In 1932, on August 19, Barbara Wersba was born in Chicago, Illinois. Her paternal grandfather was a Russian Jew who immigrated to the United States at the turn of the century, winding up in Harlem, when Harlem was a white middle-class neighborhood. While the family grew prosperous, they still found themselves the subjects of anti-Semitic attitudes. Wersba's father married a woman from Florida outside the Jewish faith, and the two had a long but vitriolic marriage. The prejudices against the Jewish religion, and Wersba's parent's fights, have had a large influence on the empathy she feels toward her characters.
As a child, Wersba often played by herself. She dressed somberly, and spent her days daydreaming, writing poetry, and making up plays for her dolls to perform. She dreamed of becoming a poet, or a dancer, or an actress—anything to take her away from the loneliness she felt as a youth. She idolized the matinee stars of the forties, such as Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo, and at age eight or nine, Barbara decided to become an actress. At age eleven, she volunteered at a local theater in exchange for being allowed to watch rehearsals, and she soon thereafter received roles in various plays.
After her parents divorced, Wersba and her mother moved to New York City, to the upper east side. While she had to work a job, and her mother had little money, her father did pay for Wersba to attend prep schools in the city. Wersba was a poor student, except when it came to writing, and while she was still intent on becoming an actress, she continued writing. When she was sixteen, she studied acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse and studied dance with Martha Graham.
Wersba attended Bard College after graduating from prep school, where she studied drama. After college, she worked in several theaters until she fell ill with hepatitis. During her three-month illness, she realized that she did not want to return to the theater, and she dedicated herself to writing full-time. During her convalescence she wrote a story, The Boy Who Loved the Sea, which was published, and she never looked back.
Wersba works out of the attic/studio in her home in North Haven, New York. She perches before a wooden craftsman's table that she purchased thirty-five years ago. In her attic, she keeps a library, which includes copies of the more than the twenty-five books she has written, many of which have been translated into different languages.
In this technological age, Wersba continues to type her manuscripts on an IBM electric typewriter. She begins each day at five o'clock in the morning and writes for six hours. She is always writing, but does not publish everything she writes. However, nothing is thrown away: she has a stack in a corner of her studio which she labels "In Progress."
Wersba describes herself as a slow writer, and an avid editor. She is said to rewrite each sentence sundry times, in an effort to make the stories flow through cadenced language. She compares writing her sentences to building a brick wall, explaining that "if some of the bricks are weak, I can't build the wall."
Barbara Wersba came to be a writer after an earlier career on the stage. Born August 19, 1932, in Chicago, to Robert and Lucy Jo Wersba, she was an only child who escaped loneliness by writing stories and dreaming about working in the theater. The family was living in San Mateo, California when eleven-year-old Barbara joined a community theater group. She began with backstage tasks, such as fetching coffee and running errands, but soon rose through the ranks and made her stage debut. After her parents divorced, Wersba and her mother moved to New York, where Barbara immersed herself in Broadway theater, and spent time visiting the city's museums, bookstores, and many arts venues. While still a teenager she studied acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse and danced with Martha Graham's company.
After graduating with a degree in drama from Bard College, Wersba moved back to New York...
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