BackStory: Five Questions with Ellen Goldstein

Irene and Marie Curie, 1925

BackStory: Five Questions with Ellen Goldstein
Author of Marie Curie’s Kitchen

What inspired you to write this “Marie Curie’s Kitchen”?

I read Barbara Goldsmith’s Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie (UK / US), and was struck by the way Goldsmith wrote about the personal and domestic details of Curie’s life alongside the science. I was probably avoiding doing my own dirty dishes, and thinking, well, what was Marie Curie’s kitchen like?

Were there any interesting facts, details, or turns of phrase that didn’t quite make the final piece?

Yes, so many interesting details! Pierre Curie used to carry test tubes of radium around to show his friends. It burned him, and contributed to the bone cancer that eventually killed him. (His weakened bones caused him to fall under a carriage.) Even today you have to sign a waiver to read the Curies’ papers, because they are still radioactive.

Also, what I find depressing is that even though women are much more free to study science today, so many of the social and cultural barriers Marie Curie faced still exist, albeit in lesser form.

How much research did you do while writing and editing this piece? Did you discover anything that surprised you?

I learned that the UK spelling of “distill” is “distil”!

What do you have in common with your main character?

Like Irène, I am the daughter of a scientist. But my father was the scientist, not my mother (and neither won the Nobel Prize!).

What do you like most about writing flash, prose poetry, and hybrid work?

“Marie Curie’s Kitchen” began as a poem. But I didn’t just take out the line breaks and call it done. I rewrote it as prose. During the rewriting process, I added some detail that just hadn’t occurred to me in the poem version. It was a pleasant surprise!

Ellen Goldstein’s work has appeared in journals such as The Common, Tahoma Literary Review, StorySouth, and Carbon Culture Review, as well as in the anthologies Not Quite What I Was Planning, Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry, and Queer South. She is the author of Stuff Every Beer Snob Should Know (Quirk, 2018). Learn more about her writing and editing work at

Image of Irene and Marie Curies in 1925 courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.