Professional, short version
Erika Dreifus is the author of Birthright: Poems, published by Kelsay Books in fall 2019. She is also the author of Quiet Americans: Stories, 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. A fellow in the Sami Rohr Jewish Literary Institute and adjunct associate professor at Baruch College of The City University of New York, she writes and lectures widely. Erika is also the publisher-editor of The Practicing Writer, a free (and popular) e-newsletter for writers of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. She lives in New York City.
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 about 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 became a 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, where, until mid-2014, I held a full-time, writing-intensive job at The City University of New York (alma mater to both of my parents). It was during this time that I began studying poetry, mainly via online courses. I also began to take advantage some of the rich and numerous Jewish-education opportunities available in the New York area.
My story collection, Quiet Americans, was published by Last Light Studio in early 2011. 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 continues to be 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.
From 2014-17, I was part of the team at a start-up publishing company; in 2017, I began offering my own literary consulting and independent book-publicity services.
In winter 2019, I accepted a publishing offer from Kelsay Books for my first full-length poetry manuscript: Birthright was published that fall 2019. A portion of royalties earned from this book is being donated to Sefaria, “a free living library of Jewish texts and their interconnections, in Hebrew and in translation,” which I turned to often as I worked on poems included in the book.
As of fall 2019, I’ve curtailed the literary consulting and publicity work as I’ve returned to classroom teaching at Baruch College/CUNY.
The writing, however, continues.