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Alum Profile: Anna Solomon Greenbaum

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Anna Solomon Greenbaum ’90, author of the acclaimed novels, The Little Bride and Leaving Lucy Pear, always knew she wanted to write, though she wasn’t sure what form her writing would take. In fact, it was not until after college at Brown University that she began to write fiction seriously. It was then that she moved back home to Gloucester for a year to waitress and attend workshops at GrubStreet, a creative writing center in Boston.

Soon after, through family and friends, she snagged an internship with NPR’s Sandy Tolan who was doing a piece for the series, Living on Earth. Before long, Anna transitioned into a job on the show, becoming a radio producer for four years in Cambridge and then DC, covering environmental policy and politics in the nation’s capitol right before 9/11. “I learned a tremendous amount,” she recalls. “It was a great experience journalistically.” She also learned the old school editing skills of taping and cutting reel to reel. And she grew to love radio, a field she thinks she may return to one day, next time focusing more on what she describes as “long form narrative reporting and radio storytelling” rather than producing.

While working in Cambridge, Anna was feverishly writing fiction on the train ride back and forth from her home in Providence each day. “I was very committed to it, but couldn’t afford to just write fiction,” she says. It was not a viable career path at that point, so she felt lucky to have radio as something that she both enjoyed and that paid the bills. Her job security soon allowed Anna to consider graduate school. “I got to the point where I was established in radio enough so that I knew I could come back to it,” she says. “I was not attached, had no kids, and could go to grad school and have two years just to write.” As extra security, she only applied to fully funded programs to be assured she would have no debt when she finished. She was accepted to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, considered by many the penultimate training ground for fine writers. “It was wonderful,” she recalls. “I had a tremendous amount of time to write; I had people to read for me and I could read for them.”

After completing the program, she had an agent, but was still not sure of her path. She published some short stories, but she needed a steady income so she began to teach and write for periodicals, while creating fiction on her own time. She also started a family, marrying Michael Burger, a classmate from Brown and a professor who teaches in the field of environmental and climate law. The couple now have two children, Sylvie, almost 7, and Sam, 2.

Her first novel, The Little Bride, was published in 2011 by Penguin Group USA, a well respected publisher, as a trade paperback. Her new book, Leaving Lucy Pear, set in Anna’s hometown of Gloucester in the 1920s, is about a baby who is abandoned and the people and family involved in her life ten years later. It sold to a publisher for more than The Little Bride. Nonetheless, neither will earn “enough money to raise a family on,” Anna says, explaining that she, like most of her writing colleagues still needs to “teach or speak or write for magazines — to balance art and commerce.” These days, she is teaching creative non-fiction in the English Department at Brown. Young writers are “lucky to be writing when creative non-fiction is coming of age and has gained ground on a more popular level,” Anna says. “This helps young writers see it as a possible avenue for themselves.” She, too, is starting to write more essays again.

Looking back at her years at Glen Urquhart, Anna says she “always felt encouraged creatively at GUS. I had some very good teachers — Penny Randolph comes to mind as someone who really taught me how to read,” a skill she counts as absolutely necessary for any writer. She fondly recalls the black books and beginning to write stories even in first grade. Anna believes that the creative movement and art classes at GUS “encouraged expression as part of a larger creative conversation. Teachers took kids’ stories and creations seriously at GUS,” she recalls, “which I think is pretty unusual.” 

Reviews for Leaving Lucy Pear

"...consistently provides the essential pleasures of a good story well told....this is a book governed... by empathy, a desire to give each character opportunities for growth and betterment, bravery and openness." —The New York Times Book Review Read full review.

NPR's Here & Now: Anna talks with host Robin Young about the book, the 1920s, being an outsider, Virginia Woolf, and more. Listen to full interview.

"...gorgeously moving... a dazzling exploration of the impact of roads untaken on motherhood, class, and gender.... It’s impossible to stop reading, because Solomon has made us care so much for all the characters, because she’s fashioned a world so real, you can taste the salt spray and smell the heady fragrance of the ripe pears." - Caroline Leavitt, The Boston Globe Read full review.




Reviews for The Little Bride

“Emotionally honest...A ” —USA Today

“Minna is a terrifically complex heroine: a little snobby, a little selfish and wholly sympathetic.”—The New York Times Read full review

“Like...Jonathan Safran Foer and Dara Horn. [A] wondrously strange story of Jewish immigration.”—Miami Herald

“This mythic rendition of the American immigrant narrative...finds the wondrous in the ordinary and vividly depicts the complex collisions between the Old World and the New." —MORE Magazine (October Book Club pick)