Kim Chernin was born on May 7, 1940, in the Bronx, New York. Her parents, Rose Chernin and Paul Kusnitz, were Russian-born Jewish immigrants who were Marxist and Communist Party organizers for much of their lives. Chernin's childhood was influenced by the death of her older sister, Nina, to Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Shortly after Nina's death, the Chernin family relocated to Los Angeles to be near relatives. Her mother resumed full-time work as a party organizer and in 1951 made national headline news when she was arrested for "advocating the overthrow of the government." She was later called before the House Un-American Activities Committee for her work as a party organizer. The U.S. government tried unsuccessfully to denaturalize her and deprive her of citizenship for such activities.
Kim Chernin was also active in the Party, organizing in the Labor Youth League and, upon graduation from high school, traveling to Moscow for the Seventh World Festival of Youth and Students. In her memoir, In My Mother's House, Chernin writes:
Chernin moved to Berkeley to attend the University of California, Berkeley and married David Netboy at the age of 18. In 1963, her only child, Larissa, was born while she was studying at Trinity College, Dublin. She divorced seven years later, subsequently also marrying and divorcing Robert Cantor, before settling into a long-term relationship with her current partner Renate Stendhal, with whom she co-wrote Sex and Other Sacred Games and Cecilia Bartoli: The Passion of Song. She currently lives in Point Reyes, California, where she writes and works as a psychotherapist. She is a guest instructor at the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute. She has been featured on radio, including National Public Radio.
Kim Chernin's work spans a number of different genres: memoir, fiction, poetry, psychological study, and a study of women's search for self.
Chernin has written a trilogy of books about women and eating disorders, Obsession: Reflections on the Tyranny of Slenderness, The Hungry Self: Women, Eating and Identity, and Reinventing Eve: Modern Woman in Search of Herself.
In The Flame Bearers, which was a 1987 New York Times Notable Book, Chernin challenges women's exclusion from traditional Judaism. Chernin creates the Flame Bearers, a sect of women who are Jewish, yet not traditional observers; when these women read the Holy Book, they reconstruct Old Testament stories to reassert the days before women were excluded from Orthodoxy.
In My Mother's House describes the mother-to-daughter bonding between generations of Chernin women, effected through Rose's telling of tales and through daughter Kim's ability to set them down. Of In My Mother's House, Chernin says: "Writing that book I was . . . preoccupied with the struggle to be different from my mother."
Cecilia Bartoli: The Passion of Song is a biography of Cecilia Bartoli, the opera singer and recitalist, written with Renate Stendhal.
Chernin's work has frequently been praised by renowned feminist writer Alice Walker. Her papers were acquired by the Schlesinger Library of Harvard University in 2003.
Her latest book, Everywhere a Guest, Nowhere at Home: A New Vision of Israel and Palestine, was released on September 1, 2009.