Author Erika Dreifus explores Jewish plights in Quiet Americans

For aspiring writers, it’s an amazing opportunity to meet published authors and listen to them read from their books. On Nov. 12, Geneseo Literary Forum brought New York City native Erika Dreifus to Geneseo to read from her debut short story collection Quiet Americans.

Quiet Americans, inspired by stories that Dreifus’ paternal grandparents told her, focuses primarily on German Jews who immigrated to America during World War II and the effect their stories have on their descendants. The collection was named a 2012 American Library Association Sophie Brody honor title for outstanding Jewish literature and was also named a notable book in The Jewish Journal.

The story Dreifus read to a full Harding Lounge, “Lebensraum,” was about a German Jewish immigrant who serves in the United States military and is put in charge of a group of German prisoners of war in a camp in Iowa. Dreifus said this story was based on a similar situation her grandfather was put through during WWII.

In German, “lebensraum” means “living room or space” and also refers to a policy under the Third Reich that meant searching for more territory for the German people.

In 1999, Dreifus received a doctorate in history from Harvard University where she focused her studies on Franco-American diplomacy during World War II. While researching for her dissertation, Dreifus found herself drawn toward fiction writing and entered into a low-residency master of fine arts program at Queens University of Charlotte, where she received her degree in 2003.

Dreifus said that she finds herself “more interested in the circumstance, not so much actual character, more the situation in which the characters find themselves.”

She also said that her history degree helps her when researching for stories and that she used general family stories so that “a lot of it is imagined, [a] built up family story.”

It was the “not knowing the reality of some things that pushed me forward with this work” and helped her to work creatively.

Dreifus said that she is a huge fan of writing exercises to help develop characters and ideas for her stories. She said she believes that “[you] can always keep revising, it’s never really done.”

According to Dreifus, one of the best revision and editing techniques is reading your work aloud because when you’re writing, you “get so used to what you wrote and reading to yourself allows [you] to see the rhythm of sentences and watch out for repetition.”

On her website,, Dreifus has a collection of links to masters of fine arts programs in writing and also posts notifications about writing opportunities and contests that she finds.

“We’re all in this together as writers,” she said.