Literary Nonfiction. Nature. Travel. In May of 2007, noted American poet and novelist and son of Holocaust refugees Michael Blumenthal went to South Africa to volunteer at C.A.R.E., a rehabilitation center for orphaned and injured baboons founded by Rita Miljo. Rita was a Lithuanian-born childhood member of the Hitler Youth who had gone on to have a life as adventure-filled as Beryl Markham’s in West With the Night.
“A lot of people have asked me whether they could write ’my book,’ Rita wrote to Michael shortly thereafter, “and I said no, because I was envisaging a story both sad and happy, but certainly mixed with a lot of humor. But if you asked me, I would not say no.” With that, for the only time in her life, Rita entrusted another human being with thirty years’ worth of her journals, and a rare and unusual collaboration was born. Because They Needed Me is that story, a chronicle of primate conservation and the intrepid and courageous woman who devoted her life to it.
Michael Blumenthal (short bio): is the author of five collections of poetry, most recently The Wages of Goodness (1992), and the novel Weinstock Among the Dying, co-winner of Hadassah Magazine’s 1994 Harold U. Ribelow Prize for Fiction. From 1992-1996, he was Senior Fulbright Lecturer in American Literature in Budapest, as well as an editor at the Central European University Press, and, from 1996 to 1997, taught at the University of Haifa in Israel. A former lawyer, Guggenheim Fellow and Director of Creative Writing at Harvard, he has been Distinguished Poet-in-Residence at the University of Louisville and Boise State University.
For more on Blumenthal: Born in Vineland, New Jersey, on March 8, 1949, Michael Blumenthal grew up in a German-speaking home in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. He received his BA in philosophy from the State University of New York in Binghamton in 1969, and his JD from Cornell Law School in 1974. From 1985 to 1986, he studied clinical psychology at Antioch University and worked in private practice as a psychotherapist with Anglophone expatriates in Budapest.
Blumenthal’s debut collection, Sympathetic Magic (Water Mark Press, 1980), received the Water Mark Poets of North America First Book Prize. His other collections include, most recently, No Hurry: Poems 2000-2012(Etruscan Press, 2012), And (BOA Editions, 2009), and Dusty Angel (BOA Editions, 1999), winner of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Prize.
In his foreword to Blumenthal’s first book, Charles Fishman wrote: “Like Gerald Stern or David Ignatow, Blumenthal has a genuine comic gift as well as a broad, deep sensibility that encompasses and transforms nearly everything he touches—nearly everything that touches him.”
About his work, Grace Schulman has said, “Michael Blumenthal has the intelligence to sort out complexities, the innocence to see the world new, and the craft to combine those often incompatible qualities.”
Also the author of fiction and nonfiction, Blumenthal has published “Because They Needed Me”: The Incredible Struggle of Rita Miljo to Save the Orphaned Baboons of South Africa (Pleasure Boat Studios, 2015), Just Three Minutes, Please: Thinking Out Loud on Public Radio (Vandalia Press, 2013), and All My Mothers and Fathers: A Memoir (Harper-Collins, 2002), among others.
Blumenthal has also published various prose translations, as well as And Yet: Selected Poems of Péter Kántor (Pleasure Boat Studios, 2009). In 2009, he received the poetry prize of the Society for Contemporary Literature in German.
His other honors include fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Ingram-Merrill Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Rockefeller Foundation. In 1985, he was selected by the poet Howard Nemerov to receive the Lavan Younger Poets Prize from the Academy of American Poets.
Blumenthal has lived in, and taught at universities in, Hungary, Israel, Germany, and France. He has served as the Copenhaver Distinguished Visiting Chair in Law and is presently a visiting professor at West Virginia University Law School.
No Hurry: Poems 200-2012 (Etruscan Press, 2012)
And (BOA Editions, 2009)
Dusty Angel (BOA Editions, 1999)
The Wages of Goodness (University of Missouri Press, 1992)
Against Romance (Viking/Penguin, 1987)
Days We Would Rather Know (Viking/Penguin, 1984)
Laps (University of Massachusetts Press, 1984)
Sympathetic Magic (Water Mark Press, 1980)
“Because They Needed Me”: The Incredible Struggle of Rita Miljo to Save the Orphaned Baboons of South Africa (Pleasure Boat Studios, 2015)
Just Three Minutes, Please: Thinking Out Loud on Public Radio (Vandalia Press, 2013)
All My Mothers and Fathers: A Memoir (Harper-Collins, 2002)
When History Enters the House: Essays from Central Europe, 1992-1996 (Pleasure Boat Studios, 1998)
The Greatest Jewish-American Lover in Hungarian History: Stories (Etruscan Press, 2014)
Weinstock Among the Dying: A Novel (Zoland Books, 1993)