Book Release—October 27, 2006

Northwest Corner Journal

Kent Resident’s Memoirs Examine Discordant Elements of a Life

from The Litchfield County Times
Friday, October 27, 2006

KENT—For many people, life is a seamless progression, a journey that prompts no introspection about conflicting influences, good or bad. The awareness of a dichotomy in her life came as a surprise to English literature professor and author Betty Krasne when she sat down to write her fourth book, a book that would look back at her life as the child of an emigrant Russian father and a socially correct bourgeoisie mother.

Balanced against the predictable, conservative life they offered their children was the “dangerous” terrain that education opened before her. Indeed, Ms. Krasne, a Kent resident, chose to call her book “A Dangerous Thing.” She will have a reading of her book, which was published in July by BooksSurge, at the Kent Library at 4 p.m. on Nov. 4.

“When I set out to discover how we came to be ‘the way we were,’ I assumed this was a simple task, for which I was adequately prepared,” she wrote in the introduction to her book. “I could read, I could write. I would send out letters to relatives, collect some family lore, read over the articles I had written over the years and the job would be done.... I had already written three books and 60 articles for publications such as the New York Times and The Litchfield County Times,” said Ms. Krasne in a telephone interview this week.... “But, when I re-read my articles, I realized there were two very different types of articles represented and that the stories they told didn’t stitch together well.”

She set out to reconcile the two halves of her life experience, dividing her book into three related themes. “My book is divided into three sections,” she said. “First, the world of my grandparents and what education meant to them and therefore what happened in their generation. Second is how it brought very different things into my life-how it resulted in conflict and how it played out. The third section focuses on my teaching career and my kids’ educations and the conflicts I feel about that....

“The Victorian division of duties between male and female and a woman’s role in the middle-class home was still the way of the world into which I was born in 1933,” she wrote. “Separate was equal on Central Park West. Like a European political detente, there were his and her spheres of influence.... Ms. Krasne and her older sister were exposed to a liberal education from early childhood. “We were allowed to go, because what else could you do with a girl?” she said. “They didn’t care what I did. I thought I would be a brain surgeon.”

That goal was abandoned, but she did earn an undergraduate degree at Mount Holyoke College, followed by an MA from Columbia and a Ph.D. from Union Graduate School. She

has been associated with Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., for nearly 40 years, where she lectures, was chairperson of the English Department, director of the honors program, director of the McNair Scholars Program and coordinator of the Bronx Honors program.

This busy career has been combined with raising a family, a life circumstance that occasioned her initial defection from New York City.... “We moved to the suburbs for 30 years before coming back to the city. I was the first one in my family to cross the Tappan Zee Bridge. My mother bought me a fur-lined coat because she thought that when we crossed the bridge, God knew where we would live.”

Ms. Krasne has tapped into her teaching skills to offer book discussion groups and immensely popular memoir writing groups in the area communities, starting in Kent....Oddly, her autobiography is not the result of her memoir classes, but rather the opposite. “I had never taught memoir writing when I started my book,” she said. “I had a sabbatical due and I had to come up with a project. That’s when I re-read my articles. There were a lot of issues there I thought I could raise and I decided to write a memoir.”

Delving into the genre of memoirs led to offering the local writing group; “Those have been fun, because I have met so many wonderful people,” she said. “I am not a genealogist; it’s not my forte. It’s the narrative that’s important to me. I operate on the assumption that everyone has a story to tell and they are probably signing up because they have been waiting a long time tell them. Some of the stories are amazing.”

The courses are eight weeks in length and classes are small because each writer must be given a chance to present his or her work during the session: “I can only take so many because we have to get around the table and have time to read and discuss each work,” she said.... “it is not a spectator sport.” She said that she would probably do more of the memoir classes in the future, but that at the moment she is preparing a new book discussion group that will look at novels of contemporary immigration—who comes, where they go, why they come.”

Ms. Krasne reflected on her long life in academia and the satisfaction her own education brought her, despite the early tensions between the life she was raised to lead and the one she chose. “When I was growing up, I thought books were just what you did in your spare time,” she said. “I didn’t think you could make a life out of them, but I have made a life out of books for a long time now.”



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