Ayelet Waldman

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Ayelet Waldman
Born (1964-12-11) December 11, 1964 (age 50)
Jerusalem
Language English
Nationality Israeli / American
Ethnicity Jewish
Education Wesleyan University
Harvard Law School
Notable works Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, Bad Mother: A Chronicle...
Spouse Michael Chabon
Website
www.ayeletwaldman.com

Ayelet Waldman (born December 11, 1964) is a novelist and essayist who was formerly a lawyer. She is noted for her self-revelatory essays, and for her writing (both fiction and non-fiction) about the changing expectations of motherhood. She has written extensively about juggling the demands of children, partners, career and society, in particular about combining paid work with modern motherhood, and about the ensuing maternal ambivalence.

Waldman is the author of seven mystery novels in the series The Mommy-Track Mysteries and has published three novels of general interest, Daughter's Keeper (2003), Love and Other Impossible Pursuits (2006) and Red Hook Road (2010), as well as a collection of personal essays entitled Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace (2009). A graduate of Wesleyan University (1986) and Harvard Law School (1991), Waldman spent three years working as a federal public defender and in all her fiction she has drawn extensively on her legal education and career as a lawyer.

Personal[edit]

Early life[edit]

Waldman's grandparents on both sides moved to North America from Ukraine early in the 20th century.[1] Her father, Leonard, now a retired fund-raiser, was from Montreal, Canada, but living in Israel when he met her mother, Ricki, a hospital administrator from Brooklyn. They married and moved to Jerusalem, where Waldman was born.[2] After the Six-Day War in 1967, when Waldman was two and a half, her family moved to Montreal, then Rhode Island,[3] finally settling in Ridgewood in northern New Jersey when Waldman was in sixth grade.[4] Waldman is the second-youngest of six children: she has a younger brother, Paul Waldman, who is a media analyst, as well as four older siblings from her father's first marriage.

Marriage and family[edit]

Waldman is married to the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon, whose novels include The Yiddish Policemen's Union, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and Wonder Boys. They met on a blind date when both were living in New York City. Waldman, never having read Chabon's work, promptly read his (then) two published works, A Model World and Other Stories and The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, which she described as "a short-story collection and a novel clearly written by a gay man."[5] They were engaged in three weeks and married a year later, in 1993.[3]

The couple work from the same office in the backyard of their home,[1] often discussing their work.[6] They edit each other's work:[7][8] Waldman having said "Nothing leaves the house that the other hasn't gone over with a fine-toothed comb."[9] They offer each other advice on plot and characters,[2] sometimes going on "plot walks" to discuss issues.[10] Waldman has said, "We bounce ideas back and forth daily"[11] and Chabon has said that they critique each other's work in a "creative freeflow."[12]

Waldman and Chabon currently live in a 1907 Craftsman house[13] in the Elmwood district of Berkeley, California,[13] with their four children, Sophie (b. 1994), Ezekiel "Zeke" Napoleon (b. 1997), Ida-Rose or "Rosie" (b. June 1, 2001), and Abraham "Abie" Wolf Waldman (b. March 31, 2003), and Fanny, the Bernese mountain dog.

Judaism[edit]

Waldman was raised in a Jewish family, attending Hebrew school and Jewish summer camps and living on a kibbutz in Israel for a year while in the tenth grade at high school. She has said that her parents were atheists, but very Jewish,[14] and that her "whole life was immersed in Judaism, but in a very specific kind of Labor–Zionist Judaism."[15] Despite this, she did not celebrate becoming a Bat Mitzvah.[1]

Waldman's family are now members of a Jewish Renewal community.[16] She says that she is not religious but "Judaism permeates my life."[17] Many of her characters in her fiction are Jewish,[18] and her latest novel, Love and Treasure, is about the Holocaust.[1]

Illness[edit]

Waldman has written several times about her 2002 diagnosis of bipolar disorder, a disease that runs in her family,[19] and has spoken publicly on parenting while having a mental illness.[20] She has said, "When I write about being bipolar, I feel queasy and ashamed, but I also feel really strongly that I shouldn't feel this way, that this is a disease, like diabetes."[10] She has commented that her illness may be the reason she has been accused of sharing too much private information in her non-fiction,[6][21][22] but has also said that bipolar disorder has advantages.[23] She has said, "The upside of being bipolar is that it makes you really productive,"[8] citing one year in which she wrote three mystery novels in seven months.[24][10]

Education[edit]

Waldman attended George Washington Junior High in Ridgewood, New Jersey, and Ridgewood High School, from which she graduated in 1982. She attended Wesleyan University, where she studied psychology and government and did her junior year abroad in Israel, graduating in 1986. She returned to Israel after college, to live on a kibbutz, but found it unsatisfying.[15] She decided to go to law school because she had a boyfriend at the time who was “purely unemployable”.[7] She has said that she really wanted to be an actress,[17] but felt she was too short, so criminal defense work was the "perfect combination of theatrics and doing good."[3] Waldman entered Harvard Law School in 1988, where she was a classmate of future United States President Barack Obama. She graduated with a J.D. in 1991.

Legal career[edit]

After graduating from law school, Waldman clerked for a federal court judge. She worked in a large corporate law firm in New York for a year, then, with Chabon, moved to California, where she became a criminal defense lawyer. Waldman worked as a federal public defender for three years in the Central District of California, first in Orange County and then in Los Angeles.[3] Chabon mentioned on their first date that it was his intention to care for his children so his wife could pursue her career, which he did after the birth of their first and then second child.[25] She took some time off after the birth of her first child, returned to work, then tried juggling her legal work with mothering,[26] then left her job to be with her husband and child. This was short-lived.[5] She finally left her job after the birth of her second child, because of frustrations with the criminal justice system[3] and because she was envious of her husband's time with their children.[27]

Waldman worked as an Adjunct Professor at the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley from 1997 to 2003.[3] She taught classes on federal drug policy and the legal and social implications of the war on drugs.[28] She also worked as a consultant to the Drug Policy Alliance, a resource center advocating a drug policy based on harm reduction.[19]

Although Waldman still calls herself a lawyer on her tax returns,[13] she has said she will not be returning to the legal profession.[29]

In addition to writing some nonfiction on aspects of the criminal justice system, in all her fiction Waldman has drawn extensively on her legal education and career as a lawyer, whether in describing criminal investigations in her murder mysteries or highlighting anomalies in drug sentencing law and describing legal practice in her literary novels.

Fiction[edit]

Waldman has written often about how she found full-time parenting to be monotonous.[30] She started writing various online and print articles about mothering[26] while at home on maternity leave after the birth of her first child[10][31] and again after she left her job as a public defender.[2] She has at various times said that she chose to write because it was not as time-consuming a career as the law,[16] because it gave her something to do during naptimes,[32] to keep her entertained,[9] because she was starved of someone to laugh at her jokes[33] and because it gave her a way of putting off going back to work.[13]

While working as a university professor, Waldman attempted to research legal issues with a view to writing articles for legal journals and thus increasing her chances of a tenured job teaching law.[13] She has said that every time she tried to write those scholarly articles she became uninterested or intimidated,[34] so she began writing fiction instead.[35] Waldman has said that her fiction is all about being a bad mother.[34]

"Mommy-Track Mysteries"[edit]

Despite vowing at her wedding never to become a writer, in 1997 Waldman started writing mystery novels, thinking they would be "easy . . . light and fluffy."[8] At first she wrote in secret,[5] then with her husband's encouragement.[25] She has said that she chose mysteries because they are primarily about plot.[36] Waldman has said that her first mystery work, eventually published as Nursery Crimes, was her first attempt at creative writing,[9] describing it as her first piece of fiction "aside from my legal briefs."[13]

Waldman is the author of seven novels in a mystery series about the "part-time sleuth and full-time mother" Juliet Applebaum. Waldman has said of Juliet, "She is me, well, she was me,"[29] and "They say to write what you know . . . so I wrote exactly what I knew."[8] Like Waldman, Juliet is a 5-foot-tall (1.5 m), red-headed former public defender with a nocturnal writer for a husband, who has become a stay-at-home mother but finds it boring. To relieve her boredom, Juliet works as a part-time detective. The collective title of the series is The Mommy-Track Mysteries. Nursery Crimes (2000) took three years to write.[8] The other books in the series are The Big Nap (2001), Playdate with Death (2002), Death Gets a Time-Out (2003), Murder Plays House (2004), The Cradle Robbers (2005) and Bye-Bye, Black Sheep (2006). The novels are humorous and Waldman has said of her criminals, "My villains aren't villains. They're people whose crime you understand."[37] Waldman has previously said that Bye-Bye, Black Sheep is likely to be the last,[8] but her agent's website notes that she is working on more mysteries.[35] A TV series based on the mysteries is in development.[4]

Novels[edit]

In addition to her work in the mystery genre, Waldman has published three literary novels of general interest. Waldman has said that, after writing mystery novels, she wanted to "grow as a writer" and write more "serious fiction".[9] She has also said that after experiencing grief over the termination of a pregnancy, when an amniocentesis revealed a chromosomal defect,[38] she wanted to write more than "silly little mysteries."[25]

Maternal loss is a theme of all of her literary novels,[39] which Waldman considers stems from the loss of her unborn child. Maternal ambivalence is also a theme: Waldman has said, "I've always written about maternal ambivalence. It's the subject that consumes me."[9][10]

Daughter's Keeper, published in 2003, drew on Waldman's experience as a criminal defense lawyer, where the majority of her work involved defending people charged with drug offenses.[28] Her first manuscript for the novel was rejected thirty-one times.[9] It features a young woman, Olivia, who inadvertently becomes involved in the trafficking of drugs and then becomes pregnant and her relationship with her emotionally reserved mother, who has to accept her to help her. The book is also about the impact of federal drug policy, particularly mandatory minimum sentencing, on the criminal justice system.[13] The novel was inspired by a case Waldman worked on as a lawyer,[7] in which her innocent client was forced to settle a case.[3] Waldman has said "I set out to write this searing indictment of the war on drugs, and I wrote a novel about the ambivalence one feels when one is a mother. Go figure."[3] The book was critically acclaimed[40][41][42] and was a finalist for the 2003 Northern California book Award.[4] An excerpt can be read here.

Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, published in 2006, is about a Harvard-educated lawyer who is dealing with a precocious stepson and the loss of a newborn child to SIDS. She has said that she wanted to write about the loss of a child,[43] and that the impetus for delving into that grief was the loss of her unborn child diagnosed with a genetic abnormality.[18] The book also deals with how mothers criticize each other's mothering, a theme in Waldman's nonfiction too.[44] It also explores the feeling of not liking your child.[36] The novel was also reviewed well,[45][46][47][48][49] although some reviews were negative.[50] Don Roos has written and directed a film based on the novel,[51] which stars Natalie Portman, Lisa Kudrow and Scott Cohen. The film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in August 2009.[52]

Waldman's Red Hook Road, published in 2010, is about two bereaved families in a small village in Maine and the effect of a family tragedy and class differences on marriage, styles of motherhood (including the domineering), and family life. It is also about boxing and boat building. The novel was favorably reviewed[44][53][54][55][56]

Short stories[edit]

Waldman has contributed short stories to the anthologies McSweeney's Stories of Love and Neuroses (2003) and McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories (2004), the latter of which was edited by Michael Chabon. The short story "Minnow," which appeared in McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories, is about a woman who is haunted by her dead baby. Again, she regards this as related to the loss of her own child.[57] A horror film is being developed, based on the short story.[11]

Works in progress[edit]

Waldman has mentioned other novels that have not been finished. In 2003 she told an interviewer she was working on a novel called The Bloom Girls about her paternal grandmother and her six sisters who lived in Montreal in the 1920s.[3] In 2006 she said that she was working on a novel entitled Winter's End, inspired by the women who confronted her during her controversial appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show. She described such a woman as "the person who prepared herself so completely for a professional career, was single minded about it, then got married and had children and found herself with a totally different life,"[10] with her life going "to hell in a handbasket."[43] She has decided not to pursue either novel further, noting they were both about mothers of small children and it was time to move on.[25]

Nonfiction[edit]

Waldman, who has said "I think that I am an exhibitionist,"[7] has written many personal essays for online and print publications on a variety of topics, including aspects of motherhood, such as how women criticize each other's mothering (that is, the "mommy wars"),[58] combining paid work with motherhood,[30] and how the upbringing of those raised in a postfeminist era clashed with the reality of having to make professional sacrifices.[58] Her essays have also explored the sexuality of mothers[59] and of young people,[60] homework,[61] extended family life,[62] body image,[63] aging,[64] literary hoaxes,[65] and Jewish life.[66] Although most of her nonfiction is personal, she has also written on aspects of the criminal justice system.[67]

These essays have been published in a former regular column in Salon.com and in newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, The Guardian, The San Francisco Chronicle , Elle Magazine, Vogue, Allure, Cookie, Child, Parenting, Real Simple, and Health. Waldman has also recorded radio essays on All Things Considered, The California Report, and other radio programs.

Controversial essay about marriage[edit]

Waldman is noted for the controversy that followed the publication of her 2005 essay "Motherlove." The essay was first published in the anthology Because I Said So: 33 Mothers Write About Children, Sex, Men, Aging, Faith, Race and Themselves, where she thought it would have only a small readership.[33] However, it was reprinted in the Modern Love section of the New York Times in March 2005 under the headline "Truly, Madly, Guiltily." It can be read online here. The essay is ostensibly about how she is the only young mother she knows who is "getting any," but it explores Waldman's conviction that a woman should consider her spousal relationship more important than her relationships with her children and that a hierarchy of love is essential to a stable and healthy marriage. In the essay, Waldman famously wrote "I love my husband more than I love my children" and that she could survive the death of her children but not the death of her husband, and summarized her ideal family dynamic as follows: "He [husband Michael Chabon], and I, are the core of what he cherishes . . . the children are satellites, beloved but tangential."[59]

Waldman's essay led to extensive and vitriolic debate,[57][68] on television shows like The View,[69] on internet blogs,[6][70] in coffee shops, and elsewhere.[71] Some people even threatened to report Waldman to the Department of Social Services in relation to the perceived mistreatment of her family.[25] However, some of Waldman’s correspondents approved of her comments, regarding them as similar to the Biblical exhortation to "cleave unto your spouse".[11] Of the debate, Waldman has said "It sounds very naive to say I had no idea, but the real truth is I had no idea."[38]

Oprah Winfrey, who said she was "very brave" for speaking out,[7] invited Waldman onto her television show, to discuss her views on love, marriage, and motherhood.[10][72] Waldman reports that one woman in the (mostly hostile) audience leaped at her yelling "Let me at her."[11]

Michael Chabon revisited the controversy in an interview appearing in the January 2006 issue of Pages. He suggested that criticism from the "slagosphere" is responsible for suppressing the publication of challenging and thought-provoking writing.

Bad Mother collection[edit]

After Waldman complained about the response to her controversial essay, a friend (Daniel Handler) suggested she write a book about it.[25] In 2009, Waldman published a collection of her personal essays, Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace.[73]

The book argues that no woman can be a perfect mother,[16] that, in fact, competitive, neurotic parenting and having unrealistic expectations may be damaging to children.[74] Waldman contends that society (particularly women, in what she calls the "Bad Mother police") are too hard on other women’s parenting skills.[75] There is a strong theme of maternal ambivalence in the book; Waldman has said "If you give up this career that you've strived for your whole life, then what you've given it up for had damn well better be perfect."[3]

The book includes chapters on women's criticism of the mothering by other women, feminism, motherhood, and associated anxieties, including anxieties about breastfeeding, marriage, sexuality of mothers and teenagers, homework, mental illness, the loss of her unborn child, and her relationship with her mother-in-law. The book was a New York Times best-seller, and generally it received favorable reviews.[76][77][78][79][80][81][82][83]

Contributions to anthologies[edit]

Waldman has contributed nonfiction to several anthologies, including:

Blogs[edit]

For a short time in 2004 and 2005, Waldman wrote a controversial[82][83] blog under the title "Bad Mother."[84] Her topics included sexuality, gay rights, motherhood, and her bipolar disorder. She said “A blog like this is narcissism in its most obscene flowering. But it's necessary. As a parent your days are consumed by other people's needs. This is payback for driving back and forth to gymnastics all week long.”[85] On her reaction to the criticism that her blogging engendered, she has said "It's ridiculous to be so willing to expose myself and at the same time be so hypersensitive. Those are two contradictory impulses no one person should have."[7] After an incident where she hinted at suicidal thoughts,[45] she decided to discontinue the blog. Although she found it a therapeutic way to channel frustrations[14] – likening the experience to "slashing my wrists and haemorrhaging all over the computer screen"[86] – she found it was having a deleterious effect on her writing.[7]

Waldman blogged on the 2008 Democratic National Convention[87] and had a blog on her own website from 2008 to 2009 on a variety of subjects.[88]

Political activism[edit]

During the 2008 Presidential primaries and general election campaign, Waldman campaigned and raised funds in support of Barack Obama,[89] acting as a full-time volunteer, speaking at fundraisers;[90] she was appointed as a delegate to the 2008 Democratic National Convention.[87]

Works[edit]

"Mommy-Track" mystery novels[edit]

  • Nursery Crimes (2000)
  • The Big Nap (2001)
  • Playdate With Death (2002)
  • Death Gets a Time-Out (2003)
  • Murder Plays House (2004)
  • The Cradle Robbers (2005)
  • Bye-Bye, Black Sheep (2006)

Other novels[edit]

Nonfiction[edit]

  • Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace (2009)

References[edit]

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