Five years ago, when Anne Blankman ’01 was at home with her newborn daughter, she found a quiet moment to rummage through a box of books and notes from her senior thesis, a novella about the last days of Hitler’s life.
One book stood out: Ronald Hayman’s Hitler and Geli, which examines the relationship between Hitler and a half niece. Blankman was revisiting her fascination with the juxtaposition of innocence and the Nazi party that started at age 12, when she read Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl, and continued with her studies at Union, where she majored in English and history and graduated summa cum laude.
“I could not stop thinking about what it must have been like to be a teenage girl in [Hitler’s] inner circle,” she recalls. So, she created a fictional character, Gretchen Müller, a favorite of “Uncle Dolf,” who in time discovers that her father, a prominent Nazi Party member, may have been murdered by his own comrades.
The first-time author has penned a popular young adult fiction book, Prisoner of Night and Fog(see Bookshelf, this issue). It has been nominated for Best Fiction for Young Adults by the American Library Association. Blankman has been named a Spring 2014 “Flying Start” by Publishers Weekly. Her agent has sold rights in Holland, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand. She was invited to speak at the Edinburgh (Scotland) International Book Festival, the largest literary festival in Europe.
Prisoner of Night and Fog is the first in a three-book deal of YA fiction. A sequel, Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke, is due out next spring. Blankman is at work on a third book, set in England in 1666 that was inspired by a poetry class she took with Prof. Hugh Jenkins.
Blankman, who spoke this spring in the Alumni Writer’s Series, credits her Union professors for their continuing influence. Jordan Smith of English and Stephen Berk of History were co-advisers for her thesis and taught a number of her classes. “I took incredible classes with professors who influence me and with whom I’m still in contact,” she said. “It’s a testament to what a great community Union is.”
She also draws literary inspiration from her parents. Her mother, Lynn, published mysteries for middle grade children. Her father, Peter, retired in 2005 as Union’s longtime director of public relations and editor of this magazine.
Anne and her husband, Mike Cizenski ’01, an electrical engineer, live in Yorktown, Va. with their daughter, Kirsten, 5. Anne is a public librarian in York County, Va.