Titles 1998-2018

A Family of Strangers, Deborah Tall


In her third book of nonfiction, Deborah Tall explores the genealogy of the missing. Haunted by her orphaned father’s abandonment by his extended family, his secretive, walled-off trauma and absent history, she sets off in pursuit of the family he claims not to have. From the dutiful happiness of Levittown in the 1950s to a stricken former shtetl in Ukraine, we follow Tall’s journey through evasions and lies. Reflecting on family secrecy, postwar American culture, and the urge for roots, Tall’s search uncovers not just a missing family but an understanding of the part family and history play in identity. A Family of Strangers is Tall’s life’s work, told in such exacting, elegant language that the suppressed past vividly asserts its place in the present.

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Deborah Tall was the author of four books of poems, including Summons, selected by Charles Simic for Sarabande's Kathryn A. Morton Poetry Prize. She also published two books of nonfiction: The Island of the White Cow: Memories of an Irish Island and From Where We Stand: Recovering a Sense of Place, and co-edited the anthology The Poet's Notebook with Stephen Kuusisto and David Weiss. Tall taught writing and literature at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and edited its literary journal, Seneca Review, for thirty years. She coined the term "lyric essay" with her student John D'Agata in a 1997 issue. She died in 2006, shortly after the publication of A Family of Strangers


“Without self-absorption, Tall traces the self’s emergence in a place which she recognized from the start as her testing place.”
—Seamus Heaney

“In the literature of place, Deborah Tall’s book stands out for its delicacy, range of learning, and refreshing frankness.”
—Phillip Lopate