Life is a 'fairy tale' for next UHV/ABR speaker

Feb. 14, 2011 at 4:05 p.m.
Updated Feb. 13, 2011 at 8:14 p.m.

Kate Bernheimer

Kate Bernheimer

Tucson-based writer Kate Bernheimer has lived her life much like the dreamy, mythical literature she reviews.

Bernheimer, founder and editor of the Fairy Tale Review journal, will bring her unique take on literature and its fairy tale influences during her talk Thursday as part of the University of Houston-Victoria/American Book Review Spring Reading Series.

The Boston-raised Bernheimer said she became fascinated by fairy tales as a child and rekindled her love for them in college. For her, they are a legitimate art form, far more valid than a popular stereotype of them as syrupy stories might suggest.

"I just fell in love with them as a child, starting with Disney movies and moving on from there into the classic collections," she said. "I love their themes of survival of the weak, of underdogs overcoming the strong. There is a political motif, both artful and clear, that I quite admire."

Bernheimer, who has written seven books and edited three anthologies, said the different forms of fairy tales taught her a lot about writing.

"Their form and philosophies really intrigued me," she said. "Their structure, the way they're shaped; they're rigid but wild at the same time. It's not anything goes, even though it can feel that way, but the elements are placed very carefully."

She said fairy tales, whether "Peter and the Wolf" or the Brothers Grimm, can be viewed as the foundation of most literature.

"Show me any poem, any short story, any play, and I can show you where the fairy tale is," she said.

Her love of fairy tales sprang somewhat from her heritage, which traces back to Latvia and Germany, and a growing knowledge of Eastern cultures.

"I heard a lot of Yiddish growing up, and the oral stories from that tradition and from around the world were truly enchanting to me," she said. "I have a Chinese-American daughter and have delved even more deeply, lately, into the Eastern tradition, as well. There is overlap in these stories from all over the world. They never run out, and there always seems to be a new tradition to explore and learn from."

The writer said she had an idyllic childhood growing up in Boston's outlying areas. Her grandfather was a promoter in Boston and got advance screenings of popular animated movies, feeding her interest in magical and other-worldly stories.

"I grew up on a wonderful dead-end street with woods and ponds, and I got to experience tadpoles and deer almost every day," she said. "It was not just a cookie-cutter suburb, but a wonderful place to explore and let my imagination go."

Bernheimer now lives in Tucson, Ariz., with her husband and daughter, and teaches half the year at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette as a writer-in-residence, leading a graduate fiction workshop each spring.

Her most recent book, "Horse, Flower, Bird," is a collection of short stories with illustrations.

"There are eight really spare tales that I wrote over a few years," she said. "It's my homage to children's books, even though the stories are not at all for children."

The final book in a trilogy about three sisters is almost out. "The Complete Tales of Lucy Gold" will be published by Fiction Collective Two, which is housed at UHV and specializes in innovative fiction. Bernheimer said the trilogy is about sisters, one sad, one mad and one happy, and can be read in any order.

"It's a lot about childhood reading and falling away from that, which so often happens," she said. "We grow up and lose that childhood wonder, which is tragic. These are not happy books, but they are childlike in a way."

Bernheimer also edited an anthology of 40 new fairy tales in "My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me," which has drawn praise from The Paris Review, National Public Radio and The New Yorker, to name a few. She hopes to finish a novel called "Bog" later this year.



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