Lifes an open book for 92-year-old Berkeley author

Around her 25th birthday, Rhoda Curtis lamented how little she had accomplished. “Alexis de Tocqueville had written this fabulous book at age 25,” she recalls thinking. “And here I was wondering what have I done with my life.”

Today, at age 92, Curtis says, “It’s that kind of silliness that prevents us from enjoying every day.”

Rhoda Curtis

She certainly got over those quarter-century blues. Curtis went on to enjoy a fabulous life as a writer, teacher and world traveler. She also had three husbands and — as she is always quick to remind others — plenty of lovers.

Now she’s written her second book, “After Ninety What,” a follow-up to her previous tome, “Rhoda: The First Ninety Years.”

The first book brought something new to Curtis’ life: fan mail. Not only did other seniors respond to Curtis’ stories; she also heard from men, from younger women and even from teens.

Due for self-publication later this year, “After Ninety What” contains essays, travelogues and short stories, all sprung from the fertile mind of the Berkeley nonagenarian.

She also included a play, “Family Voices,” in which she recreates her now-departed family members in a surreal tableau. Curtis says her plan is to master the art of the three-act play sometime in the next several years.

After that, she’ll come up with a plan for the years after that.

How does this Jewish native of Chicago keep so active? She attributes her health and healthy outlook to “continual curiosity and engagement.”

And, she adds, “I don’t panic when I get sick. Everybody has to deal with problems of blood pressure, heart trouble, whatever. If you look at the situation rationally, without fear, you have a better chance of enjoying what you’re doing.”

Curtis grew up in an observant household, and though she doesn’t consider herself a religious Jew, she once said her Jewishness is “like DNA, like being part of a long history inside you that’s so deep and goes back so far, it doesn’t need rationalizing.”

In her new book, Curtis writes not only about her life but of the creative process itself. She’s had plenty of time to get acquainted with her muse, and now she’s spilling her secrets.

“The creative process involves trying, failing or succeeding, and evaluating,” she says. “It doesn’t matter if I ever make it. What’s important is the process. That’s what’s stimulating and invigorating. If it doesn’t work, so what? I think we are hard-wired for the creative process.”

Curtis is used to friends and admirers marveling at her longevity and youthful outlook, but she’ still just flesh and bones, with some broken ones at that. A few years ago, she broke her hip in a fall, and though she’s come a long way, she still has not fully recovered.

“I was on oxygen for a year, and now I’m off,” she says. “Apparently it’s very tempting to stay on it. It’s almost addicting. I’m dealing with the disability.”

She does that by working out on the underwater bike at her local YWCA. And she has a caregiver drive her to California State University East Bay in Hayward, so she can continue to teach English to speakers of other languages.

So that’s one more thing Curtis does to stay in the game. She may be aging, but at 92, Curtis is anything but aged.

“People seem to be afraid of aging,” she says. “I don’t understand that. The process of aging is like growing up. You might just as well be afraid of being a teenager.”

Rhoda Curtis will be giving a public reading at 11:30 a.m. April 5 at Christ Lutheran Church, 780 Ashbury Ave., El Cerrito. Free.

Information: (510) 524-1050.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a J. staff writer. He retired as news editor in 2020. Dan can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.