Louise Murphy (1943-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Work in Progress, Sidelights
Born 1943, in Bowling Green, KY; companion of Gary Crumback (a software engineer); Ethnicity: "Scottish/Irish/German." Education: University of Kentucky, B.A., 1964; San Francisco State University, M.A., 1977. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Episcopalian. Hobbies and other interests: Playing the flute, opera, classical music.
Agent—Elizabeth Winick, McIntosh & Otis, 353 Lexington Ave., New York, NY 10016.
Educator, poet, and fiction writer. English teacher in Newark, DE, junior high school, 1966-68; San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA, instructor, 1977-82; Acalanes Adult Education, Lafayette, CA, teacher of novel writing, 1986-91.
Writers Digest award for poetry; Shaunt Basmajian Award for chapbook, 2003.
The Sea Within (novel), Putnam (New York, NY), 1985.
My Garden: A Journal for Gardening around the Year (for children), illustrated by Lisa C. Ernst, Scribner's (New York, NY), 1980.
Pilgrimage (poetry), Micro Prose (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2003.
The True Story of Hansel and Gretel: A Novel of War and Survival, Penguin (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor of poetry and essays to numerous journals and other periodicals.
Author's works have been translated into Portuguese and Turkish.
Work in Progress
Love Stories, a novel set in California in 1984.
In addition to writing poetry and fiction for adults, California-based author Louise Murphy has penned several works for younger readers. Her 2003 novel, The True Story of Hansel and Gretel: A Novel of War and Survival, captured the attention of both adult and young-adult readers in its gripping retelling of a well-known fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, which Murphy mixes with the history of the Holocaust and transforms into what Library Journal contributor Edward Cone described as "a page turner as well as a moving testament to the human will to do good and survive despite all odds."
As The True Story of Hansel and Gretel opens, readers are drawn back in time to the Bialowieza Forest of Eastern Poland and the winter of 1943. Two children are brought to the edge of a forest by their mother and stepfather, where it is explained to them that they must hide in the forest and if found, must go by the proper German names Hansel and Gretel, never revealing their Jewish heritage. So abandoned, the children go in search of food and shelter, Hansel leaving a trail of bread crumbs so their father can find them. They are soon taken in by a free-spirited woman named Magda, who locals believe to be a witch due to her knowledge of herbal healing. Realizing that the children are in danger from the Nazis occupying the area, Magda helps Hansel and Gretel avoid capture, at risk of her own life.
Meanwhile, the children's parents join a partisan force in their efforts to undermine the efforts of the German SS to round up and exterminate the region's Jewish population. The stepfather especially is haunted by fear for the children's safety while he suffers the brutality of both the invading force and the winter. The story of the two children and their parents is framed against the struggle of other Jews hiding in the forests, the conflicts faced by Poles living in town who are sometimes forced to comply with the immoral demands of their Nazi occupiers, and Magda, whose brother and other relatives also experience World War II in unique ways. Murphy explained the history underlying her story in an interview posted on the Penguin Putnam Web site: "Poland was called 'the anvil of the devil' during the war. The German master plan was to kill all the Jews, Gypsies, dissidents and leaders in Poland, then starve off the old and the very young, leaving a work force to build cities for the new German world order. Children who looked Aryan[—fair of complexion like German children—]must be kidnapped and 'saved,' because the Germans did not have enough population for their grandiose scheme. At the end of the building, all the remaining Polish workers would be killed in the camps. Setting a novel in this place allowed me to show the horrors of war against children and civilians and put my characters in situations where they had to make hard decisions daily."
The True Story of Hansel and Gretel, which was based on Murphy's three years of research, has been praised due to its unique perspective on the Holocaust. "Focusing on this microcosm of the war, Murphy brings its horrors to the reader in a persona and human way," noted Kliatt contributor Nola Theiss, while Mark Harris called the transformation of a classic fairy story into a "parable of survival" an "intriguing idea" in his Entertainment Weekly review of the novel. "The Grimms' story is always there like a dark shadow intensifying the drama," noted Booklist contributor Hazel Rochman, while a Kirkus Reviews writer praised the plot as the traditional tale "darkly reimagined." "Murphy's crisp prose renders the war's terrors memorably," the Kirkus Reviews critic added, "and she makes expert use of indigenous folklore and superstition."
"I began writing when I was five," Murphy recalled to Something about the Author. "I wrote because of the joy of holding in my hand something that I had made, something that could never disappear again the way all my thoughts did. I think I write as a way of trying to figure out life and the way that people behave. Creating characters sometimes causes me to write scenes that I didn't know how to write, to write about events that are totally unlike the events of my own life. It allows me to live as a man and a woman, as a Polish peasant, as a Russian soldier, as a Jewish child. It lets me be all the people that I can never be in real life.
"I have read so much during my life that it is hard to say what books influenced me the most. I have been passionately in love with the writing of Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Colette, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, and E. M. Forster. Thank goodness, writers keep writing good novels and poetry, and that I can keep on reading new works. I see all writers as people who make things, like carpenters or quilt makers or bakers. I think that to make something is very sacred, because it is imitating God in a limited, human way.
"I always tell my writing students to read and read everything. Read like eating at a great feast. And it is important to stay curious and hungry. Go places you think you won't like. Look at life around you. Surprise yourself. Keep studying new things and study the old things in new ways, and don't think of writing as something you do in your head. Writing is very physical. It is like skiing. You don't just talk about doing it or daydream about doing it. You sit down with pen and paper or computer and begin moving your hands to make words. Just sitting and doing this physical thing can cure a lot of 'writer's block' the way that just thinking about writing can never do."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, June 1, 2003, Hazel Rochman, review of The True Story of Hansel and Gretel, p. 1744.
Entertainment Weekly, August 1, 2003, Mark Harris, review of The True Story of Hansel and Gretel, p. 83.
Horn Book, October, 1980, Virginia Haviland, review of My Garden, p. 538.
Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2003, review of The True Story of Hansel and Gretel, p. 775.
Kliatt, November, 2003, Nola Theiss, review of The True Story of Hansel and Gretel, p. 18.
Library Journal, May 1, 1985, Marion Hanscom, review of The Sea Within, p. 79; July, 2003, Edward Cone, review of The True Story of Hansel and Gretel, p. 124.
Los Angeles Times, August 18, 1985, Wanda Urbanska, review of The Sea Within, p. 4.
New York Times Book Review, April 21, 1985, Anne Bernays, review of The Sea Within, p. 20; August 10, 2003, Neil Gordon, review of The True Story of Hansel and Gretel, p. 17.
Publishers Weekly, March 8, 1985, review of The Sea Within, p. 86; May 12, 2003, review of The True Story of Hansel and Gretel, p. 39.
School Library Journal, November, 1980, Barbara Hawkins, review of My Garden, p. 78.
Penguin Putnam Web site, http://www.penguinputnam.com/ (October 22, 2004), "Reading Guide: The True Story of Hansel and Gretel."*
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