I grew up in Los Altos, California, surrounded by live oak trees and golden wild-oat grass. My young life always revolved around one art or another; I prepared for a career in ballet with music and art on the side—but music won out. The first book I remember falling in love with was James Thurber’s The 13 Clocks with its enticingly morbid backdrops, inscrutable humans, and sonorous rhythm. But soon it met serious competition from other favorites: Crime and Punishment, Wuthering Heights, Karel Čapek’s War with the Newts, or any tragedy by Shakespeare.
And it was the allure of Shakespeare’s world that pushed me over the edge. I attended Stanford and the New England Conservatory of Music to prepare for a career in “early music”—classical music that features repertory from Shakespeare’s time through Louis XIV’s. I play the viola da gamba, a six-stringed bowed instrument that had its day in the castles and courts of Europe. I’m a professor at New York University’s Arts and Science Music Department where I teach the viola da gamba. I founded and direct Teares of the Muses, a consort of viols, and we’re proud to have made two very original sounding CDs. I’ve published three books, all tied to the early music field.
I live with my husband in New York City. When the constant excitement becomes overbearing, I reminisce about Northern California’s live oak trees and golden wild-oat grass—or make rare escapes to hike, or soak up culture elsewhere. Every once in a while I take a ballet class. Nothing delights this mother’s heart more than visits with my two grown children.
Even now, my parents continue to shape my world. My late father, Wolfgang K. H. Panofsky, nuclear physicist and a tireless advocate for arms control, has certainly influenced my thinking in The Last Shade Tree—just as my mother, lover of the immense and the minuscule in nature, has left her mark. At ninety-four, she still lives in the house surrounded by golden wild-oat grass where I grew up.
Although I have not spoken out before now, I have watched the world lurch from bad to worse to bad and back again—more times than I can count. I fear for its future, and letting my book characters speak for me, I voice my dismay that human beings seem incapable of learning from past atrocities. I hope that The Last Shade Tree will make a dent in people’s amnesia. Since researching Shade Tree, I have become an outspoken supporter of ICWA, the Indian Child Welfare Act, the 1978 federal law that seeks to keep American Indian children with their families, tribes, and nations.