The Red Tent, 1997
Good Harbor, 2001
The New Jewish Wedding, 1985
The New Jewish Baby Book, 1988
Living a Jewish Life, 1991 (with Howard Cooper)
Bible Baby Names: Spiritual Choices from Judeo-Christian Tradition, 1996
Choosing a Jewish Life, 1997
Saying Kaddish: How to Comfort the Dying, Bury the Dead, and Mourn as a Jew, 1998
How to Be a Jewish Parent, 2000 (with Karen Kushner)
Anita Diamant is best known for The Red Tent, a feminist novel set in ancient times and a word-of-mouth publishing phenomenon that became a favorite of book clubs and church groups. Diamant’s early childhood was spent in Newark, New Jersey, but her family moved to Denver, Colorado, when she was twelve years old. She received a bachelor’s degree in comparative literature from Washington University in St. Louis and earned a master’s degree in English from the State University of New York at Binghamton in 1975. Diamant then moved to the Boston area, where she married Jim Ball in 1983 and gave birth to a daughter, Emilia.
Although she had demonstrated an earlier interest in poetry, Diamant’s career turned in the direction of journalism, and she began to work as a freelance journalist in the Boston area, writing for many local and national magazines and newspapers on a variety of topics. She received several awards for her work in journalism, including the New England Women’s Press Associations Best Columnist Award in 1982. In 1985 Diamant began to write about modern Jewish practice and various aspects of Jewish life.
After producing nonfiction works for more than twenty years, however, Diamant turned back to her early interest in imaginative writing, choosing the novel form as a new avenue of expression and selecting a topic related to her previous subject of Jewish issues, namely chapter 34 in the biblical book of Genesis, concerning the rape of Dinah. Granted a fellowship at Radcliffe’s Schlesinger Library and a visiting scholarship at Brandeis University in 1994-1995, Diamant spent the year researching women’s lives thirty-five hundred years ago, especially the domestic details of daily life involving food, clothing, work, midwifery, healing, and kinship. Diamant added her own imaginative speculations to the material she gathered and, in addition, included an emphasis on contemporary women’s spirituality that was also a product of her year’s research. As with her other work, Diamant combined her interest in Judaism and Jewish traditions with a sensitivity to the transformed status of women in modern times. The emphasis on female characters in her novel distinguishes it from the Bible, in which women are usually marginal–in this regard, The Red Tent is a radical departure from the original text. Whereas Dinah was silent in the Bible, Diamant’s narrative is told in the voice of Dinah, who gives a perspective that dissents from the official version. As a result, Diamant is closely identified with feminism and with what she has described as the revolution in consciousness associated with the women’s movement.
Diamant’s novel was virtually ignored when first published, but when her publisher was about to pulp the remaining hardcover copies stored in a warehouse, she suggested that her novel be sent out to rabbis, ministers, nuns, and priests across the United States. The novel reached almost every woman Reform rabbi in the country. Reading groups and independent booksellers began to take an interest in the book. The enthusiastic response of the clergy of both Christian and Jewish communities, as well as its popularity among book clubs, transformed the novel into a publishing phenomenon. Diamant toured extensively to discuss and explain her novel and was a speaker at book fairs, fund-raisers, synagogues, churches, and universities.
Her publicity campaign and the canny marketing of her book cannot completely account for its success, however–her first novel’s popularity also reflected a hunger on the part of women for women’s stories from the Bible in which their place in traditional religion is reconfigured and empowered. In addition, the presence of feminine spirituality in the form of goddesses permitted the novel to express a sense of the holy in a way that was both archaic and modern at the same time. These ingredients led not only to success in the United States but also to the novel’s acquiring an international following. It has been published worldwide, in Australia, England, Finland, France, Germany, Holland, Israel, Korea, Lithuania, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and other countries as well.
Although a favorite of women’s groups and reading groups, Diamant’s novel nevertheless attracted the criticism of religious conservatives because of her departure from the biblical text and her feminist interpretation of the story of Dinah. Her negative portrayal of many of the men in the book has led it to be characterized by conservative dissenters as a diatribe against men. These conservative critiques reflect the fact that the purpose of Diamant’s work was to wed tradition to modernity and to supply Judaism with a perspective that is informed by modern feminism.
Her second novel, Good Harbor, set in New England, abandoned biblical issues to concentrate exclusively on the importance of women’s relationships. Diamant did not neglect her dedication to Judaism, however, and in 2002 formed an organization called Mayyim Hayyim: Living Waters Community Mikveh and Education Center, which offered a sacred space for Jewish men and women to visit for both spiritual and physical healing, and whose mission is also to support Jewish educational and cultural arts programs.