Leigh Steins debut nov­el, The Fall­back Plan, is now avail­able. She will be blog­ging here all week for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

Before I’d set­tled on act­ing or writ­ing, my great­est aspi­ra­tion was sim­ply to Be Anne Frank,” and when I was twelve, I audi­tioned for the title role in a com­mu­ni­ty the­ater pro­duc­tion of the Goodrich and Hack­ett play. I’m pret­ty sure I was one of the few, if not the only, Jew(s) to audi­tion (in a town known for its Evan­gel­i­cal Chris­t­ian col­lege), and I thought I had it in the bag. All they had to do, I thought, was look at my last name and cast me imme­di­ate­ly, to lend cred­i­bil­i­ty to their production.

At call­backs, it was between me and one oth­er Anne. I wore a plaid skirt and a pale sage cardi­gan with tiny rose­buds around the col­lar. I part­ed my dark hair on the side. While the oth­er Anne smiled and laughed and gen­er­al­ly behaved like she was at a food court in the mall, I deliv­ered my lines with grav­i­tas. I looked at the imag­i­nary sky with long­ing. I was sar­cas­tic, but nev­er sil­ly. I nev­er let myself for­get that Anne was a vic­tim of the Holo­caust, and it was my job on stage to hon­or that fact. More than any­thing, I felt I deserved to be Anne because I knew her so inti­mate­ly after read­ing her diaries.

Shock­er: the oth­er Anne got cast. But you look so much like her,” the direc­tor told me on the phone, as a con­so­la­tion prize. It was real­ly tough.

The only thing I could con­sole myself with was the fan­ta­sy that after I died, God would rec­ti­fy this injus­tice by allow­ing me to play the role in Heav­en. (It’s fun­ny that I imag­ined this and not, you know, actu­al­ly meet­ing Anne there in the afterlife.)

One of the rea­sons I loved Francine Prose’s recent book, Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The After­life, is because it tells the fas­ci­nat­ing and fraught his­to­ry of the the­atri­cal adap­ta­tion. Read­ing it four­teen years after that fate­ful audi­tion was a rev­e­la­tion: it wasn’t my fault that I was wrong for the part of Anne. It was the play’s fault. The play rein­vents Anne as some kind of Jew­ish Polyan­na. Prose real­ly hits the nail on the head when she com­pares the insight­ful diarist with her characterization:

On the page, she is bril­liant; on the stage she’s a nitwit. In the book, she is the most gift­ed and sharp-sight­ed per­son in the annex; in the play, she’s the naïve baby whom the oth­ers indulge and pro­tect. For all her talk about being treat­ed like a child and not know­ing who she was, Anne saw her­self as an adult and the oth­ers as chil­dren. In the dra­ma, those rela­tions have been reversed.

Years after I first read her diary, Anne is still an inspi­ra­tion to me. Prose’s book is an excel­lent account of her aspi­ra­tions as a writer (Anne hoped her diaries would be pub­lished, and revised scrupu­lous­ly), and I rec­om­mend it high­ly. I also can thank Prose for lead­ing me to this twen­ty-one sec­ond video, the only video footage known to exist of Anne, in which we see the young diarist briefly from a win­dow, flick­er­ing, alive.

Leigh Steins debut nov­el, The Fall­back Plan, is now avail­able. Leigh is a for­mer New York­er staffer and fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to its Book Bench” blog. She lives in Brook­lyn, where she works in children’s pub­lish­ing and teach­es musi­cal the­ater to ele­men­tary school students. 

Leigh Stein is the author of the nov­el The Fall­back Plan and a col­lec­tion of poet­ry, Dis­patch from the Future. Her work has appeared in Allure, Buz­zFeed, Gawk­er, The Hair­pin, Poets & Writ­ers, Slate, The Toast, and xoJane. For­mer­ly an edi­to­r­i­al staff mem­ber at The New York­er, she cur­rent­ly lives out­side New York City and co-directs the non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tion Out of the Binders.