Facing the Firing Squad: Rachel Kranz
MEET RACHEL KRANZ
Rachel Kranz is a novelist, journalist, and tournament poker player whose greatest literary achievement to date is her novel, Leaps of Faith (Farrar Straus 2000) and whose greatest poker achievement was finishing 14th in a $1k WSOP gold bracelet event last summer with more than 2,000 players.
She grew up in southern California and northern Minnesota, and lived for a time in Minneapolis and Boston. But when she went to live in New York City in 1982 for the first time, she felt like she had finally come home. She lives there to this day.
In Minnesota, Rachel was an award-winning reporter for Minnesota Public Radio, a producer of award-winning video documentaries, the founder of a radio production company, and a free-lance writer. In Boston, she wrote her first novel. In New York, she has been a rank-and-file union organizer, a graduate student in literature, and a ghostwriter, which is still how she earns her living. She also founded her own theater company, Theater of Necessity, whose mission, in the words of Bertolt Brecht, was to “make the strange familiar and the familiar strange.”
Her first published novel, Leaps of Faith, is a comic epic about love, art, politics, sex, race, and community in New York City. She has also written a play, Playing Alexina, based on the real-life antebellum racial identity trial in New Orleans of a runaway slave who claimed she was white.
About five years ago, Rachel took up poker, which she began studying at World Poker Tour Boot Camp and via coaching from Nick “Nicky Numbers” Brancato, who appears as “The Numbrist” in her blog, “Adventures in Poker.” She soon started writing for Poker Pro magazine, where she has profiled such major players as Jennifer Harman, Todd Brunson, Greg Raymer, Chris Moneymaker, Billy Baxter, Mike Sexton, Kathy Liebert, Jerry Yang, Phil Hellmuth, Antonio Esfandiari, Brian Rast, and Olivier Busquet.
She is working to transition from ghostwriting into serious journalism and nonfiction under her own name. Meanwhile, she is finishing a new novel, Entanglement, the story of a contemporary white psychic living in New York who starts having mysterious visions of antebellum slavery. She is also working on Results Poker, a novel told in short stories, the first chapter of which was just published in Poker Pro. She plays poker as often as she can.
What are some of the things you stand for?
Solidarity with anyone who’s fighting to make the world a better place. Knowing that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Punishing the weak (but only on the felt!).
What are some of the things you stand against?
Settling. Treating any human as less than human. Dealers pulling in the bets uninvited, especially after an all-in.
What living person do you admire the most, and why?
Nelson Mandela: brilliant political leader, never lost hope, never lost joy, saw clearly, acted rigorously, and changed gears whenever he had to. If I could live my life, write my novels, and play my tournaments at anything close to his level, I’d be doing amazing.
What historical figure do you admire the most, and why?
Sarah and Angelina Grimke. Raised as the daughters of wealthy South Carolina slaveholders, somehow they figured out that slavery was evil and left behind everything they knew to go into “northern exile” and fight it. How do you see through a system in which you’re at the top of the pinnacle and everyone around you takes it for granted? But somehow they did.
What living person do you despise?
Whoever decided that women’s bathrooms should be the same size as men’s when they obviously should be three or four times larger (except at the Rio [except during Ladies Events]).
If money were not an object, what profession would you chose?
I’d have a four-part career as novelist, free-lance journalist, theater director/playwright, and tournament poker player, and then every so often, I’d write & direct a film. Time is not an object either, right?
What is it about yourself that you are most proud of?
When I think something is truly “my job” to do—whether it’s writing a novel, insisting that a friend hear something important, or offering help to a stranger—I stick my neck out and do it. For good or ill (sigh).
What is it about yourself that you’d like to change?
Taking big risks with wrong odds and no fold equity, instead of saving my chips for a better spot. That’s in poker. In life, I’d like to be braver.
What’s the most exciting thing you’ve ever done?
When I was 14, I saved up my babysitting money and flew standby by myself from Minnesota to Los Angeles, but got stuck in Seattle because of an airline strike. On my own, I had to figure out how to get an overnight train down through the mountains and then a morning commuter flight from San Francisco to L.A. I’ve done plenty of exciting things since then, but that first thrill of handling the situation and making that trip might have been the biggest.
Okay, what’s your second-biggest thrill?
Standing in the midst of a group of clerical workers whose leaders had just told them not go to on strike and seeing them insist on striking anyway. The room rang with their cheers of discovering that they had the power to stand up for themselves if they all did it together.
What’s the most unusual time and place you’ve ever visited?
Siberia and Outer Mongolia under Communism, 1986; a conference of traditional healers in Senegal, 2010; pretty much any table in the WSOP satellite room, 2009-2013.
Name a place you’ve never visited where you still want to go.
The stage of the Stockholm City Hall, to accept my Nobel Prize for Literature. Alternately, Alex, the judges will accept any WPT or WSOP final table, the Columbia School of Journalism to accept the Pulitzer for my next novel, or possibly, the alternate universe of fair play and witty banter in which The Newsroom is set. I would love to be a journalist in that world.
Favorite book, favorite movie, and favorite musician.
Catch-22 or The Grapes of Wrath; Rules of the Game (despite the puzzling lack of references to poker); whichever jazz group or gospel choir I am listening to at the time.
What upsets you the most?
People who don’t really want to get better at something they say is important to them; people who don’t really want to know the truth; dishonest works of art. (Could all include getting upset at myself…)
What bores you?
Do you believe in an afterlife and why do you believe it so?
I do, probably because I would prefer not to get only the one chance, but also because I have, on occasion, spoken with ghosts.