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Art People — Rita Bleiman | writer | 8/16/14, 12:06 PM

Published on GazetteNet (

Art People — Rita Bleiman - writer

Thursday, July 10, 2014

(Published in print: Friday, July 11, 2014)

As a Northampton city councilor from 2000 to 2006, Rita Bleiman served her adopted hometown, though at

a cost. Years of measuring every word she spoke affected her writing, she says, and not for the better.

“You’re always conscious of everything you say, and that became a part of me,” she said. “I noticed that my

writing was really flat — it had no energy, no humor.”

“Acts of Contrition,” Bleiman’s self-published second novel, comes with her years as an elected official

behind her, time enough for whatever stilted prose had seeped into her writing to seep back out. It took a

while, she said, for the spontaneity to return.

Set in Washington, D.C., in the 1970s, “Acts of Contrition” is the tale of Gloria Warren — a smart, mouthy,

young Capitol Hill aide with a sharp eye and a quick wit, whose adventures blend Washington shenanigans

with the story of a former schoolmate of Warren’s who goes missing.

Bleiman and her protagonist share common ground. A Texas native, Bleiman, then a teenager, joined the

jubilant throngs waving at the Kennedy motorcade in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, shortly before the shots were

fired — just as Warren, at 16, does in the opening pages of “Acts of Contrition.” In 1968, Bleiman migrated to

Washington and landed a job working for Sen. Walter Mondale’s office, a path Warren follows with a fictional


“She’s been in places I’ve been, she’s very opinionated, she’s an outspoken bleeding heart, sort of

obnoxious — and she has bad hair,” Bleiman said, when asked about their shared history. As for the hair,

Warren, in her up-front style, tells the reader that the bane of her existence “was my thin, unmanageable

Art People — Rita Bleiman | writer | 8/16/14, 12:06 PM Page 2 of 2

hair. Originally it was the color of a grocery sack, but I’d been dyeing it for some time.”

“So naturally, people think she’s me,” Bleiman said. “But she’s more courageous than I am, she believes in

her views enough to take people on, and she does amazing things to help a friend.”

Bleiman turned to fiction after writing 10 plays, the first of which she wrote as an Ada Comstock student at

Smith College in the early ’80s.

“I wanted to see what those rejection letters looked like,” she answered without missing a beat when asked

about her pivot from playwright to aspiring novelist. On a more reflective note, Bleiman said she liked the

immediacy of creating theater, but that fiction offered the appealing latitude of going beyond the spoken

word to develop descriptive scenes, characters and places.

Bleiman said she starts writing only when she knows what her story arc will be — subject to revision of

course. “I like rewriting more than writing,” she said, and as part of that process, she’s a longtime member of

a writers group that critiques each other’s work. “We’re very harsh on each other’s stuff,” she said. “We all

want to be as good as we can be.”

At 68, Bleiman’s not sure she has another book in her. “I may have retired,” she said, though she hasn’t

decided whether that’s because she’s really done or just weary of today’s grim political landscape. As

someone who’s been motivated by the joy of politics, Bleiman says the current nastiness in Washington is

too depressing to inspire another novel. But who knows? “I could say I’ll never write again and then wake up

the next day with the idea for my next novel.”

— Suzanne Wilson

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