Lore Segal is a respected writer whose unique background informs much of her work. Born on March 8, 1928, the only child of solidly middle-class parents in Vienna—Lore’s father, Ignatz Groszmann, was chief accountant at a bank; her mother, Franzi (Stern), was a homemaker—she experienced a dramatic change when, shortly after Hitler’s annexation of Austria, she was one of a group of five hundred Jewish schoolchildren quickly sent to England. For the next thirteen years, she lived in several countries and with many different families—earning a B.A. from Bedford College, London, along the way—before achieving her independence and settling in New York. In 1961, Lore Groszmann married David Segal, an editor; they had two children, Beatrice and Jacob, before David’s sudden death in 1970.
Segal’s experiences as a refugee formed the basis of her first significant publication, the novelistic autobiography Other People’s Houses (1964). As the book had been serialized in The New Yorker, Segal began to be noticed. She received a Guggenheim Fellowship and a grant from the corporation at Yaddo. Her second novel, Lucinella (1976), a fantasy/satire, is set at a writers’ retreat similar to Yaddo. Since then, Segal has held teaching appointments at Columbia University, Princeton University, Bennington College, Sarah Lawrence College, the University of Illinois at Chicago and Ohio State University. She has published another novel, short stories, several books of translation, and a number of books for children.
Segal’s most important work to date is her third full-length text, Her First American (1985). Although considered a novel, it is, in fact, a sequel to Other People’s Houses; Lore Groszmann has been renamed Ilka Weissnix, but Carter Bayoux appears in both books under the same name. A black intellectual, Carter is a minor figure toward the end of Other People’s Houses, but he becomes the central focus of Her First American. Carter acclimatizes Ilka to the American way of life, in all its peculiarities. While there is an idyllic interracial retreat in the middle part of the novel, the ending is one of disillusionment. Carter’s blackness and Ilka’s Jewishness become problematic, not so much for them as for those around them. Her First American is a masterful text, and one that is becoming increasingly acknowledged.
One of Segal’s primary interests is in storytelling itself, as seen in her translations and children’s books. Segal has translated books of the Bible, which she sees as adventure stories, as well as fairy tales from Grimm. Her books for children are in a contemporary fairy-tale mode; her award-winning Tell Me a Mitzi (1970) features stories she had told her own children, all of which begin, “Once upon a time there was a Mitzi.” Storytelling and “real life” intertwined again when Segal played herself in the telling of her own story, part of the documentary Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport (2000). Storytelling also seems to be a theme in Segal’s later project, a novel entitled An Absence of Cousins, which again draws on her experiences as an ex-refugee. A number of short stories related to this project, including one with that title, have appeared in The New Yorker. Judging from these excerpts, such as the O. Henry Award–winning story “The Reverse Bug,” the novel may bring Segal the reading public she deserves. Lore Segal is a gifted writer whose finely wrought prose brings to light a unique personal story, a story inseparable from her Jewish heritage.
Her First American (1985); Lucinella (1976); Other People’s Houses (1964).
Why Mole Shouted: And Other Stories (2004); Morris the Artist (2003); The Story of Old Mrs. Brubeck and How She Looked for Trouble and Where She Found Him (1981); Tell Me a Trudy (1977); Tell Me a Mitzi (1970).
The Book of Adam to Moses (1987); The Juniper Tree and Other Tales from Grimm (1973); The Story of King Saul and King David (1991).
Berger, Alan L. “Jewish Identity and Jewish Destiny, the Holocaust in Refugee Writing: Lore Segal and Karen Gershon.” Studies in American Jewish Literature 11 (1992): 82–95; Cavenaugh, Philip. “The Present Is a Foreign Country: Lore Segal’s Fiction.” Contemporary Literature 34 (1993): 475–511; Earnest, Cathy. “A Conversation.” Another Chicago Magazine 20 (1989): 153–167; Meyer, Adam. “Lore Segal.” In Jewish American Women Writers, edited by Ann R. Shapiro (1994): 387–396.