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Francine Prose (1947-) Biography - Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights

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Born 1947, in Brooklyn, NY; Education: Radcliffe College, B.A., 1968; Harvard University, M.A., 1969. Religion: Jewish.

Agent—Georges Borchardt, Georges Borchardt, Inc., 136 East 57th St., New York, NY 10022.

Writer and book reviewer. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, teacher of creative writing, 1971-72; University of Arizona, Tucson, visiting lecturer in fiction, 1982-84; Warren Wilson College, Swannanoa, NC, member of faculty in master of fine arts program, beginning 1984. Instructor at Breadloaf Writers Conference, summer, 1984; has also taught at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, the Sewanee Writers' Conference, and Johns Hopkins University.

PEN, Associated Writing Programs.

Jewish Book Council Award, 1973, for Judah the Pious; MLLE Award, Mademoiselle, 1975; Edgar Lewis Wallant Memorial Award, Hartford Jewish Community Center, 1984, for Hungry Hearts; finalist, National Book Award, 2000, for Blue Angel.


Stories from Our Living Past (Jewish tales; includes teacher's guide), illustrated by Erika Weihs, Behrman (New York, NY), 1974.

Dybbuk: A Story Made in Heaven, illustrated by Mark Podwal, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1996.

(Reteller) The Angel's Mistake: Stories of Chelm (folklore), illustrated by Mark Podwal, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1997.

Francine Prose

You Never Know: A Legend of the Lamed-Vavniks (folklore), illustrated by Mark Podwal, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1998.

The Demon's Mistake: A Story from Chelm (folklore), illustrated by Mark Podwal, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2000.

Leopold, the Liar of Leipzig, illustrated by Einav Aviram, Joanna Cotler Books (New York, NY), in press.


Judah the Pious, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1973.

The Glorious Ones, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1974.

Marie Laveau, Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1977.

Animal Magnetism, Putnam (New York, NY), 1978.

Household Saints, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1981.

Hungry Hearts, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1983.

Bigfoot Dreams, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1986.

Women and Children First (short stories), Pantheon (New York, NY), 1988.

Primitive People, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1992.

The Peaceable Kingdom (short stories), Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1993.

Hunters and Gatherers, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1995.

Guided Tours of Hell (novellas), Holt (New York, NY), 1997.

Blue Angel, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.

Household Saints, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.


(With others) On Writing Short Stories, edited by Tom Bailey, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2000.

The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women and the Artists They Inspired, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.

Sicilian Odyssey, National Geographic Society (Washington, DC), 2003.

Gluttony: The Seven Deadly Sins, New York Public Library (New York, NY), 2003.

(Editor) The Mrs. Dalloway Reader, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2003.


(With Madeline Levine) Ida Fink, A Scrap of Time: And Other Stories, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1987.

(With Joanna Weschler) Ida Fink, The Journey, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1992.

Carter Wilson, A Green Tree and a Dry Tree (fiction), University of New Mexico Press (Albuquerque, NM), 1995.

(With Philip Boehm) Ida Fink, Traces: Short Stories, Metropolitan Books (New York, NY), 1997.


After (young adult novel), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.

Contributor of fiction and articles to periodicals, including Mademoiselle, Redbook, Harper's Bazaar, Glamour, New York Times Magazine, Atlantic, Village Voice, Elle, O, Redbook, Real Simple, Victoria, and Commentary. Contributor of essay to Elizabeth Murray: Paintings, 1999-2003: March 7-April 19, 2003, PaceWildenstein (New York, NY), 2003.

Francine Prose has enjoyed a long and accomplished career as an author of unique novels and short stories for adults and also for children, works of fiction that blend elements of the real with the fantastic. She published her first novel, Judah the Pious, when she was in her twenties, and many critics praised it as a work beyond its author's years. The story is about an eighteenth-century rabbi who teaches the King of Poland that there are some things in the world that defy ordinary reason. In this book, Prose first demonstrates techniques, themes, and writing styles that appear throughout her body of work. Her deceptively simple style and fanciful subject matter lend themselves well to her later children's stories.

Prose has added elements of the fanciful, allegorical, or magical to nearly every book she has written, whether it is the voodoo conjured by title character Marie Laveau in the novel set in nineteenth-century New Orleans, the strange belief in a "universal fluid" that connects all creatures and can do almost anything in Animal Magnetism, or the confusion between appearances and reality and elements of spirituality in Hungry Hearts. Some of these books, such as Hungry Hearts and Judah the Pious, have Jewish characters, but most of Prose's adult titles cover a diverse range of people, including seventeenth-century Italian actors in The Glorious Ones, the half-Black title character in Marie Laveau, or the modern-day tabloid journalist in Bigfoot Dreams.

While Prose's adult works have touched on various subjects, her fiction for children, which she began writing in earnest in the mid-1990s, all has a basis in Jewish folklore. Her first children's book, Stories from Our Living Past, is a collection of Jewish tales published only a year after her debut novel. With her second work for a younger audience, however, Prose took liberties with tradition for the sake of the story.

In Dybbuk: A Story Made in Heaven, the author combines the Jewish legend, about how angels in heaven match lovers before they are born, with the folklore story of the supernatural dybbuk. Leah and Chonon are two youngsters from nearby shtetls who fall in love, but Leah's parents want her to marry Benya, an old, mean man who is rich. Just when she is about to be forced to marry Benya, Leah begins to talk and sneeze the same way that Chonon does. The rabbi declares that she is possessed by Chonon's dybbuk, and nothing can be done to help her until the two lovers are allowed to wed. Reviewers such as Hazel Rochman of Booklist found the story "wonderfully theatrical; there's no way to read this without acting the parts and laughing out loud." Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books commentator Betsy Hearne wrote: "It's fun and it's funny—one of those picture books which, by staying true to an ethnic tradition, reaches beyond it as well."

In the role of reteller in The Angel's Mistake: Stories of Chelm, Prose presents the Jewish legend of a town inhabited entirely by foolish people. The founders of Chelm, the legend goes, arrived on Earth when two angels accidentally dropped a bag of foolish souls and they all ended up in one spot instead of scattered through the world as intended. The townspeople do such ridiculous things as wear their hats upside down to keep them dry and carry a huge rock up a mountain to let it roll down because that is supposedly easier than carrying it to its original destination. The villagers burn the town down after lighting a fire that goes out of control when the firemen try to smother it with wooden logs, and the fools finally scatter across the countryside as the angels had first planned. Hannah B. Zeiger, writing in Horn Book, called Prose's retelling "a pleasant addition to the many stories of Chelm." The author's matter-of-fact tone, which is characteristic of her adult fiction, makes the Chelmites' exploits all the more funny. As one Kirkus Reviews critic noted, Prose has created an "understated, humorous narrative. Families will find this a savory treat for sharing."

Prose continues to alternate between adult fiction and books on Jewish folklore for children, including the more recent You Never Know: A Legend of the Lamed-Vavniks. This story is about a simple cobbler, Poor Stupid Schmuel. Because of his habit of fixing shoes for free, he is thought by the town to be a fool. But when his successful prayers end both a drought and a flood, they realize that he is instead a Lamed-Vavnik, one of the thirty-six righteous men born in every generation. You Never Know was praised as "fresh and memorable" by a Publishers Weekly critic and as "an excellent read-aloud" by School Library Journal contributor Susan Scheps.

Prose branched out into the YA genre with After, a story about the lingering effects of a school shooting. After the shooting at Pleasant Valley High, nearby Central High is taken over by purported grief counselor Dr. Willner. But instead of providing counseling, Willner instead turns Central into a virtual prison. Protagonist Tom's friends are caught up in Willner's web of control, and some are sent away and never heard from again. Eventually, Tom learns that the repression at his school is only a small part of a wider plan: students all After shootings at another high school, a crisis counselor takes control of Central High; teachers and students who do not comply to the new security rules disappear. (Cover illustration by Jonathan Barkat.) across the country are being sent away to gulag-style camps as part of the so-called "Operation Turnaround." As Tom gains more knowledge of these events, he and his friend Becca fight against the evil administration and their brainwashed parents, risking their lives in the process. "Because the narrative is kept faithfully inside [Tom's] mind, readers are skillfully left just as unsettled, frightened, and confused as he is himself," commented a Kirkus Reviews critic.

After "raises all-too-relevant questions about the fine line between safety as a means of protection versus encroachment on individual rights and free will," noted a Publishers Weekly contributor. This was the point, as Prose explained in an interview for Publishers Weekly: "I'd been doing a lot of thinking about the new security measures . . . taken in schools since the Columbine shootings. I'd even heard that a hotline had been formed for students to report any kids acting 'weird' at their school. I mean really, don't all kids act weird in adolescence? The issue of security and the loss of civil liberties are suddenly so much in our culture, but no one's asking kids how they feel about it."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 45, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1987.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 234: American Short-Story Writers since World War II, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001.


Booklist, April 15, 1996, Hazel Rochman, review of Dybbuk: A Story Made in Heaven, p. 1444; June 1, 1998, Hazel Rochman, review of You Never Know: A Legend of the Lamed-Vavniks, p. 1774; August, 2000, Hazel Rochman, review of The Demons' Mistake: A Story from Chelm, p. 2144; June 1, 2003, Bill Ott, review of After, p. 1762.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, April, 1996, Betsy Hearne, review of Dybbuk, p. 276; July-August, 1997, p. 408.

Horn Book, July-August, 1997, Hanna B. Zeiger, review of The Angel's Mistake: Stories of Chelm, p. 468; July-August, 1998, Hanna B. Zeiger, review of You Never Know, p. 504; May-June, 2003, Roger Sutton, review of After, p. 357.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 1996, p. 379; April 15, 1997, review of The Angel's Mistake, p. 648; March 15, 2003, review of After, p. 476.

Knight Ridder/Tribune News Services, April 11, 2001, Marta Salij, interview with Prose, p. 4830.

Los Angeles Times, October 14, 2002, Susan Salter Reynolds, interview with Prose, p. E-11.

Nation, June 16, 2003, review of After, p. 41.

New York Times Book Review, October 18, 1998, Robin Tzannes, review of You Never Know, p. 31.

Publishers Weekly, February 12, 1996, review of Dybbuk, p. 71; April 28, 1997, review of The Angel's Mistake, p. 76; May 18, 1998, review of You Never Know, p. 79; August 28, 2000, review of The Demons' Mistake, p. 83; February 24, 2003, interview with Prose, p. 72, and review of After, p. 73.

School Library Journal, April, 1996, Marcia W. Posner, review of Dybbuk, pp. 127-128; August, 1998, Susan Scheps, review of You Never Know, p. 154; October, 2000, Teri Markson, review of The Demons' Mistake, p. 152; May, 2003, Vicki Reutter, review of After, p. 160.


Atlantic Unbound, http://www.theatlantic.com/(March 11, 1998), Katie Bolick, "As the World Thrums: A Conversation with Prose."

Barnes & Noble.com, http://www.barnesandnoble.com/ (November 6, 2003), Jamie Brenner, interview with Prose.

Bookreporter.com, http://www.bookreporter.com/(July 28, 2000), interview with Prose.*

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about 4 years ago

Lovers at the Chameleon Club is a wonderful book-- fantasy, invention, plain mad fun in every twist and turn of phrase. Love you, Ms Prose, you're driving me crazy, you must have been high on something!

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3 months ago

a new book by Lynn Assimacopoulos


After discovering my son’s friend Ryan, is searching for his birthparents, I consent to help, however cannot promise success. Using my adventures in genealogy, I delve through phone books, write letters and search everything from the local library to the National Archives in Washington, D. C. Feeling somewhat defeated by the lack of information to go on, suddenly a random search on an internet search engine for Ryan’s birthmother’s name yields a surprising photograph of a possible family. Could this be the first of several leads in this journey?
I am a retired Registered Nurse who has been writing since I was eight years old. I have written for professional Nursing journals and continue to write poetry and short stories. My book is a mysterious true story about beginning a fascinating but uncertain and sometimes tearful journey with unexpected twists and turns in many directions. Readers’ comments about my book have been that it is “highly engaging”, “an emotional roller coaster” and “reads like a private diary” as well as it “captures the reader.”

It is available from the following:

Dorrance Publishing, Inc. (in Pittsburgh, PA)
Barnes & Noble

(ISBN: 978-1-4809-1247-2)

P.S. Looking forward to reading your work!

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almost 3 years ago

Dear Madam, dear Sir,
I am a Dutch journalist and we publish an international e-magazine "Culture for Friends", which currently has 1 millions views: www.cultureforfriends.eu.
For our next edition I would like to interview Francine Prose by Skpye and write and interesting reportage for our reasders.
I look forward to hearing from you. JOS EVERS - Culture for Friends , the Netherlands. Could you bring me in contact with Mrs Prose?

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over 7 years ago

I just read Ms Prose's intro to the ML edition of "Cousin Bette" translated by Blake scholar Kathleen Raine (1908-2003). This short piece disappointed me because it belabors the obvious. I agree that "The Comedie Humaine" does certainly feature some ugly and selfish characers. And yes, Madame Hulot is one of Dr Phil's classic enablers. And yet she seems to be oblivious to Balzac's amazing historical sweep and Shakespearian power of development of plot situations-- though you do acknowledge the complex chararacterization along the way. As Georg Lukacs long ago pointed out, Balzac is one of the finest historical painters of the era of French society in its heyday of wild speculation and cycles of boom and bust. Balzac was himself, as you do indeed point out in this little piece, a victim of the get-rich-quick obsession which had infected a whole society. Balzac regarded the act of creation as a means of working through these compulsions. Between 1819 and 1829 Balzac had produced a mountain of worthless pulp fiction which was simply meant as a form of commodity exchange production because, like sir Walter Scott, he had run up vast debts through various failures and bankrupties. But starting with "the chouans" in 1829 Balzac became an artist who dealt in the hyper-real and the visionary. His characters and situations, as in the Lucien cycle ("Illusions Perdus" and "Spendeur et Misere de Courtesans"), have been called, by Baudelaire and others, "more real than real" or (I guess) hyper-real.

This introduction betrays a lack of familiarity with both Balzac and with French Restoration society. I suggest that Ms Prose reread Stendhal's "Rouge et le Noir" and "Leucien Leuwen" just to get a feel for the period. Also check out Balzac's forty page analysis of 'la Chatreuse de Parme' which Lukacs found to be a key to the comparison of the two great masters.


Stefano33 Hayyim Ha-Sittenreichi


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over 7 years ago

Just wondering if Francine wrote a book on Marie Laveau the voodoo queen of New Orleans, as I read it along time ago and wish to find a copy.do you know if it is still published?