Conversation: Considering Clarice

BY Arts Desk  September 16, 2009 at 10:42 AM EST

Imagine never hearing the name “Franz Kafka” or “Virginia Woolf” — nearly unthinkable given their places in the Western canon. 20th century writer Clarice Lispecter has been enthusiastically compared to those literary giants, despite never gaining popular, international recognition. A major literary celebrity in Brazil, her work ran the gamut from articles in women’s magazines to compelling, philosophical novels. A Ukranian refugee whose family fled to Brazil after suffering significant atrocity during the Russian pogroms, Lispecter became the glamorous wife of a diplomat, and the adored author of works that explored the way her faith had been tested by the horrors of her childhood.

Few know her in America, but Benjamin Moser, an editor at Harper’s Magazine, hopes to change that with his new Lispecter biography, ‘Why This World.’ I spoke with him earlier this week about the writer’s richly complex life and work while he was in Houston, Texas.