Aimee Bender

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 662

Aimee Bender is recognized as a unique writer of her time. Her wordplay and use of metaphors set her apart from her peers. Bender was born and raised in Santa Monica, California. Her father was a psychiatrist, and her mother was a dance teacher and choreographer. Her parents encouraged young Bender to explore her inner self at a very young age. She remembers her father helping her, as early as age nine, to realize the relationship between fear of an object (in one case, thunder) and anger. This insight allowed her to grasp the concept of metaphor, a device she excels at using in her fiction. Her mother also taught her to free her unconscious to intensify the creative process. Thus, Bender was able to combine the psychiatric and artistic techniques of both her father and her mother to enhance her own writing.

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Bender was a precocious writer but abandoned this avocation while attending Palisades High School for choir and theater. She received a bachelor’s degree in theater from the University of California, San Diego, in 1991. Bender applied to several graduate programs in theater but was rejected. She then moved to San Francisco and taught reading in an elementary school which was heavily populated by children of Russian immigrants. Undaunted, Bender drew encouragement from her students, and this academic experience gave her not only the confidence to pursue writing but also material for later fictional works.

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Finally, in 1995, Bender was accepted into the master’s of fine arts program at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). At UCI, she deviated from the practice of writing realistic stories and embraced the myth, using the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen as models for her stories. She also admits to an admiration for and the influence of such diverse people as poet Sylvia Plath, musician Bobby McFerrin, artist Alexander Calder, and psychiatrist Sigmund Freud. While in graduate school she began to be published in small, literary reviews. She received her degree in 1997 from UCI, which awarded her a one-year fellowship to teach composition and creative writing as well as edit the campus literary journal, Faultline.

Bender’s works have appeared in numerous literary periodicals. Her first printing was “Dreaming in Polish” (Spring, 1995) in the Santa Monica Review. This was followed in short succession by “Skinless” (titled “Erasing”) in the Spring, 1996, issue of the Colorado Review. One year later, “Legacy” was printed in Cream City Review. “The Rememberer” was first published in the Missouri Review in the fall of 1997, at the same time as “The Ring” in the same journal, “What You Left in the Ditch” in The Antioch Review, and “Fell This Girl” in Faultline. Spring, 1998, saw the publication of “Call My Name” in the North American Review as well as “Quiet Please” in the May issue of GQ. Later that year, “The Healer” appeared in Story and “Loser” in Granta. “Iron Head” appeared in Joe in the Fall, 1999, edition; and “The Leading Man,” in Paris Review, July, 2001.

Bender’s first book of short stories, The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, was published in 1998. The stories focus on the relationships and practices of emotionally and physically deformed characters. Using these characters as metaphors, Bender grapples with the range of human experiences, a practice she calls her “resonant setting.” Her first novel, An Invisible Sign of My Own, depicts the experiences of a young woman obsessed with numbers who is afraid her father is going to die. In it, Bender examines her own battle with obsessive-compulsive disorder as well as the universal fear of death. She claims she likes the idea of “dealing with painful, messy, frightening, and very human events that [are] also so beautiful and ethereal.” The Girl in the Flammable Skirt was mentioned as The New York Times’ Notable Book in 1998. Bender is generally acclaimed as a writer of great skill, her talent lying in her ability to write with depth in a very tight, minimalist fashion

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