Marcia Falk was born and raised in New York, where she attended public school and afternoon Hebrew school during the week and the Art Students League on the weekends. She received a B.A. in philosophy magna cum laude from Brandeis University and a Ph.D. in English and comparative literature from Stanford. She was a Fulbright Scholar in Bible and Hebrew literature at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and returned there a few years later as a Postdoctoral Fellow. For fifteen years she was a university professor, teaching Hebrew and English literature, Jewish studies, Bible, and creative writing at Stanford, the State University of New York at Binghamton, and the Claremont Colleges. Her work has been published widely in magazines and anthologies in the U.S. and abroad. In addition to pursuing her own poetry, she has devoted her creative energy to discovering and translating old and new voices of other women poets, in particular, those writing in Hebrew and in Yiddish.
Marcia Falk's groundbreaking prayer book, The Book of Blessings: New Jewish Prayers for Daily Life, the Sabbath, and the New Moon Festival (Harper Collins, 1996; paperback edition, Beacon Press, 1999), re-creates Hebrew and English liturgy in poetic forms from a contemporary, gender-inclusive perspective. Long awaited in many sectors of the Jewish community, The Book of Blessings was the result of thirteen years of research and writing, and includes new blessings, poems, and meditations, accompanied by a commentary intended for general readers as well as scholars. Reviews of The Book of Blessings have included praise from distinguished author Cynthia Ozick, who wrote, "Marcia Falk's work on Hebrew blessings is as beautiful as it is innovative," and liturgy scholar Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman, who called it "a liturgical and literary masterpiece." "Falk puts purpose and potency back into prayer," wrote Alisa Solomon in The Village Voice.
Marcia's classic verse translation of the biblical Song of Songs was released in 2004 in a new edition, The Song of Songs: Love Lyrics from the Bible (Brandeis University Press/University Press of New England). When it was first published, Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote, "I thought until now that the Song of Songs could not be translated better than it is done in the King James translation. Marcia Falk really managed to do an exceptional poetic job." Poet Adrienne Rich called Falk's Song of Songs "one of the great classics of the art of translation" and went on to write, "It is always a thrill when (as rarely happens) the scholar's mind and the poet's soul come together." Commenting on the 2004 publication, Li-Young Lee, winner of the Academy of American Poets Distinguished Poetry Award, wrote, "More than a quarter of a century since it first appeared in print, Marcia Falk's translation of the Song of Songs remains unsurpassed for power, elegance, and music. Marcia Falk is a poet's poet, and this is a real poet's translation."
Marcia Falk's most recent book is The Spectacular Difference: Selected Poems of Zelda (Hebrew Union College Press, 2004), the first full-length English translation of the poetry of twentieth-century mystic Zelda Schneurson Mishkovsky. An Orthodox Jew descended from a line of prominent Hasidic rabbis, Zelda emerged from the world of her fathers and mothers to become a best-selling author beloved by the diverse Israeli readership. "Zelda's poems as given to us in Marcia Falk's fine translations are wondrous, magical," said Li-Young Lee. Israeli writer Amos Oz called The Spectacular Difference "delightful... an exemplary translation of one of the most wonderful voices in modern Hebrew poetry."
Marcia has also produced a translation of the poems of Yiddish modernist Malka Heifetz Tussman, With Teeth in the Earth (Wayne State University, 1992). Reviewer Lucille Day, writing in Calyx, called it a "stunning collection," and David Roskies, Chair of the Department of Jewish Literature at the Jewish Theological Seminary, wrote, "There is no other Yiddish literary translation quite like this—nor is there likely to be again."
Marcia's other works include three poetry books: My Son Likes Weather; This Year in Jerusalem, about which Adrienne Rich wrote, "These poems have the lucidity of etchings and the intensity of gemstones"; and It Is July in Virginia, which won the Claytor Award of the Poetry Society of America and about which poet Heather McHugh wrote, "It forges new ground... [these are] odd, still, resonant poems, quite distinctive, at times almost revelatory."
Marcia resides in Berkeley, California, with her spouse, poet Steve Rood. Their son, Abraham Gilead (Abby), is a student at Vassar College. A popular public speaker, Marcia travels widely to college campuses and to venues in the Jewish community, where her topics range from the love lyrics of the Bible to contemporary Jewish women writers. She also leads congregations in services and rituals from The Book of Blessings.
© Marcia Falk. Photo by Rise Cohen.