Renate Stendhal, Ph.D., is German-born and Paris-educated. She lives in the San Francsico Bay area and works as a writing coach and mentor. She also offers intuitive listening and common sense conversation. She is the award-winning author of several non-fiction and fiction books, in part co-authored with her life-companion Kim Chernin.
During her school years in Berlin and Hamburg, Renate pursued studies of music, singing, painting, and dancing. She majored in literature at Hamburg University, then moved to Paris in 1966 to focus on classical dance. After an engagement at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, she returned to Paris in 1970 and joined the experimental theater group COLTRA. From 1975 to 1982, she worked in Paris as a cultural correspondent for German radio and press (Frankfurter Rundschau et al.), and as a personal assistant for the painter Meret Oppenheim. “For all those years, I dreamed to be a writer. I had preserved my first poem, written at age six, kept a ‘novel’ penned at eight, and been a compulsive journal writer from age twelve. In Paris, I moved from one bohemian room to the next, dragging along a big old suitcase filled with diaries. And yet, despite all the signs, I feared becoming a writer.”
The turning point came with the beginning of the French and German feminist movements in the early seventies. Renate became an activist from almost day one. “I had already come out, but now along with other women, I suddenly found my voice. The encouragement of my revolutionary sisters got me started writing and speaking out publicly.” In 1980-1981, Renate wrote and co-created (with Danish painter Maj Skadegaard) the multimedia show In the Beginning . . . of the End: A Voyage of Women Becoming. Renate and Maj toured all over Europe with the show and then the film version (produced by the Canadian Film Board).
At the same time, she began writing and lecturing on women’s creative and erotic empowerment. Her essays and articles appeared in major feminist magazines (including Feministische Studien and Emma). During the eighties, she became the first German translator of feminist authors Audre Lorde, Susan Griffin, Adrienne Rich, and others. In 1984, she accompanied Aurde Lorde as a translator on a reading tour of Germany and Switzerland. “In this period of my life, I felt I was living in my toolmaker’s workshop. Writing in several languages, doing journalism and translations were challenges I chose because they would sharpen my tools.” Her biggest challenge was translating Gertrude Stein’s only mystery novel, Blood on the Dining-Room Floor, into German.
Stein had been one of her muses long before Renate had any idea that one day she would create a new kind of biography of her, a photobiography with parallel visual and textual readings of Stein’s life, Gertrude Stein in Words and Pictures (Algonquin Books, 1994, first published in German by Arche Verlag). “I discovered that it took at least four languages to read Stein’s word games and decode her double (triple, quadruple) entendres: German, Yiddish, French and English — all languages that I knew. I had studied Yiddish in the first university class offered in Germany, after the Holocaust. I also discovered that it was harder for me to write in my German mother tongue and that English, my sister tongue, gave me an unsuspected taste of freedom and playfulness.” The post-modern wave of public interest in Stein led Renate to start a Stein blog in 2006, “Why Do Something If It Can Be Done: Quoting Gertrude Stein.”
Since her move to California in 1986, Renate earned a Ph.D. in spiritual psychology but chose not to become a therapist. She was ordained at AIWP, the Association for the Integration of the Whole Person. She has given workshops for couples and is talking and listening to people as a spiritual mentor and guide. See: Listening and Conversation.
The first book she published in the States, Sex and Other Sacred Games (Times Books, 1989), came right out of her feminist experience in Europe. It also came out of falling in love with an American in Paris, Kim Chernin, with whom she co-authored the book. Another collaboration with Kim was the result of a shared passion for a young opera singer, Cecilia Bartoli: The Passion of Song (HarperCollins, 1997). For Renate, music, cultural journalism, and psychology all came together in this “portrait of the artist as a young woman.”
Renate continued her reflections on women and eros with True Secrets of Lesbian Desire: Keeping Sex Alive in Long-Term Relationships (North Atlantic Books, 2003), originally published as Love’s Learning Place: Truth as Aphrodisiac in Women’s Long-Term Relationships (EdgeWork Books, 2002). Based on her conversations with women couples and on her own experience with the challenges of monogamy, True Secrets claims that truth-telling is a turn-on–”the healthiest, cheapest, most effective aphrodisiac available.”
Renate’s first novel goes back to her childhood in the outskirts of Berlin where her grandfather’s garden provided for the family’s survival throughout the war and the post-war Berlin blockade. She wrote and illustrated The Grasshopper’s Secret: A Magical Tale (EdgeWork Books, 2002) almost entirely under a small tree in her Berkeley garden. The novel is woven around the themes of love and death, the city of Venice, music, and the magic of glass. “Memories from my own childhood came up in unexpected ways, just as grasshoppers made surprise appearances on my laptop while I was writing.”
Renate has given classes in creative writing and has lectured widely on literary as well as other cultural and spiritual topics. She pursues her passion for cultural commentary, writing as a senior correspondent for the International Magazine for Arts and Media, Scene4, and blogging for the Huffington Post.