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03/05/2003 08:00:00

Author Reveals her "Gut Feelings"

PASADENA, Calif. – Merrill Joan Gerber, a lecturer in creative writing at the California Institute of Technology, maintains a prolific pace with her own writing. This month her 24th book will be published--Gut Feelings: A Writer's Truths and Minute Inventions, a collection of highly personal essays and powerful tales that verge on memoir. In these writings Gerber reveals the truths and inventions of a writer's vision, and the use of life as the raw material of art. Her personal essays range widely, from the mysteries of love and marriage to painful encounters with suicides and family deaths.

She writes of her apprenticeships with celebrated writing teachers Andrew Lytle and Wallace Stegner and recounts her ghostly (and ghastly) experiences during a month at Yaddo, the famous retreat for artists. Gerber includes three pieces in the book originally published as stories but which blur the line between fiction and memoir, demonstrating Gerber's contention that the deepest secrets in life beget the most passionate fictions.

About her fiction, Gerber says, "Most of my work comes from the close observation of family life. Of course, life is chaotic, and in fiction, you take control of the material and shape it, redesign it, to give it meaning."

"These pieces move back and forth across the boundary between memoir and fiction," says Janet Handler Burstein, a professor of English at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. "They are vivid and gripping, with memorable characters and events. One narrative moves deeply into a marital relationship suggesting a kind of paradigm for the systole and diastole of marriage that I found profoundly moving. And troubling. And satisfying."

Gerber has taught at Caltech since 1989. Gut Feelings: A Writer's Truths and Minute Inventions is being published this month by the University of Wisconsin Press. Her books include Botticelli Blue Skies: An American in Florence (a travel memoir), the novels Anna in the Afterlife (which was chosen as a "best book of 2002" by the Los Angeles Times), and King of the World, which won the Pushcart Press Editors' Book Award as an "important and unusual book of literary distinction. Another novel, The Kingdom of Brooklyn, won Hadassah Magazine's Ribalow Prize for "the best English-language book of fiction on a Jewish theme." Her short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, the Atlantic, Mademoiselle, and Redbook, and in many literary magazines. Her short story, "I Don't Believe This," was chosen for Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards 1986.

The author can be reached at gerber@hss.caltech.edu or via her webpage at www.cco.caltech.edu/~mjgerber.