Words of honor: Goodman makes American Writers

By Laurie Merrill 
GCU News Bureau

In what is considered an extraordinary honor for a writer, an essay about Dr. Diane Goodman of Grand Canyon University and her short-story collections will be included in the next supplement to the American Writers Series.

Goodman’s inclusion in the October supplement puts her in the company of America’s best writers, from the 17th century to the present day.

Dr. Diane Goodman, a beloved English professor at GCU, has been selected for the American Writers Supplements.

Both the series and its American Writers Supplements feature critical and biographical articles on hundreds of authors — many of whose works are required reading in college and high school. That includes such greats as Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, J.D. Salinger, Toni Morrison, Gertrude Stein and T.S. Eliot.

“It’s an enormous honor at this point in my career,” said Goodman, an associate professor in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. She also designed and runs WriteOn, a creative writing content clinic, and is co-adviser of "StartleBloom: The GCU Literary Review," which she launched in 2016.

Goodman’s three short story collections explore the roles that food, cooking and serving play in the lives of the women whose deepest needs and longings she lays painfully bare.

“The Genius of Hunger” was published in 2001, followed by “The Plated Heart” in 2006 and “Party Girls” in 2011.

The first book reflects a period in Goodman’s life when she moved to Miami, Fla., and didn’t know anyone. She used shopping to satiate her loneliness as well as to stuff her grocery carts.

It’s about women like Joan, the main character in the first story, who sees her favorite grocery store as an oasis. Joan loves her shopping trips and “looked forward to them like vacations.”  

But Joan is obese and consumed by shame about her body size and odor. She worries “that the thin aisles would put her too close to other shoppers.”

She has disturbing thoughts about a thin and pretty acquaintance she encounters in the cheese aisle, the teenage son for whom buying food is a form of doting, and a beautiful stranger who inexplicably comes to her aid after she slips and falls.

Dr. Diane Goodman, right, shares a light moment with faculty member Heather Brody at a "WriteOn" session for budding writers and poets at GCU.

Joan’s hunger isn’t for food. It’s for love, acceptance and belonging.

The Plated Heart, which stems from Goodman’s experience owning a Miami catering company, has more of a service theme and ties in the act of giving that making meals can represent.

“When you’re cooking, you’re doing an intimate act for strangers,” Goodman said.

Dorothy, the protagonist in “The Manager,” describes the grocery store she is perusing as “a small town, a perfect small town.”

Dorothy is a private chef in Miami Beach who spends her days in a stranger’s kitchen and her nights alone, Goodman said.

If Joan’s crisis is self-shame over obesity, Dorothy’s is the death of her husband, Billy. She is in in the throes of grief as she shops for her employers.

On one trip, she finds more than food. She develops an imaginary romance with the grocery store manager.

“She heard him before she saw him the first time, a big hearty laugh that sounded so much like Billy’s her head flashed around …” the story says. “The second time she saw him she fell in love with him.”

The object of Dorothy’s obsession is unaware of his distorted status in her thought life. He doesn’t know that she stalks him during unnecessary shopping trips that fill her cart and refrigerator with unwanted food.

It isn’t food she wants. Dorothy wants the manager to satisfy the void left gaping by Billy’s death.

Goodman’s third collection, Party Girls, reflects her growth as an accomplished caterer and reveals her sympathy for clients.  

The first story in the collection, “Beloved Child,” focuses on an executive chef who is on the verge of a crisis she doesn’t want to see. Her boyfriend, Gil, spends much of his free time with Aiko, a woman whose name means “beloved child.” The chef (her name is not given) and Gil live upstairs, and Aiko and her husband live downstairs in a home that Aiko's husband owns. 

Gil and Aiko take long walks during the day while the chef is at work at an exclusive country club. At night, Gil often falls asleep on a couch in the other couple’s living quarters. 

“Gil is an empty receptacle that I could never fill, and so I am relieved that he and Aiko have the kind of relationship that lets them feed off each other’s never-ending grief: They are both the children of dead minister fathers,” the chef says.

Gil and Aiko also prepare Sunday brunches for the foursome. When the chef tries to contribute by slicing avocados or washing the dishes, Aiko discourages her and politely asserts her dominance over the food domain. Aiko’s embrace of food is a metaphor for — well, you have to read the story.  

“All of my books use cooking and food as a metaphor,” Goodman said.

Goodman has been cooking meals since she was a young girl, and as an adult she owned Diane’s on Coventry, a Cleveland restaurant, and Diane Cooks Inc., a Miami catering company.

She said she wasn’t much of a businessperson and enjoyed decorating the trays more than preparing the food.

“For me, it’s almost coincidental that I use cooking and food as a metaphor for loneliness and community and nurturing,” she said.  “I know how to cook. But writing is a necessity for me as a creative outlet.”

Unlike writing, cooking has a finite end.

“When it’s done, it’s done — and then people give you money for it,” Goodman said. With writing, she said, revisions can remain endlessly in the offing. You’re never sure if a story is really done.

Goodman has quickly become a beloved member of the GCU community who is considered tough but fair and thoughtful. Senior English major Ashlienne Newsome said Goodman is her favorite professor.

“She has a whole fan club,” Newsome said. “She’s so real, and she’s so interested in us. It’s funny because when she fills in for another teacher, everyone in the class cheers.”

Senior Ryan Deyling, an English major whose poem "Getting it Right" was published in the 2017 edition of StartleBloom, is grateful for Goodman’s writing acumen.

“She is very dedicated to creative writing and literature,” Deyling said. “She is a big deal in the creative writing community, and she has a great passion for her students.”

Dr. Diane Goodman's three story collections contain cooking and food metaphors.

CHSS faculty member Heather Brody, adviser of GCU’s Friends of the Pen and co-adviser of StartleBloom, also heaped praise on her colleague.

“Dr. Goodman is an extraordinary author and professor, and this is a well-deserved honor,” Brody said. “I am blessed to work alongside her at GCU.”

Ann Patchett, prize-winning author of such novels as "Commonwealth," "Bel Canto" and "State of Wonder," is a big fan and close personal friend of Goodman.

In "The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life," Patchett said of Goodman: "I did wind up writing the book I came to write, and a great deal of the credit for that goes to my friend Diane Goodman, who was living in Pennsylvania at the time. Long-distance phone calls were expensive in those days and I was hopelessly broke; still, talking to Diane proved a wise investment." 

Born and raised in Cleveland, Goodman lived in Miami Beach for 15 years, where she taught part-time at the University of Miami and owned a boutique catering/personal chef business.

Goodman has a Ph.D. in English from Case Western Reserve University, a master’s in English from the University of Delaware, a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Antioch University and a Bachelor of Arts in Science Writing from Denison University.

Goodman's publications include various poems, nonfiction essays and articles in national magazines. She relocated to Phoenix in August 2012 and began teaching English at GCU in January 2014.

It’s a privilege to be selected for American Writers Supplements, a process launched by scholars who have read and taught a writer’s work and then must write a proposal to the Series’ editor in order for the critical essay to be considered for publication.

 “When I first found about it, I said I don’t think I belong in there,”  Goodman said. “It’s really humbling.”

 Contact Laurie Merrill at (602) 639-6511 or [email protected].


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