Rosalie H. Contino’s Born to Create is a sweeping reminiscence of her long-held desire to transition from a New York City school teacher into a creative arts scholar, playwright and costume design historian.
Fascinated by fashion design and writing, Contino dreamed of an artistic career, but in the 1950s, when she started college, teaching was among the few professions available to women. Contino majored in elementary education and taught in public school for 19 years. At age 40, unwilling to continue denying her passion, she took a sabbatical and enrolled in New York University’s doctoral program for educational theater.
In chronological chapters with quick-paced prose, Contino describes her decades-long pursuit of her degree. Her perseverance is clear, and she discloses setbacks along the way. Yet the memoir relies too heavily on recounting chronology rather than offering a powerful narrative arc, and readers may wish she had culled the more mundane details of her journey. (“We also had a term project. Jodi, Miriam, and I decided to research Elizabethan costumes… After finishing our individual research, we compiled a two-hundred-page document.”)
The Preface and back cover note that, in addition to hoping to inspire people “of all ages,” she aims the story at high school students wondering whether or not to major in the arts. This may lead some to expect specific advice, yet there are no instructions to that effect.
Additionally, the text contains proofreading issues and awkward phrasing (“Whatever I sewed was because that was the first show with which I had a connection”).
Despite such pitfalls, her insights about women’s roles and being shamed by her Italian-American community for becoming a writer (“Good Italian women don’t write,” she heard) add substance to Contino’s imperfect yet courageous story. And readers will be buoyed to learn that she has found success: In addition to this book, she has written several plays (one staged), TV scripts and poems (four published) and is working on a novel.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.