Gretchen Gerzina // Photo by Alvin Buyinga
Gretchen Gerzina, 2018 | Photo: Alvin Buyinga Download hi-res

About Gretchen Gerzina

I was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan but moved just before my fifth birthday to Springfield, Massachusetts. It was a good place to grow up, and although my mother loved it, my father longed to move to California. He never made it, but my sister and I both managed to live in the Bay Area. After the Summer of Love, I was determined to leave Springfield for more exciting places (Paris? New York? San Francisco?), but only got as far as Syracuse, New York for a misbegotten college year, finally settling into three years at Marlboro College, in Vermont. I've lived in California, New York, Montreal, Vermont, Boston, Oxford, and London, and had nice stints in Exeter, England and Rome, Italy. I still wake up surprised to find myself in Northampton, Massachusetts, just half an hour from where I grew up, now that everyone else is gone.

As a writer, I am drawn to biographies and lives of those who cross boundaries of history, time, place or race: Carrington: A Life; Black London: Life Before Emancipation; Frances Hodgson Burnett: A Life; and Mr. and Mrs. Prince: How an Eighteenth-Century Family Moved out of Slavery and into Legend. I've edited two editions of The Secret Garden; Black Victorians/Black Victoriana; I'm currently editing New Writings on Early Black Britain. I am writing a memoir about growing up mixed race in Springfield, all those years ago, Growing Up on the Corner of Black and White. It's time to put the past to bed.

As a media person, I hosted for nearly fifteen years the nationally-syndicated "The Book Show." I've appeared on television in both the US and the UK a number of times. My ten-part radio series, "Britain's Black Past," aired on BBC's Radio 4 in 2016. In recent years, I rediscovered a forgotten early novel by an African American woman, Sarah E. Farro, of Chicago. In the first week of my publicizing the find in The Conversation, the announcement received over 70,000 hits, and I've now published two pieces on her and the novel.

I've been a tenured full professor at Vassar College; Barnard College/Columbia University; Dartmouth College; and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. At both Dartmouth and UMass I held named chairs in biography. At Dartmouth, I was the first African American woman to chair an Ivy League English department. At UMass, I am the Dean of Commonwealth Honors College, as well as professor of English and Paul Murray Kendall Chair in Biography. In 2017 I was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

I live with my husband, Anthony Gerzina, who not only speaks Italian, but stayed with me all these years, and got us both Italian passports, making us dual citizens. We have two wonderful sons, Simon and Daniel, three grandchildren, and share our home with an aged cat who loves to howl yet clings to life, and another cat who misses the litterbox. Small wonder that we divide our time between here and Brooklyn.