Before The Red Tent won her international literary acclaim, Anita Diamant was a columnist in Boston. Over the course of twenty years, she wrote essays that reflected the shape and evolution of her life, as well as the trends of her generation. In the end, her musings about love and marriage, birth and death, nature versus nurture, politics and religion—and everything from female friendships to quitting smoking—have created a public diary of the progress of her life that resonated deeply with her readers. Now, Pitching My Tent collects the finest columns of a writer who is a reporter by training and a storyteller by heart, all revised and enriched with new material. Personal, inspiring, and often funny, Pitching My Tent displays the warmth, humor, and wisdom that Diamant's legions of fans have come to cherish.
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About the Author
Date of Birth:June 27, 1951
Place of Birth:New York, New York
Education:M.A. in English, SUNY, Binghamton, NY, 1975; B.A. in Comparative Literature, Washington Univ., St. Louis, MO, 1973.
Read an Excerpt
Before The Red Tent, before Good Harbor, before and during six books on contemporary Jewish life, I was a columnist.
I wrote essays about friendship and fashion, about marriage and electoral politics, about abortion, lingerie, situation comedies, birth, death, God, country, and my dog. I covered the waterfront and the supermarket, my synagogue, the waiting room outside the intensive care unit, and my own kitchen table.
I did this over the course of twenty years for publications that included a weekly newspaper with a mostly twenty-something readership, and later for a Sunday-magazine audience of millions. I wrote for food lovers in a New England magazine, for the parents of young children in a national publication, and for an international Jewish audience in an on-line magazine. Most of the time, my assignment was weekly; sometimes, it was monthly.
My job was to report on the events of the day and the changes under my own roof. The challenge was to pay closer-than-average attention and then shape my experiences and reactions into entertaining prose that rose above the level of my own navel. It was more than a great job it was a meaningful job.
This collection, culled from those publications and years, turns out to be a sort of diary. It includes musings about the contents of my refrigerator as well as reflections about the most important decisions of my life. To divorce and marry again. To have a child. To live a Jewish life.
I suppose it's a measure of how much the world has changed that what once seemed like "edgy" choices now seem fairly mainstream. But at the time, I was thinking and doing things that were simply unimaginable for women at any other period in human history. Having been born female, white, and middle class in the United States, in the middle of the twentieth century, meant the women's movement happened to me, in me, for me. It meant that it was highly unlikely that I would die in childbirth, and it meant that I could teach my daughter to speak in her own voice. It meant I could love my work and love my family. And it meant that there was an audience for what I had to say about the trials and joys of this girl's life.
Actually, the audience was the great, unexpected gift of the assignment because they wrote back. A few said, "No way," and "How dare you?" But many more said, "Me, too," and "Thanks."
We connected my readers and I because we were trying something entirely new. We were not just tinkering around the edges, adjusting our "roles" as women and men. We were reinventing the female psyche and soul, which of course required a radical recasting of the male. We're still at it, too, and with more confidence, wisdom, and resources every year. That our daughters and sons are blasé about this transformation is a measure of our success.
Looking back through these essays, reflecting on the reflections, is a lot like leafing through the family photo album. I stop and exclaim over the difference between my daughter then (kindergarten) and my daughter now (college). The changes in me are not quite as photogenic, but I think I've become kinder and more patient. I sure hope so.
My tent is filled with friends and songs and books and memories. My tent and I hope yours, too is filled with blessings. Come see.
Copyright © 2003 by Anita Diamant
Reading Group Guide
Discussion Questions for Pitching My Tent by Anita Diamant
1. Diamant writes: "I had very little formal religious education." Why, then, do you think religion comes to play such a large role in her understanding of the world? If there wasn't a great deal of religious schooling in her youth, what events and influences eventually transformed her approach to faith?
2. Family is a blessing for Diamant, but she is candid about the occasional struggles posed by married life. She says, "religious ritual and affiliation are mainstays of our marriage." Cite specific examples of how this is true. Also, discuss additional tools, aside from faith, used by the author to keep her marriage strong in the face of adversity.
3. Of her daughter, Diamant writes: "After her bat mitzvah, Jewish observance became more and more a matter of her own choosing. I can remind and I can nag, I can and do put my foot down when it's important enough. But ultimately she will choose how to be Jewish for herself." Does Diamant seem at ease with this truth? How do you think her style of parenting will eventually affect Emilia's spiritual life? How did the influences of your family shape your own religious thought?
4. What role does humor play in religion for Diamant? How does she reconcile this with more serious practices? Are the two inextricably linked?
5. In the case of the essay on Columbine and elsewhere, how does Diamant balance preparing her daughter for the world and protecting her from it? In what ways is she excited about Emilia's burgeoning independence, and in what ways does she fear it?
6. Many of these essays deal with the balance of tradition and change in religion, family, and career. How does Diamant deal with change in each realm? In general, does she approach it with more enthusiasm or sadness; more remorse or peaceful acceptance? How has change itself determined the details of Diamant's life?
7. How is the author's experience filtered through her role as a member of her generation? How might many of her personal and cultural insights have changed if she had been born 20 years earlier, or 20 years later? How might her experience in a different era presented greater or lesser obstacles to the type of life she has created?
8. Was the structure of the book's six sections helpful in your understanding of her viewpoint? Which cluster of essays seemed the closest to her heart, if any? Where was there overlap between the sections?
9. What role does ancestry play in Diamant's life? In what way is she most proud to be like her ancestors? In what way is she most proud to be different?
10. In "The Communal Route," Diamant discusses living in a commune-like environment. In a later essay, she writes: "without a communal circle...even the fondest family can become claustrophobic." How does this need for communal affection manifest itself in her life both in her family and the larger community? Choose examples from the essays to illustrate your point. Does Diamant's life seem more or less strongly based on communal ties than most people you know? If more, in what ways do you think people should take better advantage of those ties?
11. The cumulative effect of these essays is a well-rounded view of Diamant, as if you had spent a long time in her company. What about her style or views allows for such an intimate look into her life? If you were writing a similar collection of essays, which three subjects would dominate, and what would you have to say about them?