What story or book do you feel closest to?
I’ve been rereading Betty Smith’s 1943 novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, at least once or twice a year since I was a child. It was a favorite of my mom’s when she growing up, and she gave me my first copy. I was captivated by the extended Nolan-Rommely family, and I identified with the protagonist Francie Nolan’s love for reading and writerly ambitions. Plus, Francie and I shared the status of being Brooklyn-born, second-generation Americans. And, ultimately, both Francie and I left Brooklyn. I suppose that in Francie, I discovered one of my first literary kindred spirits.
How do you stay creative? How do you get past blocks or plateaus?
Some time back, I wrote an article that highlights the usefulness of prompts and exercises. I certainly find those tools helpful. I’ve discovered, too, that my mind tends to roam a little more freely and creatively when I’m walking or jogging, so I try to adhere to some semblance of an exercise routine.
Do certain themes emerge in your work, ideas and topics that seem to keep coming back to you in different forms?
Absolutely. The life stories and experiences of my German-Jewish grandparents, which are integral to my story collection, Quiet Americans, have shown up as well in some of my poems and essays, as well as in an unpublished novel. On a broader level, I’d say that memory, family history (my own or my characters’), History (with a capital “H”), and various matters relating to Judaism/Jewishness are embedded in a considerable chunk of my work. That includes book reviews. I suppose that I’m as drawn to reading about these issues as I am to writing about them.
How does your academic training as an historian influence your writing?
For starters, I’m not afraid of research. That’s a plus, as are the many opportunities that I’ve had to mine archives and libraries for material. I’ve also had the great good fortune to study with some scholars who are also gifted writers. On the other hand, not everyone is a fan of the footnote, and sometimes, the practiced focus on “what really happened” can get in the way of the creative leaps that are so essential to imaginative writing.
What are you working on right now?
Right now (summer 2019), I’m preparing to return to undergraduate teaching. I’m creating a new course on “21st-Century Jewish Literature,” which is both overwhelming and extraordinarily exciting. I’m also preparing to launch my debut poetry collection, Birthright, which will be out in November. I have a number of smaller writing projects in the works; on a more ambitious level, my next goal is to become more knowledgeable about and skilled in writing nonfiction for young people.
Where would you like to live if you could choose?
Given that most of my extended family are here in the New York area, I think I’ll be staying right where I am for the foreseeable future. But I’ve always loved the time I’ve spent in Paris, and I hope to one day spend an extended period in Israel, too.
NB: Questions shamelessly “borrowed” or adapted from the Fictionaut Five series. If you/your publication would like to interview Erika Dreifus, please use this contact form to introduce yourself. Thanks for reading!