This week New Yorker critic Hilton Als hailed Evgenia Citkowitz, author of a book of seven stories and a novella, as “a master of both forms.” That book, Ether—her first—was published this spring. The New York Times declared “her voice, particularly her rhythm — half staccato, half headlong rush — is wholly her own. She doesn’t sound like anyone else you’ll have read in a very long while.”
Her life story shows that truth can be stranger than fiction. Her mother was the writer Lady Caroline Blackwood, who was runner-up for the Booker Prize in 1977. Her stepfather was the American poet Robert Lowell, Lady Caroline’s third husband. Caroline’s first marriage was to the artist Lucien Freud, and her second husband—Evgenia Citkowitz’s father—was a Polish-born, Brooklyn-reared Jew: the composer, pianist, critic, and teacher Israel Citkowitz.
Today Israel Citkowitz is so obscure that he doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry, but in his youth he was considered a promising composer and was a close friend of Aaron Copland. His music was included in the landmark Copland-Sessions concerts of 1929, and years later his songs were recorded by new-music champion Bethany Beardslee. His pupils included the composer Elmer Bernstein. He was 50 when he married Caroline Blackwood, who was 28 at the time, and they had three daughters. They divorced in 1972, two years before he died.
On her mother’s side of the family Evgenia Citkowitz’s grandmother was Maureen Constance Guiness, heir to the Guiness brewery fortune. In 1995 Evgenia and her sister Ivana inherited £15 million from her. Since 1990 Evgenia has been married to the film actor Julian Sands, who first achieved fame for his starring role in Room With a View (1985).
Intriguing though they are, these lofty connections mean little compared to her talent. Any debut writer would be proud to get reviews like this one:
- “The stories are startlingly original, haunting, and often funny. From a hamster cage in Los Angeles to the bowels of the great houses of London and Long Island, Citkowitz depicts her characters’ frailties and humanity with a mordant humor and tenderness that never diminish their complexity.”
That’s the most important reason to remember the name Evgenia Citkowitz.
Bob Goldfarb is president of the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity in Los Angeles and Jerusalem. He also blogs at eJewishPhilanthropy.com, and Tweets about Jews, the arts, and Jewish culture at twitter.com/bobgoldfarb.
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