Spotlight on “The Calamity of Desire” by Judith Dancoff

by LitStack Editor

The Calamity of Desire and Other Stories is a debut collection of short fiction by Pushcart-Prize nominated author Judith Dancoff, now available from the award-winning independent publisher Finishing Line Press.

The Calamity of Desire and author Judith Dancoff

About The Calamity of Desire

Described as “luminous” by Los Angeles Festival of Books judge Diane Smith, the seven short stories and one novella weave famous works of art with sometimes real, sometimes fictional artists and protagonists, living through the conflicts of their time. In vivid, lyrical prose and told from the female gaze, Dancoff’s debut collection pairs events of history, and of life, with the healing power of art, to find the boundaries of the human heart.

The title story of the collection, “The Calamity of Desire,” depicts the life of Ria Munk, a young Viennese woman of the last century who commits suicide over a broken heart. “Men have died throughout history on the battlefield,” says Ria, “medals lain across their graves, and why shouldn’t a woman’s death for love be equally esteemed?” As the painter Gustav Klimt attempts her death portrait, Ria’s ghost narrates his efforts, relives her failed love affair, and comes to terms with her suicide. One of the works stolen by the Nazis, the painting now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “The Calamity of Desire” (originally titled “The Death of Ria Munk”) was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

In “Still Life with Cherries,” Louise Moillon, the first female artist to be accepted into the French Academy of Art, grows up in 17th century Paris during the Huguenot/Catholic conflict and finds her voice as a painter. At the end of the story, she begins her painting Still Life with Cherries, based on an actual Moillon still life.

“Terminus,” winner of the Theodore C. Hoepfner Award for best story of the year, is inspired by the life of the 19th c. sharpshooter Annie Oakley who joins Buffalo Bill’s troop in Paris for the opening of the Eiffel Tower, where she encounters the artist Paul Gauguin and struggles to save one of his child models from the same fate she experienced as a child. The basis of a current screenplay in-progress, “Terminus” is inspired by the life of Annie Oakley and Gauguin’s painting of his thirteen-year-old mistress, Annah the Javanese.

Juli Min, editor of The Shanghai Literary Review and author of Shanghailanders, comments about the collection: “The Calamity of Desire is both timeless and quietly subversive: an essential for any art lover, artist, lover, human.”

Other artists and their works depicted in The Calamity of Desire include Auguste Renoir, Diego Velásquez, John Singer Sargent, and Johannes Vermeer, in stories that span the 17th c to the present day.


Praise for The Calamity of Desire

This gorgeous collection brings to life Foucault’s dictum that meaning requires the viewer’s inclusion. Readers are folded into classic artworks, transported across time and space. Art lovers, history buffs, storytellers-read this magical book!Nan Cuba, author of Body and Bread, winner of the PEN Southwest Award.

In Judith Dancoff’s radiant stories, painterly subjects become narrators, celebrated figures are saturated with sinister shadow, and the artist becomes a canvas on which the process of art-making makes its transformative mark. The Calamity of Desire is both timeless and quietly subversive: an essential for any art lover, artist, lover, human.Juli Min, author of Shanghailanders, Editor in chief and Fiction editor of the Shanghai Literary Review

Skilled critics help us understand art in its historical context. In these luminous stories, we experience the rest of that world-through families, through chance encounters, through desire-and are utterly changed.Diane Smith, author of Letters from Yellowstone and Pictures from an Expedition, Judge, the L.A. Times Festival of Books

About Judith Dancoff, Author of The Calamity of Desire

The Calamity of Desire

Judith Dancoff’s fiction and essays have appeared in The Georgia Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Southern Humanities Review, The Shanghai Literary Review, Creative Nonfiction, and elsewhere. Her awards include a 2021 Pushcart nomination for “The Calamity of Desire” and the Theodore C. Hoepfner Award for “Terminus.” She has been awarded residencies at Hedgebrook, the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, where she was the McElwee Family Fellow.

As a filmmaker, her documentary “Judy Chicago the California Girls” is owned by hundreds of universities and museums in the United States and abroad, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

She holds an MFA in fiction from the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College and an MFA in filmmaking from UCLA.

You can find and follow Judith Dancoff on her website, and on Facebook.


Other LitStack Resources

Be sure and check out other LitStack Spotlights that shine a light on books we think you should read.

As a Bookshop, BAM, Barnes & Noble,, Amazon, and Envato affiliate, LitStack may earn a commission at no cost to you when you purchase products through our affiliate links.

The Calamity of Desire

You can find and buy the books we recommend at the LitStack Bookshop on our list of LitStack Recs.

The Calamity of Desire

Related Posts