About Ellen Bryson


As a young girl, there were three things I wanted to do: dance, write, and be a monk. All three take years of solitude, hard work, and living a life built on a financial quicksand. I’ve been lucky enough to try all three.

For over a decade, I eked out a living as a modern dancer in Cleveland, Boston, and New York. Still in my twenties, I was young enough not to care that I had to support myself waiting table, working as a temp, or in any other job to keep some kind of roof over my head.

Dancers, however, have a short shelf life, and after a certain age I knew I needed to do something else. So I applied and miraculously was accepted into Columbia University’s General Studies program where, with the help of scholarships, I earned a degree in English and creative writing. During the summers, I sat meditation at a Buddhist retreat in Massachusetts, and managed to do two three-month silent retreats. By my third year, I seriously considered taking monastic vows.

But the world was too appealing, so I finished school, and then that old pesky “gotta-eat” thing bit at my heels again. As soon as I graduated, I took my first real job at the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation in Manhattan reviewing grants to mature painters and sculptors. What terrific work. Not part of my life triumvirate, perhaps, but the beginning of a career in philanthropy that lasted over a decade.

It was during this time that I met a Navy SEAL in one of my meditation retreats and married him. (This was way beyond luck.) Together, we started what I like to call our gypsy life. We left New York for San Diego, CA, Duluth, MN, and Manama, Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. Eventually, we settled in Washington, DC. There, I went to Johns Hopkins University in DC for an MA in creative writing, working slowly on what would eventually become my first novel.

Just after 9/11, my husband and I decided to do something new: We began to dance the tango. In a moment of inspired insanity, we left our jobs in DC, sold our apartment, and moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina, to dance. We stayed for three years, renovating an apartment, learning Spanish, and exploring. Tango, it turned out, provided limited pleasure, but writing was great, and living in a country where few spoke English changed my perspective forever. In the end, the controlled craziness of our own country proved more endearing than the uncontrollable craziness of another, and home we came.

We currently live in San Diego, but I suspect it won’t last. We’re already considering a move to Paris.