Beth Kaplan graduated at the age of twenty-two from one of the foremost British theatre schools, the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. She worked for a decade as a professional actress, then left the stage to earn an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia. Scores of her essays and articles have appeared in the Globe and Mail, in other newspapers and magazines and on CBC radio; a play of hers won the Canadian Jewish Playwriting Competition. She has taught memoir and personal essay writing at Ryerson University in Toronto since 1994, and since 2007 also at the University of Toronto, where recently she was given the Excellence in Teaching award. Her book about her great-grandfather Finding the Jewish Shakespeare: the Life and Legacy of Jacob Gordin was published by Syracuse University Press in 2007 and appeared in paperback in 2012. Her new book, All My Loving: Coming of Age with Paul McCartney in Paris, timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Beatlemania, came out in 2014, as did True to Life: 50 Steps to Help You Tell Your Story, a concise guide to memoir writing based on her teaching.
A bit about my life …
I’m an example of what my scientist father called “hybrid vigour” – both American and Canadian, Jewish and not Jewish, my mother born in a thatched cottage in an English village and my father from Manhattan. I too was born in Manhattan but grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with two childhood years in London, England and one in Paris. The Beatles played in Paris while we were there and I saw them twice in one day, a multi-orgasmic experience. (Described in full in All My Loving.)
During my years as a professional actress mostly in Vancouver, I was lucky to work with fine, unknown Canadian actors like Dan Ackroyd, Kim Cattrall and Michael J. Fox. I performed in nine tours, including one that went right across Canada – a country-western musical based on Othello in which I played the pivotal role of Debbie-Lou Belinsky the barmaid. In 1978 I was given a “Best Up and Coming Actress” award by a local critic, but a few years later, pregnant with my first child, I went back to school to prepare for a new career as a writer.
In my forties, a single mother raising two children in Toronto, I began to publish essays in magazines and newspapers. One article, about a woman overcoming her reluctance to smoke weed with her adult children, now appears on a number of hemp-related websites, and my daughter and I were asked to speak on television about the inter-generational marijuana experience.
In 1996 I went back on stage for the first time in fifteen years, to play the eldest sister in The Sisters Rosensweig at the Arts Club Theatre in Vancouver. Happily, I also discovered a different kind of fulfilling work: teaching creative non-fiction writing at Ryerson and the University of Toronto. I also work from home as a writing coach and editor as well as a writer.
Finding the Jewish Shakespeare: the Life and Legacy of Jacob Gordin, a biography of the famous Yiddish playwright who was my great-grandfather, took more than twenty years to grow from an MFA thesis into a published book. My next publication, Yours Truly, a book of the blog, is a compilation of blog entries centered on a five-month journey through France in 2009.
All my Loving: Coming of Age with Paul McCartney in Paris, my memoir set in the mid-Sixties, is the story of a fascinating but lonely year in Paris with my complicated family and features romantic tales I wrote at the time about my love life with Paul. It is dedicated to my grandson. True to Life: 50 Steps to Help You Tell Your Story leads readers down a clear and encouraging path to good writing.
Except for an occasional bout of sadness about the state of the world, I am a ridiculously cheerful person.