Ever since grade school, Barbara Klein Moss has had a preoccupation with the notion of an "Edenic" place - a personal Garden of Eden, where an idealized environment affords one a peaceful inner life. The theme has surfaced often in her fiction.
Now, thanks to a recent grant, she has taken a step closer to her own paradise, which she defines as achieving success through the novel she's working on.
Late last year, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded Moss a $20,000 literature grant to be used toward work on her first novel. She was one of 50 people chosen from a pool of more than 900 applicants.
"I was totally floored and unprepared because I'd almost forgotten that I'd applied," said the Haverford resident, who received the news via an evening phone call from an NEA representative. "It was very unanticipated. My view toward these things is not to expect them because at every point, it's so subjective."
Moss' intention when she first applied for the grant back in March 2005 was to use the money for research on work she was currently pursuing. Specifically, she wanted to travel to France to study Paleolithic cave art and a Romanesque statue of Eve in Burgundy, France, which she had first spotted on her honeymoon.
Despite not knowing if the grant money had been awarded, Moss and her husband, Stewart Moss, director of major gifts at the Haverford School, visited Europe anyway in October to celebrate their 30th anniversary.
She called it a "classic credit-card trip," and was pleased that she would now be able to justify - and pay - for it.
Though Moss remained rather vague, even tight-lipped, about the plot of her still-developing novel - her previous works have been short stories and novellas - she did confirm that the theme of Eden, and some of her newfound information from France, would play a role in it.
The 63-year-old got somewhat of a late start in fiction - she was doing freelance writing and editing work until 1996, when she earned an MFA in fiction from the Warren Wilson College Program for Writers in North Carolina - but has spent the past decade making up for it.
Since receiving that degree, her work has appeared in such literary journals as New England Review, Georgia Review, Missouri Review, Southwest Review and The Best American Short Stories. Her collection of stories, Little Edens, was published by W.W. Norton in 2004.
A Sense of Exile
Moss grew up in Newton, N.J., a rural town, where perhaps her infatuation with the idea of a heaven-on-earth type of place initially germinated. Her parents, both from Brooklyn, moved there because they felt country life would be easier on her polio-stricken father. Being among the few Jews in the area, Moss said she always felt a sense of being in exile, and dreamed of a better place.
"I was sent to Hebrew school only because the synagogue was across the street from my house," said Moss, who has one grown daughter. "It was later in life that I longed for a deeper knowledge of my faith and decided what Judaism meant to me. It became a key theme in my writing."
In fact, she said that her best-known and most talked-about stories are the ones with Jewish themes. Her novel, which takes place in the 19th century, will also explore such issues.
Moss acknowledged that the novel is coming very slowly, but that she does try to work on it every day and put something concrete down on paper.
The task has been made a bit easier by the grant, she added.
"I haven't been working, but now, at least, I can contribute to the family," she said. "This was a godsend."