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Jesse Lee Kercheval is a poet, fiction writer, memoirist, and translator. She was born in Fontainbleau, France, and raised in Washington, D.C., and Cocoa, Florida. She studied writing at Florida State University and graduated with an MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop. After a year’s teaching at DePauw in Indiana, she moved to Madison, Wisconsin, to teach creative writing at the university. She currently divides her time between Madison and Montevideo, Uruguay.
Naturally, Kercheval has often set stories in places she has lived. Her novels The Museum of Happiness and My Life as a Silent Movie are mostly set in France, which is also central to her recent poetry collection America that island off the coast of France. From the age of ten, she lived in Cocoa, Florida, and the memoir Space is about her childhood spent close to Cape Kennedy where the Apollo moon missions were local stories. Her novel Brazil follows an unlikely couple on an impulsive road trip from Florida to Wisconsin, reflecting her own changes of address, Florida to Indiana to Wisconsin. Since 1987 she has been a professor of creative writing at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and that’s the town where her novel-in-stories, The Alice Stories, is set.
Kercheval has an abiding interest in silent film. She has attended the Pordenone Silent Film Festival for twenty years and once wrote scenarios for her husband’s Wisconsin Bioscope film company. Silent film is the subject of her chapbook Film History as Train Wreck and her poetry collection Cinema Muto. My Life as a Silent Movie is a novel that reimagines the fate of the Russian silent film star Ivan Mosjoukine. Less exotic than her interests in the space program and silent cinema, family life is another important theme. Her poetry collections World as Dictionary and Dog Angel are the result of being the mother of two children.
Since 2010, Kercheval has regularly spent time in Uruguay, doing her best to learn Rioplatense Spanish. Her first serious attempt to write in Spanish was the poem Torres, published in Uruguay in 2014 in a bilingual edition with her English translation Towers. The next year her poetry collection Extranjera/ Stranger was published in bilingual format. She has also translated Uruguayan poetry into English, including work by Circe Maia, Idea Vilariño, Tatiana Oroño, and Javier Etchevarren.
Most recently, Kercheval has enjoyed collaborating with other poets and translators. She has worked together with Catherine Jagoe to translate Luis Bravo and Laura Cesarco Eglin and with Jeannine Pitas to translate Silvia Guerra. She is also the editor or co-editor of a number of anthologies of Uruguayan poetry and essays.
Another recent interest is environmental writing and eco-poetry. She is on the board of the South American Institute for Resilience and Sustainability Studies (SARAS), based in Bella Vista, Uruguay. She edited the anthology Earth, Sky and Water: An Anthology of Environmental Poetry for SARAS and co-directed the Environmental Humanities in Latin America conference.
Her current projects include co-editing two anthologies of Uruguayan and Argentinian women poets, translating more Uruguayan poetry, and writing personal essays.