AUGUST 24, 2017 – Anita Diamant knows her escape route. When the New York Times best-selling author needs to get away from the stress of everyday life, she heads to the shores of Cape Ann.
“When I’m going up there, I start to chill down. Once you cross the bridge, it’s ‘Ahhh, you are there,’” said Diamant, describing the feeling of unwinding as she approaches the ocean.
Diamant is the author of five novels, including “The Red Tent,” the beloved story of the imaginary biblical character Dinah, and a series of seven highly acclaimed, groundbreaking guidebooks on contemporary Jewish life.
She sat down with the Journal for a conversation in the airy Brookline condominium where she and her husband, Jim Ball, director of communications at the Jewish Arts Collaborative, moved last year from their family home in Newton. Their dog was never far from her side.
It’s a year of literary milestones for Diamant – St. Martin’s Press is releasing a special 20th anniversary edition of “The Red Tent,” which has been published in 25 countries. In 2014, it was adapted for a Lifetime miniseries starring Rebecca Ferguson, Minnie Driver, and Debra Winger.
“The Jewish Wedding Now” was just released, a comprehensive update of “The New Jewish Wedding,” Diamant’s first book, that more fully integrates marriage equality and incorporates intermarriage more seamlessly than the earlier versions. She has also revised her book on
Jewish mourning, “Saying Kaddish: How to Comfort the Dying, Bury the Dead, and Mourn as a Jew,” due out in 2018.
The Diamant-Ball family was first introduced to Cape Ann in the early 1990s by Newton neighbors who had a child the same age as their daughter, now in her early 30s. The husband of the couple grew up on the North Shore.
“We started going with them to Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester,” Diamant recalled. “I fell in love with it.” The family rented in Gloucester before buying their own place, a 100-year-old, year-round home in Rockport.
“If it’s Friday night, we light candles [for Shabbat],” Diamant said. “It’s a slower pace, a vacation place, near the ocean. I am Pavlovian. When I get there, I calm down. A lot.”
But Cape Ann has proven to be more than a relaxing getaway for Diamant. She’s done a lot of writing there, noting it’s where she penned the final pages of “The Red Tent.”
“I have this memory walking along the beach, feeling like it’s done … That was memorable,” she said.
Diamant didn’t set out to use Cape Ann as a story source, but over the last two decades, the intimate towns and rocky coast that have attracted artists for more than a century has become a central character and the landscape in three of her five novels, including “Good Harbor,” set in Gloucester, and “The Last Days of Dogtown,” a gem of a historical novel set on Cape Ann in the early 1800s.
Diamant’s most recent novel, “The Boston Girl,” published in 2014, tells the fictional story of 85-year-old Addie Baum, who recalls her early years growing up in Boston in a Jewish immigrant family at the turn of the last century. The lyrical narrative sheds light on the real-life Rockport Lodge, a Cape Ann inn that was nearly lost to history, now a private home, that served as an inexpensive summer retreat for many of Boston’s philanthropic social-service groups that served poor, working immigrant girls.
Diamant’s signature, deeply researched preparation for the story led her to Cape Ann archives and the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University, which had just acquired the archives of the Rockport Lodge. In its newsletter, the library revealed that Diamant was given priority access to some 47 boxes of material before they were readied for scholars. Wading through the material, Diamant said she focused on the scrapbooks and photographs, and expressed her appreciation to the library in the book’s acknowledgments.
On Cape Ann, Diamant is drawn to the arts: from the Cape Ann Museum to theatrical productions at the Gloucester Stage Company to music at the Shalin Liu Performance Center.
Readers of Diamant’s blog posts on her website, anitadiamant.com, know that this spring and summer Diamant bravely immersed herself in Shakespeare in a performance workshop at Actors’ Shakespeare Project in Somerville led by Jennie Israel and Paula Plum. Also this summer, Diamant’s Facebook fans caught her taking the plunge into the Charles River as a way to promote the efforts of the Charles River Conservancy.
“It was a gas,” she said. “I love going in the water.”
Even the frigid waters of Cape Ann, she said.
Many Journal readers familiar with Diamant know she has a long association with Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters Community Mikveh and Education Center as the founding president of the trailblazing Newton mikveh that revitalized and reimagined a world of Jewish ritualthat was once associated only with Orthodox Jewry.
While some read a theme of water into her life’s pursuits, it’s far from scripted, Diamant said. But, there’s tremendous healing power in water, recognized by so many faiths, she noted.
“People feel very spiritually connected,” she said. “It’s very elemental.”