I grew up in Buffalo, NY, in a messy, book-filled house where the Second World War formed a sort of psychic wallpaper. My father taught (mostly 20th century European) history at Canisius College for 44 years and my late mother did various jobs outside of the domestic sphere, including writing a novel that was published in the early 80s. My parents were both shaped by World War II — for my mother it was a disaster that led her to be raised by two widows, for my father it was the thrilling narrative of his childhood that drew him to his profession. For me and my siblings, the stories of our ancestors who were prisoners of war and died in the Pacific often seemed more important than the unfurling narratives of our own lives. After all, how can that bundle of contradictions known as a living person compete with the purity of a heroic death at the hands of a callous enemy or with the irony of dying by friendly fire? And what of women’s lives in and after war time? My novel, The Good War, available in January 2025 from Regal House, takes some of the myths of my mother’s family out of the glass case of reverence and dirties them up with outsider lovers, hard drinking, and that great yearning that sometimes leads to art making.
A friend once referred to me as a “restless creative spirit” and I take that as a compliment. I’m also proud to describe myself as a generalist, which sums up my work as an editor at UC Berkeley, where my projects include writing stories related to philanthropy and serving as the media relations lead for development communications. I currently live in Portland, Oregon but work remotely for Berkeley and maintain many deep connections in the Bay Area. I have also lived in New York City; Istanbul, Turkey; in a tiny village in Jalisco, Mexico; on an anarchist farm on the Costa del Sol, Spain; and in a 14th century castle in Southeastern France.
At Barnard College, I pursued a B.A. in Latin American studies after a chance encounter with the works of Julio Cortázar and Clarice Lispector made me wonder if there is something in the water and air of the Southern Cone that predisposes its writers to inventiveness. I was also interested in questions of political and cultural hegemony — why and how did North America come to be so dominant in the world? (Hmm…) Other interests subsequently drew me along other paths — completing an M.F.A. in writing from the University of San Francisco and a 500-hour teacher training certification at the Yoga Room in Berkeley, leading writing workshops at San Francisco Juvenile Hall, and hosting a literary reading series.
I have twice been offered a scholarship to attend the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, and a previous effort at a novel led me to be named a finalist for the James Jones First Novel Fellowship and the Pirate’s Alley William Faulkner Award. I have written about dance, film, theater, and poetry for SF Weekly, 7X7, and on my own site elizabethscostello.com (note that first s). My poetry has been published in venues including The Buffalo Evening News, Crab Orchard Review, Fourteen Hills, and the Solitary Plover, and I have published a chapbook, RELIC, with Two-Way Mirror Books. I have performed with and continue to collaborate with artists including musician Sheila Bosco, poets Marina Lazzara and Maw Shein Win, and choreographer Krista DeNio.
I’m thrilled to join the Regal House family and hope to have a chance to ask other RHP writers about the books that underlie the books they are publishing through this fine press. The Good War has many roots in other texts — perhaps most obviously in some letters that an aunt shared with me. Just when I needed inspiration, she sent me an archive of WWII-era letters among family members, some of whom inspired my fictional characters. One letter — from my grandfather in a prisoner of war camp in the Philippines to my grandmother in suburban Maryland, asking her why she does not write to him — tossed me a throughline for the plot. Novels that inform my novel or made me want to get back to it include Great Granny Webster by Caroline Blackwood, The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante, Beebo Brinker and Journey to a Woman by Ann Bannon, and Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg.