Discipline: Literature

Doris Grumbach

Discipline: Literature
Region: Washington, D.C.
MacDowell Fellowships: 1974, 1976, 1977, 1979

Doris Isaac Grumbach is an American novelist, memoirist, biographer, literary critic, and essayist. She taught at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York, the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and American University in Washington, DC, and was literary editor of The New Republic for several years.

Grumbach was born in New York City, a fifth-generation Manhattanite, to Leonard William and Helen Isaac. She attended Washington Square College of New York University. She majored in philosophy and graduated Phi Beta Kappa, receiving her B.A. degree in 1939. She earned her M.A. degree in medieval literature in 1940 from Cornell University.

At Cornell, she met her future husband, Leonard Grumbach, who had his doctorate in neurophysiology. They were married on October 5, 1941. When her husband was drafted during World War II, Grumbach joined the Navy in 1943 as an officer in the WAVES and served in the Navy from 1943 to 1945.

After the war, Grumbach moved around the country with her husband as he taught physiology. During this period, the Grumbachs had four daughters: Barbara, Jane, Elizabeth, and Kathryn. Before the birth of their fourth daughter, the Grumbachs settled in Albany, New York, where Leonard Grumbach taught at Albany Medical College. Grumbach began to focus on her writing career and published her first two novels, The Spoil of the Flowers (1962), and The Short Throat, The Tender Mouth (1964). In 1967 she published a literary biography of novelist Mary McCarthy titled The Company She Kept.

In 1971, after raising their children, Grumbach left her husband. Following her divorce, she began a relationship with Sybil Pike, who became and remained her life partner. In 1972, accepting a position at The New Republic magazine as literary editor, she and Pike moved to Washington, D.C., where Grumbach worked for the magazine for two years. In 1975, she accepted a position as professor of American Literature at American University. During this time, she wrote a nonfiction column for The New York Times Book Review.

In 1979, Grumbach published the novel Chamber Music, which was critically well received and helped establish her reputation as a novelist. In six years, three more books followed: The Missing Person (1981), The Ladies (1984), and The Magician's Girl (1987). During this period, Grumbach also taught creative writing at the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa and at The Johns Hopkins University. Grumbach also was a book reviewer and commentator for the Morning Edition of National Public Radio and the televised MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour.

For two decades, she and Sybil Pike, operated a bookstore, Wayward Books, in Sargentville, Maine, until 2009 when they moved to a retirement home in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.



Doris Grumbach worked in the Wood studio.

Wood Studio, given to the residency program by Mrs. Frederick Trevor Hill, was completed in 1913 in memory of Mrs. Hill’s mother, Helen Ogden Wood. Like Schelling Studio, the building is sided with large, overlapping pieces of hemlock bark. When the studio was renovated in 1995, MacDowell staff researched the origins of this unusual building material and…

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