photo by Vivien Goldman

Personal Statement

Marian Leah Knapp, writer and community activist, gratefully acknowledges her extraordinary luck in good health and well-being over many years. Longevity and experience have provided her with clues for achieving personal fulfillment:

  • Regardless of age, don’t be afraid of the unknown – especially getting older.
  • Rather, continually grab chances to stay connected and imaginative.
  • Question assumptions and find opportunities for personal re-invention.
  • Use past involvements to inform next steps and actually take those steps.
  • Although tomorrow things may change, keep heart and mind looking forward.


I was born and raised in South Providence, Rhode Island, with its gritty streets lined with three-family houses and a few sparse trees. South Providence now is a pass-through area on Interstate 95 on the way from Boston to New York. During my growing up years, it was, and still is, a stopover for immigrants and a foundational stepping stone to someplace else that offered more potential. In the 19th century it attracted Irish, Jews and some Italians. In the 20th and 21st centuries it has been home to African Americans and émigrés, largely from the West Indies, Southeast Asia, and Latin America.

My parents were born in the United States and were the children of Jews who fled the Russian Empire in the late 19th century seeking freedom from oppression and greater opportunities. I grew up with expectations to do well in school and achieve at least a college education. And so, as with most of my contemporaries, as soon as I graduated from high school, I left Rhode Island to find new adventures and a life with more options.

I never set a clearly defined life path. Rather, I switched interests and goals numerous times throughout adulthood, pursuing degrees that have included a BA in English literature and fine arts, an MA in anthropology with a concentration in archaeology, and ultimately a Doctorate in environmental studies. I held jobs in diverse arenas and, even now, continue to find new directions.

I spent four college years at Boston University and then lived in New York City for ten years working as the editor of a department store newsletter. My two sons were born in NYC, and when my older son was a baby, I went back to school for a master’s degree in anthropology. When my younger son was one month old, I moved back to New England for my husband’s job and to be closer to my parents, who were still in Rhode Island. I was a stay-at-home mother when my kids were little but began to volunteer in local politics and with Planned Parenthood, where I was trained as a lay reproductive health counselor.

These volunteer efforts led to paying jobs, one of which lasted more than ten years at an internationally known organization dedicated to the improvement of healthcare. Wanting to work at the community level, I took the skills I had learned from political campaigns and healthcare improvement techniques and became an independent consultant to communities and agencies in the Boston area, helping them with their improvement processes.

As my parents got older, I became their caregiver and also watched over other relatives who did not have children to care for them. Seeing people on both sides of my family live well into their 90s, I realized that I had perhaps thirty years of life remaining, and I wanted to make the most of that time.

At sixty-four, I decided to go back to school for a doctorate. My PhD in environmental studies examined the dimensions comprising the total environment in which people age. I passed my dissertation defense in 2008, right before my 70th birthday. Going back to school as a mature adult opened up a whole new, creative, exciting, and vibrant life. It wasn’t until I was in my doctoral program that I realized I could write.

Now I work mainly in my community as an advocate, activist, and writer about issues that we currently face—mostly around aging. However, I have branched out to other topics. The Outermost Cape: Encountering Time is about environmental issues; Prohibition Wine is about a strong and resourceful woman; and my latest book (5/23), South Providence Girls: A Clique in Time, is about the importance of connection.

My kids are all grown, in their 50s, married and with their own kids. Our lives are closely intertwined.