Maria Espinosa came into the world on a cold snowy January night. “You tried to come out the wrong way,” said my mother. “The doctor had to turn you around with his forceps. For days I was afraid you had been brain damaged, because your head had a strange pin shape. When I looked into your eyes they were black and hostile.
In that first instant I knew you were a fighter.”
I was born Paula Cronbach to a family of German Jews with hidden Sephardic origins.My mother’s family had lived in Spain until the eighteenth century, waiting until they reached the haven of Brussels to emerge as Jews. My father was a sculptor, and my mother was a poet. I grew up in Long Island with two younger brothers, Michael, who works for the City of San Francisco, and Lee, a composer and musician.
I attended Harvard and Columbia Universities, and received an MA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. After completing my undergraduate studies, I lived in Paris where I met and married the Chilean writer Mario Espinosa Wellmann. Soon after the birth of our daughter, Carmen, we moved to California. Our relationship was turbulent and only lasted a few years. Mario died in 1981. Our daughter, Carmen, has become a writer, psychologist, and dancer. In 1978 I married Walter Selig, a research chemist. As a young boy, he fled Nazi Germany for an Israeli kibbutz. Walt has three children by a former marriage: Lisa, Naomi, and David.
From about the age of fifteen, I had felt strongly drawn to the name Maria, and in 1966, this is what I began to call myself, without realizing the ambiguity this would create as to who I was in ethnic terms. Echoes arise of a famous story in which a Jew without affiliation is likened to a man suspended by a rope between earth and sky.
For many years I have worked as a teacher. For several years I taught creative writing and contemporary literature at New College of California. Most recently, I have been teaching English as a Second Language at City College of San Francisco.
My writings include the novels, Dark Plums and Longing, published by Arte Publico Press, Incognito: Journey of a Secret Jew, published by Wings Press, two books of poetry, Night Music and Love Feelings, and a translation of George Sand’s Lelia, published by Indiana University Press. Longing won an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. It has been translated into Greek and published by Stathis Press.
I have contributed poetry, articles, translations, and short fiction to numerous anthologies and periodicals including Anthologies of Underground Poetry, edited by Herman Berlandt, In other Words: Literature by Latinas of the United States, edited by Roberta Fernandez, and George Sand’s Ma Vie, edited by Thelma Jurgrau. An interesting midnight interview that I had with the Israeli writer, Amos Oz, appeared inThree Penny Review.
My fourth novel, Dying Unfinished, was published by Wings Press in 2009. Excerpts have appeared in Tertulia, (www.tertuliamagazine.com), an online literary magazine. Continuing the saga of Longing , it deals with the troubled relationship between mother and daughter, intensified by the mother’s intimacy with her son-in-law.