Professional, short version
Erika Dreifus is the author of Quiet Americans, a short-story collection that is largely inspired by the histories and experiences of her paternal grandparents, German Jews who escaped Nazi persecution and immigrated to the United States in the late 1930s. Erika earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from Harvard University, where she taught history, literature, and writing for several years. Currently, she lives in New York City, where she works as Media Editor for Fig Tree Books.
Chatty, long version
I was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and lived there until I was nine, when our family moved to a New Jersey suburb. I received my bachelor’s degree from Harvard College, where I majored in Modern European (primarily French and British) History and Literature, studied nonfiction writing with Verlyn Klinkenborg and Richard Marius, and held a term-time job in the undergraduate admissions office. I still consider passing the Harvard swim test to be one of my greatest undergraduate achievements, followed closely by my participation in intramural crew (for which I had to take the test in the first place) and the associated early morning wakeups to row on the Charles River before breakfast.
After college, I moved to Washington, D.C., where I worked for the Federal government and sustained my literary interests by taking workshops at The Writer’s Center (Bethesda, Md.), continuing to study French at Georgetown University, and participating in two excellent book clubs.
Soon enough, I returned to Massachusetts, where I earned a master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and then embarked on a doctoral degree in history, also at Harvard. My doctoral dissertation, “Double Games and Golden Prisons: Vichy, Washington, and Diplomatic Internment During World War II,” examined some little-known aspects of Franco-American diplomacy during the Second World War. I received my Ph.D. in 1999, by which time I’d also taken countless writing workshops at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, and the Harvard Extension School. I’d had the additional good fortune of joining an outstanding writing group. Along the way, I managed to acquire a few freelance credits, publishing essays and reviews with the Boston Book Review, the Boston Globe, Hadassah, and others.
By 2001, when an agent agreed to represent my first novel, I had developed enough of a writerly identity to want to seek an M.F.A. degree. Having already earned (more than) my share of “traditional” degrees and happy enough with my teaching gigs at the time—a lectureship back in my old Harvard History and Literature home and adjunct positions at the Harvard Extension School and the Cambridge Center for Adult Education—I decided that the low-residency route made the most sense for me. I joined the inaugural fiction cohort at Queens University of Charlotte, where I received the M.F.A. in 2003.
Life has taken some unexpected turns since then. My first novel never sold. My lectureship ended, and I wasn’t certain what might follow it. I remained in the Boston area for a few years, freelancing and adjuncting. I was especially fortunate to work with students in Lesley University’s low-residency MFA program in creative writing, where I led online courses in book reviewing, and to begin publishing articles and reviews in The Writer magazine, where I was eventually named contributing editor. In 2004, I launched a free monthly newsletter, The Practicing Writer, which focuses on the craft and business of writing fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction.
In early 2007, I moved to New York City to assume a full-time, writing-intensive job at The City University of New York (CUNY; alma mater to both of my parents). I also began studying poetry, mainly via online courses, and am very pleased to have integrated poetry-writing into my formerly all-prose practice. Among the newer publications and websites I began writing for is Fiction Writers Review, where I was named a contributing editor in late 2010. I continued freelancing, especially as a book reviewer.
My story collection, Quiet Americans, was published by Last Light Studio in early 2011. The book features stories that have appeared in J Journal: New Writing on Justice, Mississippi Review Online, and TriQuarterly, among others. Work in the collection has won the David Dornstein Memorial Creative Writing Contest (for writing on Jewish themes), received a Pushcart special mention (two nominations), and earned honorable mentions in several other competitions; the published book was named a 2012 American Library Association/Sophie Brody Medal Honor Title for outstanding achievement in Jewish literature. Quiet Americans is largely inspired by the experiences and stories of my paternal grandparents, German Jews who immigrated to the United States in the late 1930s, and by my own identity as a member of the “third generation.” A portion of the proceeds from sales of Quiet Americans is being donated to The Blue Card, whose mission is to assist Jewish survivors of Nazi persecution and their families who are in need in the United States, and on whose board my sister serves.
During the summer of 2014, I bade farewell to my colleagues at The City University of New York and joined the staff of Fig Tree Books, where I am Media Editor.