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  • NYS Writers Institute

Catching up with Diane Ackerman, author of "The Zookeeper's Wife"

We checked in with Diane Ackerman, poet and author who visited the University at Albany in March of 2017 in connection with the film tie-in edition of her bestselling nonfiction book, The Zookeeper's Wife.

The book and film recount the story of Polish zookeepers Antonina and Jan Żabiński, who rescued hundreds of Jews during the Nazi Holocaust by hiding them in zoo buildings, often among the animals.

From Ithaca, Diane writes, "I'm social distancing in a little house of gardens at the end of a cul de sac, with a tall old sycamore and a showy magnolia in the front yard; and tulips, daffodils and other spring flowers blooming in the back yard. And, of course, on a fertile planet in space."

Diane's gardens were the subject of her acclaimed 2001 book, Cultivating Delight: A Natural History of My Garden.

Q: How are you keeping sane?

A: Reading is such a wonderful comfort, distraction, and act of transcendence in these chilling days. I'm finding great comfort in both poetry and prose. Here's a poem by William Stafford that's speaking to me now.

Time for Serenity, Anyone? by William Stafford

I like to live in the sound of water, in the feel of mountain air. A sharp reminder hits me: this world still is alive; it stretches out there shivering toward its own creation, and I’m part of it. Even my breathing enters into the elaborate give-and-take, this bowing to sun and moon, day or night, winter, summer, storm, still—this tranquil chaos that seems to be going somewhere. This wilderness with a great peacefulness in it. This motionless turmoil, this everything dance

Q: Is social distancing a challenge?

A: Even though authors welcome and need to spend a lot of time alone, I find today's extreme isolation very trying. Thank heavens for walks in nature, the companionship of authors in books, and lots of Zoom and Facetime with friends (I'm even doing crossword puzzles that way with a friend!).

I remember my visit to Albany very fondly... Hope you're well and safe, and somehow thriving.

All my best,


"Diane Ackerman combines her love of writing with a deep dedication to science," published October 21, 2018 in The Writer magazine

Diane talks about The Zookeeper's Wife on the NYS Writers Institute YouTube page:

Trailer for "The Zookeeper's Wife" (2017) starring Jessica Chastain

The Universe in Verse: Diane Ackerman reads The Consolation of Apricots


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