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Daniel Stern Biography

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Nationality: American. Born: New York, 1928. Education: Columbia University, The New School for Social Research, Julliard School of Music. Military Service: United States Army Infantry, 1946-47: staff sergeant. Career: Senior vice-president, managing director, McCann-Erickson, Advertising, 1964-69; vice-president advertising and publicity, Warner Bros. Motion Pictures, 1969-71; vice-president east coast, CBS Entertainment, 1979-86; director of humanities, 92nd Street Y, New York, 1986-88; president, Entertainment Division, McCaffrey & McCall, Advertising, 1989; professor of English, University of Houston, 1992-93. Since 1993 Cullen Distinguished Professor of English, University of Houston. Fellow, 1969, Boynton Professor in Creative Writing, 1975, visiting professor in letters and English, 1976-78, all Wesleyan University; visiting professor of creative writing, New York University Film School, 1981; Dyson Memorial Lecturer in the Humanities, Pace University, 1982 and 1984; literary director, Institute for Advanced Theatre Training and American Repertory Theatre, Harvard University, 1992. Awards: International Prix du Souvenir, 1978, for Who Shall Live, Who Shall Die; O. Henry prize, 1993, and Pushcart prize, 1993, both for "A Hunger Artist by Franz Kafka"; City of Houston Recognition award for academic and literary distinction, 1993; Brazos prize for best short story, Texas Institute of Letters, 1996. . Agent: Borchardt Agency, 136 E. 57th St., New York, New York 10022, U.S.A.

PUBLICATIONS

Novels

The Girl with the Glass Heart. New York, Bobbs Merrill, 1957.

The Guests of Fame. New York, Ballantine, 1958.

Miss America. New York, Random House, 1959.

Who Shall Live, Who Shall Die. New York, Crown, 1963.

After the War. New York, Putnam, 1965.

The Suicide Academy. New York, McGraw Hill, and London, Allen, 1968.

The Rose Rabbi. New York, McGraw Hill, 1971.

Final Cut. New York, Viking, 1975.

An Urban Affair. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1980.

Short Stories

Twice Told Tales. N.p., Paris Review Editions, 1989.

Twice Upon a Time. New York, Norton, 1992.

One Day's Perfect Weather: More Twice Told Tales. Dallas, Southern Methodist University Press, 1999.

Uncollected Short Stories

"The Oven Bird by Robert Frost: A Story," in Paris Review, Spring1995.

"Grievances and Griefs by Robert Frost: A Story," in Boulevard, Spring 1995.

"Comfort," in American Short Fiction, Spring 1995.

Plays

The Television Waiting Room. In Playwrights Horizons, 1987.

* * *

"All men are artists. After all, they have their lives." In just this way Daniel Stern opens his novel The Rose Rabbi, with an epigram that also serves as the story's thematic center, a terse, cryptic anchorhold that alone will finally make sense of the swirl of events that come to occupy Wolf Walker in the course of a day. Yet the epigram as thematic center is characteristic throughout Stern's fiction, revealing a central thesis at work in his aesthetic, whatever the story: life is always a problem in art. Whether it be art as the cinema (Final Cut), or the more practical sphere of urban planning (An Urban Affair), or art as theater (Who Shall Live, Who Shall Die), or art as language (After the War, The Suicide Academy, and The Rose Rabbi), for Daniel Stern art as form is elemental, imposed on a world otherwise chaotic without it, a form that molds and makes sense finally of lives and predicaments, and renders what is the ultimate concern of all Stern's fiction: redemption.

Fundamental to Stern's narrative approach in shaping the crises of his characters—crises that demand answers if life is to be lived at all in a world otherwise irrational and chaotic—is his concern with memory, and its function in time as a paradoxical force of both continuity and discontinuity. The paradox is detailed as a push and pull of what is past, impossible except as memory, and what is the present, equally impossible without some meaning rendered it by the past. We see this in After the War with especial clarity, where the protagonist, Richard Stone, back in New York after service in World War II, tries to live a life entirely in the present, a life of what he calls "disconnectedness," trying to escape memory, yet unable to escape the reality of a father who deserted him as a child. He tries to make sense of what happened to his close friend Jake, blown apart on the Italian front, the "brute fact," the "thingness" of Jake's dismembered body, evoking as it does the disconnectedness of Stone's present life as also "brute fact." The crisis that overcomes Richard Stone is thus life as aftermath, and how to live it.

Echoing the resolution finally achieved in After the War, Stern follows with two novels in the surrealist vein that take the matter further by illustrating the idea we can even create in the present the memory needed for just the necessary sense of making life as aftermath something purposeful. Thus the Wolf Walker of The Rose Rabbi can say on the occasion of his fortieth birthday, an occasion that propels the novel into action, that he was "eager to escape backward again, to be off to invent a past for the present." And he adds: "First, to invent myself, and then a locale." And in The Suicide Academy it is a dream of the other Wolf Walker which opens and propels that novel into action, of his former wife Jewel singing "Aprés un rève" by Fauré, and in particular the repetition of her singing " reviens, reviens. " It is a matter addressed still further, and in an entirely fresh way, by Stern's more recent venture into short fiction: Twice Told Tales and Twice Upon a Time. The magic and tension of "twice" designates every story a return, a mirror in aftermath of the story behind it and recreating it.

Yet nowhere does Stern achieve this vision more dramatically than in the dark, haunted pages of Who Shall Live, Who Shall Die. Nowhere is aftermath a more profound and oppressive entity, yet also an ultimate ground for choice, than in this story of two men, Judah Kramer and Carl Walkowitz, protagonist and antagonist, who survive the Holocaust and meet years later, becoming colleagues and yet at odds in the preparation of a Broadway play, At the Gates, directed by Kramer and set in a Nazi death camp much like that which the two men had known. But Kramer, to save his own family, had been responsible for the death of Walkowitz's family in that camp. It is evidence of the particularly close ties between this novel and the one that follows, After the War, that, as different as they are in many respects, the signal question which defines and drives the narrative of After the War, "Who will tell us how to lead our lives?," is the essential question of the earlier novel. And that the solution each man seeks to realize is finally enacted on a stage, with all the props of a concentration camp in place, and with all that is memory of the real camp years earlier impinging upon the moment as these two men face off, is a tour de force, and elevates Who Shall Live, Who Shall Die to a rare achievement in American letters.

—Eric Muirhead

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