Preoccupation with family permeates Death Cleaning and Other Units of Measure, and with a sharp eye, Burke calls out behavior, however well intentioned, that wreaks havoc on relationships, including sibling rivalry, mother/daughter conflicts, broken rules, self-protective untruths, and the consequences of non-conformity. The characters she brings to the page are sometimes unaware of their precarious units of measure, the yardsticks they use to size up themselves, their spouses, their children and others. At other times they are aware and unapologetic for measuring others against their internalized values. Burke addresses infertility and other women’s issues, pre-occupations of our life partners, marital conflict, aging and moving on, as well as a life altering adolescent crisis. Beneath all of this, Burke reminds us and encourages us to forgive the flawed expressions of love we all may find familiar.

This  is her interview:

“Nancy Burke’s Death Cleaning and Other Units of Measure is a wide-ranging, moving work, which focuses with great sensitivity on the intersection between the inner lives of ordinary people and their daily experiences. Told from multiple points of view––young, old, men and women––it deftly captures the long-held secrets, misunderstandings, and bonds, however fraught, that make up any relationship. In Burke’s world, no matter the distance between people, whether a generational or a religious divide, or a tenuous bond between neighbors, one never doubts their connection. Her wise insights about mothers and daughters, siblings, and romantic partnerships give these memorable characters weight. Stylistically, the collection encompasses linked stories, stand-alone ones, and a piece entirely in dialogue. For readers looking to dive into a rich exploration of the seasons of women’s and men’s lives, this is a book to treasure.” ––Roselee Blooston, author of the novel, Trial by Family, an IPBA Gold Medal Winner, A Chocolate Jar & Other Stories, the memoir Dying in Dubai, a Foreword INDIES Book of the Year, and Almost: My Life in the Theater

Why did you want to write this book?
I pulled this collection of stories together in August 2021, after I read Hilma Wolitzer’s collection, Today a Woman Went Mad at the Supermarket. I am a fan of her earlier books and when I learned the stories in her collection were from all stages of her life I took out my own stories, also from many stages, written between 1995 and today, and worked them into a collection.

What is your book about?
Death Cleaning is a term some of my family members use to describe cleaning out piles of stuff from their homes so their children don’t have to deal with any of it when they die. In the story by that name, the character is cleaning out more than physical junk. The Other Units of Measure are our virtual yardsticks, part of our internal value systems we use to pass judgment, on just about everything and everyone in our lives including ourselves. I think the act of gathering these stories, accumulated over decades, is a kind of personal death cleaning, even though hopefully I am nowhere near my own death! So many of these stories came from sparks of insight into the behavior of characters who often make bad decisions for good reasons. Or make good decisions for the right reasons. I think my desire to write about uncomfortable truths inspired them. I say that because the stories were written individually. Each is a slice of life for characters that are facing challenging circumstances.

What do you hope other people will take away from reading your book?
We just came through the pandemic during which we let go of our outer concentric circles of connection. Our worlds narrowed and people revealed their very best attributes and their worst moments of conflict with the closest and the most important people in their lives. Polarizations in our political alignments have broken family ties and ended friendships on top of the strains of the pandemic. Some of us need to question our internal “Units of Measure” and how we use them against others. Readers will see human behavior, admirable and not, authentic representations of the familiar in each of these stories. It was eye opening for me to read these myself, many years after writing them, to see how my own units of measure are different now.

Who are your favorite authors (and why)?
Flannery O’Connor is my most favorite. She called out the hypocrisy of people in her southern gothic world with a wicked wit, and did it so well that many not familiar with her motive often scratch their heads. Some have actually accused her of being racist for representing that societal hypocrisy on the page. I love Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River and Virgil Wander. I already mentioned Hilma Wolitzer. I enjoy her daughter Meg Wolitzer’s work as well. I discovered Kevin Wilson while writing Only the Women are Burning, my last novel. He is the only other contemporary writer I found using the idea of spontaneous human combustion in a believable fictional context. I love his gentle way of developing character and his unique point of view.

What’s next for you?
I am currently writing an adaptation of my first book, From the Abuelas’ Window, for stage and screen. It will be a musical. My lyricist and I just found a composer in Santiago de Chile and already we can see how he is bringing his Chilean musical authenticity to the project.  It is new territory for me but great fun. From the Abuelas’ Window is an important story about political oppression and its impact on everyday people. I compare it to the Sound of Music and Fiddler or at least I strive toward that mix of family love and outside danger. I’ve never written songs before. It’s opening up a whole new world for me.

What is the best way for our readers to connect with you

Readers can find me at:
Instagram as: nancy.burke21
Facebook author page:

How can our readers get a copy of your book?

Nancy Burke studied writing at the Rutgers’ Newark MFA Creative Writing Program and teaches writing at Montclair State University and New Jersey Institute of Technology. Her earlier work includes: From the Abuelas’ Window (2005), If I Could Paint the Moon Black (2014) and Only the Women are Burning (2020). Her short fiction has appeared in Pilgrim: A Journal of Catholic Experience and Meat for Tea: The Valley Review. Her story, At the Pool, (included in this collection) was a Finalist in the J.F. Powers Prize for Short Fiction at Dappled Things Magazine. She lives in Little Falls, NJ.

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