; three grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Ms. Glennbach has worked on several unfinished projects over the years, including a biography of author Willa Cather, and said she had little interest in published publications.

“What I care about is the time and thought it takes to make a book,” she told Publishers Weekly in 1991. She added: “You do what you want and do what you can. If it works, then you celebrate with it, and if it doesn’t — well, you didn’t waste your life.”

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: