On a blustery Maine day, 39-year-old Roberta S. Kuriloff found herself standing on a plot of land purchased with her former partner, holding a couple of wood stakes to mark off exactly where her new house would sit. No longer their land. No longer their dream. Now, just hers.
Immersed in a world of blueprints, materials, contractors, and critters, Roberta confronted the major losses she’d suffered in her life — in particular the deaths of her mother and aunt from cancer and her separation from her father and brother during her placement in an orphanage — and to try to understand how those losses had shaped the woman, lawyer, and activist she’d become. As she cleared land, hammered nails, lifted beams, and shivered in her rented mobile home, the answers began to come to her.
Roberta soon found love again, with a woman named Nancy…only to lose her abruptly just one year later in a car accident. Her grief over Nancy’s death, and the psychic and out-of-body events she experienced following that loss, led to an eight-year spiritual quest where she explored her Jewish roots, the Kabbalah, Buddhism, and reincarnation. As she healed, new love beckoned with Bernice — and at long last Roberta found that intrinsic sense of self, that unshakable foundation of heart and soul, that home, that she’d been searching for all along.
The building of the house became a metaphor for Roberta’s journey and search for wholeness. It was the physical manifestation of finding soul, her essence, and being able to share it with others. Roberta discovered how her four major relationships, four special smiles, intersected with each other without knowing, a connection uncovered when she became more aware, and life became more precious. Home was not just a physical place, but an intrinsic sense of self, an unshakable foundation of the heart and soul.
She Writes Press will publish Roberta S. Kuriloff’s memoir, “Framing a Life: Building the Space to be Me” on July 18, 2023.
“Framing a Life: Building the Space to be Me”
Roberta S. Kuriloff | July 18, 2023 | She Writes Press | Memoir
Paperback | ISBN: 978-1647424954 | $17.95
Ebook | $9.95
About the Author
Roberta S. Kuriloff is a speaker, community activist, former attorney and the author of “Framing a Life: Building the Space to be Me” (She Writes Press, July 18, 2023). With humor and poignancy, her memoir takes readers along an inspiring journey of self-discovery as Roberta finds that home is less a physical place than an intrinsic sense of self, an unshakable foundation of the heart and soul. She also published “Everything Special, Living Joy, Prose and Poems to Inspire,” and a short story she wrote, “Unearthing Home,” was published in Yellow Arrow Publishing Journal. An essay called ‘Musings on the Word Atonement’ was published in “Art In The Time of Unbearable Crisis; Women Writers Respond to the Call” published by She Writes Press June 2022.
As a child living in an orphanage, Roberta dreamed of being Superman’s daughter flying above Earth to save the world’s disenfranchised children, or being the Pied Piper leading the other kids back to their family homes. In later life, her legal work centered on families in emotional and financial crisis. She is a founding member of two domestic violence projects as well as an elderly services organization, and was a hospice patient-volunteer and bereavement workshop facilitator. In between her community work, she makes time to enjoy her passions for writing and dance.
She and her spouse, Bernice, have been together for 27 years and happily married since 2013. They live in the home she built in the woods of Maine.
Find out more about her at www.RobertaKuriloff.com.
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In an interview, Roberta S. Kuriloff can discuss:
- The concept of “home” and how that idea has evolved for her over time – from spending part of her childhood in an orphanage to learning the true meaning of togetherness, family, caring and security
- Pursuing an uncharted spiritual journey, and how she found solace after losing loved ones
- How writing letters to her departed mother in her journal brought her clarity and comfort during times of intense grief
- How we fit into our cultural and religious ancestry
- Understanding how we look at life – half empty or half full
An Interview with
Roberta S. Kuriloff
“Framing a Life: Building the Space to be Me” addresses the concept of home in a very thoughtful way. What imagery and emotions does the word “home” conjure up for you today, and how has that evolved over time?
Home ideally represents togetherness, family, caring and security. It is what I have experienced over the past 27 years with my spouse. As a child, “home” was an orphanage, separated from family, although my father visited us on the weekends, and now and then we visited our extended family. My family, while in the orphanage, were the kids with whom I lived. We established our own little families to feel like we belonged.
Your memoir also explores loss in many forms. Can you tell us about a few of the ways you found solace during these times of intense grief?
Somehow as a child I came to believe that everything in life had a purpose. It helped me survive my pain and sadness. My imagination carried me to being Superman’s daughter, flying above my life, or Roy Rogers’ daughter, riding into the sunset, or sunrise. Best was when my father took us out for the day, and later weekends, where we spent time with relatives.
Your mother died when you were very young, yet you continued to write letters to her throughout your life. Can you tell us about that? Do you still write letters to her?
I communicated with my mother through my diary letters to her, addressed to “Dear Eva,” a few of which are in my book. Doing so made me feel connected to her. I stopped writing the words “Dear Eva” when I became an adult. I still write in a journal, pretty regularly, which helps me process my life. I have about 35 diaries/journals.
Tell us about navigating your spiritual journey and reconnecting with your identity as a Jewish woman. What advice would you give other spiritual seekers?
I have always been a spiritual seeker, believing there was more to life than the one we presently live. I’ve explored various religious ideas and beliefs, as well as books about people who experienced past lives. I don’t relate well to traditional religion, but am still drawn to Judaism and Jewish history, as it defined my family, especially my father’s life growing up in Ukraine, and his experiences as a Jewish survivor, as well as my personal experiences with others who questioned my religion. Yet, I’m also drawn to understanding religions and how humans use it to justify their actions. Being a “spiritual seeker” for me is really looking at life from a higher, challenging perspective, not from the perspective of organized religion telling me what I can and cannot do.
Similarly, can you describe your journey to understand how you fit into your cultural and religious ancestry? Was it challenging? In what ways?
While living in Maine, I went on vacation with Mary Ann to Germany and Russia. My first trip out of the U.S. was eye opening. I discovered German friends who questioned their parents regarding how Jews were “handled” in Germany. They were very progressive. In Russia, I visited a synagogue, as well as had dinner in a Jewish restaurant with a bunch of young Russian men, the latter being a fun evening, especially exchanging little gifts. I discovered my openness to new experiences, as well as to my relationship with food. I’m not afraid to challenge myself, not afraid to challenge my beliefs.
How does your memoir explore relationships of all types (familial, romantic, friendships and with yourself)?
I believe I am very honest and open in my book. I explore and share my experiences of romantic relationships with men and women, my mixed sexual feelings, and the difficulties that arise in friendships when one grows and changes and some friends don’t. When my romantic relationships ended, I still stayed friends, like with Mary Ann and Ernie. I meditate and examine my mind and dreams to better understand my feelings; therapy helped with the latter.
Can you discuss your experiences as a “home kid?” What does that mean to you, and how do you think it continues to inform your identity as an adult?
I still consider myself a “home kid.” It is in my DNA. I see life through that “role,” but at the same time see myself separately from my life’s definitions. I’m a cautious person, but also enjoy living life fully, even when it hurts. I face my fears and pain. I believe the “home kid” experiences made me a more sympathetic attorney with clients. I’m not afraid to share my life with clients and friends; it’s a good learning lesson about survival. But then, most lives are, of course, a learning lesson.
How did your experiences as a lawyer, feminist, lesbian, activist and hospice volunteer inform your approach to this memoir?
I believe my experiences allowed me to be very open and honest in writing my memoir. Working as a lawyer taught me that everyone has challenges, stories to share, pain, love, fear and hidden questions. People are open to sharing when they feel listened to. In all my roles, I am open to learning from, and sharing with, others because we all experience similar fears, hopes and dreams. The best part of being a lawyer was sharing with clients, almost like therapy, for the client and for me.
What do you hope people take away from this book?
Life is difficult, tough, but fun and challenging as we make it. Most of us have choices, and we can choose to be positive or negative, happy or sad. Even those people who suffer from pain and loss, have choices, albeit very difficult. It is how we look at life: half-empty or half-full, as I shared in my first book, “Everything Special, Living Joy.”
Advance Praise for Roberta S. Kuriloff
“Framing a Life: Building The Space to Be Me is the story of one woman’s quest for self-understanding, love, and the meaning of home. On days when I despair that nothing much is going right, I look to Roberta and her courage, perseverance, and optimism. Her story could have been the story of a bitter woman, beaten down by life and loss. It is anything but. It is a shining light held aloft for any woman struggling to find that place within that is whole, complete and at peace.”
— Cathleen O’Connor, PhD, author of High Heels on the Hamster Wheel (Balboa Press, 2014), The Everything Law of Attraction Dream Dictionary (Adams Media, 2010), and The Collection: Flash Fiction for Flash Memory (Anchala Press, 2018)
“Framing A Life by Roberta S. Kuriloff is about the search for home, family, and love—yet is so much more. This story examines the grief of losing all we human beings long for in this world, but still moving forward with faith, love, and tenacity. You will smile. You will cry. Best of all, you will cheer on Roberta as she learns home is not necessarily a place. It is embedded in your core, your heart, and your soul.”
— Laura L. Engel, author of You’ll Forget This Ever Happened: Secrets, Shame, and Adoption in the 1960s
“Kuriloff tells her amazing story of resilience. This is the journey of her survival, her intense drive to succeed, and the later death of her partner—a woman she loved. Finding the surprising depths of her spiritual side, she not only relearns how to love, but she also relearns how to live. It is an intensely personal yet very relatable work.”
— Linda Bergman, screenwriter, producer, and author of So You Think Your Life’s A Movie: The Sequel
“Roberta’s memoir is honest and poignant and shares with grace how she overcame her life’s tragedies. Her courage and optimism and the ways she found and built her true home— in the deepest sense of the word—will uplift and inspire many readers.”
— Rivvy Neshama, author of Recipes for a Sacred Life: True Stories and a Few Miracles
“Rarely have I read a memoir that was so captivating. Roberta Kuriloff’s resilience and tenacity in the face of adversity is inspiring. Through her work as a lawyer and her interactions with family and friends, she demonstrates what it means to be a compassionate feminist and a joyful, spiritual person.”
— Patricia Ould, PhD, co-author of Same-Sex Marriage, Context, and Lesbian Identity: Wedded but Not Always a Wife
“In Framing a Life, Roberta constructs—from fragments of past scenes, journal entries, night dreams, changing states of being, and reflections—a textual home for herself and the reader to reside in, inside the territory of a culturally evolving America. This narrative—of a return to a whole and expanded self, one evoking Walt Whitman’s iconic line (“I am large, I contain multitudes’)—is a timely permission to illuminate the manifold pieces of one’s own life and reassemble them into a compassionate definition of oneself, alive at a certain moment, in a certain place, in human history.”
— Marj Hahne, poet, writer, editor, teacher and member of IWWG.org
“This remarkable memoir—one of the deepest I’ve ever read— is my kind of revelation. The book made me cry out, cover my eyes, mourn, and beam with pride and appreciate the trials that led to my own emotional and spiritual growth. Roberta Kuriloff’s story will find a place alongside Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” and Amy Chua’s, “Tiger Mother.” Permeated with humility, bravery, and a bold feminist intersection, “Framing a Life,” is a triumph for many of us with both hurting and joyful heart. It will last in our times and long, long into the future. I stand in solidarity with Ms. Kuriloff, her family and for everyone she touches with her wise and magnificent soul.”
— June S. Gould, Ph.D. Author of “The Writer in All of Us, Plume and E.P. Dutton, workshop leader for The International Women’s Writing Guild
“Roberta Kuriloff uses the metaphor of home to deepen our understanding of belonging. Overcoming a stark life in an orphanage she becomes a lawyer driven to become a voice for abandoned and abused children and ultimately builds a home of her own in Maine to shelter her loved ones. An inspiring memoir about the construction and union of both an inner and outer life.”
— Maureen Murdock, Ph.D. Author of The Heroine’s Journey: Woman’s Quest for Wholeness and Unreliable Truth: On Memoir and Memory
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