Entries for 'marie'
posted on May 24,
Recently I had the opportunity to interview Booker-Prize winning author Yann Martel, author of the new novel Beatrice and Virgil. Beatrice and Virgil is a fascinating novel that takes an unconventional approach to one of the most challenging subjects available to literature- the Holocaust.
[caption id="attachment_225" align="alignleft" width="140" caption="Beatrice and Virgil, by Yann Martel"][/caption]
I had the privilege of speaking to Mr. Martel during the second leg of his American tour to promote the book, which has been widely, and variously, reviewed.
Text Publishing offers a roundup of some of the reviews that have come in, and an analysis of the controversy surrounding this most unusual book.
Martel won the Man Booker Prize in 2002 for Life of Pi. He is also the author of several other books as well as the blog What is Stephen Harper Reading, a document of his ongoing project to share his passion for literature with the Prime Minister of Canada.
The interview is approximately 30 minutes in length and is presented here in four parts.
Yann Martel Interview Part 1 of 4
Yann Martel Interview Part 2 of 4
Yann Martel Interview Part 3 of 4
Yann Martel Interview Part 4 of 4
Enter the Mention Convention weekly drawing for a $10 Amazon gift card by linking back to this interview on your blog, on Facebook, or on Twitter (hashtag #AJL10) — just email email@example.com to show us what you did!
posted on May 23,
[caption id="attachment_237" align="alignleft" width="140" caption="Ellis Island: Coming to the Land of Liberty, by Raymond Bial"]
[/caption]Ellis Island: Coming to the Land of Liberty
, by Raymond Bial. Published 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.
Ellis Island: Coming to the Land of Liberty
is a fine, straightforward account of the history behind one of America's most famous landmarks, Ellis Island, and the many people from all over the world who passed through its gates.
Illustrated throughout by photographs of archival material and modern-day buildings, the book begins with the famous poem by Emma Lazarus (see last week's Nonfiction Monday for a lovely picture book about Lazarus) and takes the reader, immigrant's-eye style, through the process of entering the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Author Raymond Bial, a photographer and prolific author, covers such topics as the "buttonhook test" for disease and others in an authoritative yet accessible style.
Readers see passports used by immigrants, exhibits of clothing and personal effects- even a mattress slept on by children in steerage class. Bial also talks about the "nativist" anti-immigration movement and other trends in American politics that affected how immigrants were viewed and treated. In the end, Bial quotes Harry Truman's statements reinforcing the benefit to the nation of accepting people "from every race and from every quarter of the world.Ellis Island
is inspiring and informative look at an important chapter in American history.
Nonfiction Monday is a moving meme headquartered at Picture Book of the Day
and hosted this week at 100 Scope Notes
posted on May 21,
[caption id="attachment_217" align="alignleft" width="220" caption="Maxim D. Shrayer"]
Maxim D. Shrayer (www.shrayer.com
) is professor of Russian, English, and Jewish studies at Boston College. Among his books are Russian Poet/Soviet Jew and the literary memoir Waiting for America: A Story of Emigration. In 2007 Shrayer won the National Jewish Book Award for An Anthology of Jewish-Russian Literature. Author's photo by Aaron Washington.
Maxim D. Shrayer in conversation with Marie Cloutier about his new book, the collection of stories YOM KIPPUR IN AMSTERDAM. 7 May 2010 1. “Yom Kippur in Amsterdam” is a collection of eight short stories
[caption id="attachment_216" align="alignright" width="140" caption="Yom Kippur in Amsterdam: Stories by Maxim D. Shrayer"]
[/caption]about a diverse group of characters, people at different points in their lives and different settings, many of them on the verge of one transition or another. Can you elaborate some of the themes the stories share? How do these eight stories form a whole? MDS: This sounds both alluring and mysterious. Thank you, Marie, for reading the collection. You’re right that the eight stories in Yom Kippur in Amsterdam aren’t connected by narrative threads. At the same time, thematic ropes and tethers of identity hold the collection together. Seven of the eight stories are set—and the eighth is presumably remembered and told—in Russian America. All the protagonists except one are Russian immigrants or their children. In these stories, I trace various obsessions and aspirations of Russian (Soviet) immigrants in America. There is humor and tenderness in the stories, and also heartbreak and nostalgia. There are boundaries of ethnicity, religion, and culture that my characters desperately try yet often fail to cross. The identities of my characters are overloaded (Jewish, Russian, Soviet, almost or partly American) and therefore unstable, volatile. It’s not simple or easy to generalize about one’s own book or one’s beloved characters. I think my new book offers a collective portrait of Jews in America struggling to come to terms with ghosts of their Russian and Soviet pasts. 2. What was it about these themes that intrigued you? What were you trying to work through or think about as you were writing? MDS: As you know, there are about 750,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union living in North America, and about a million in Israel. It’s difficult to imagine the fabric of our communities without ex-Soviet Jews. And yet, our stories (or is it our story?) are only now entering the cultural mainstream. Several years ago, in my memoir Waiting for America, I wrote about Soviet Jews waiting in transit, in Austria and Italy, to become Americans. As I worked on the stories in Yom Kippur in Amsterdam, I kept asking myself: Why is it that in America Soviet Jews and their children have been so successful professionally (think, for instance, of the inventor of Google), and yet have not been fully integrated or acculturated as either Jews or Americans? In creating my characters, I wanted to get to the bottom of what it feels like to be constantly wrestling with the mix of prosperity, professional pride, cultural loneliness, and insecurity that defines the lives of many ex-Soviet Jews. 3. A the end of the title story, Jake, the protagonist, has what struck me as a near-mystical experience, this moment of "piercing clarity." What was this clarity? Does it come from within him, or from an external source? What prepares him (and us) for the change about to overtake him? MDS: You’re absolutely correct that Jake Glaz undergoes a mystical experience while attending the Yom Kippur service at Amsterdam’s Portuguese synagogue. We should also remember that Glaz comes to Amsterdam in the aftermath of having broken up with his Catholic girlfriend Erin, who wouldn’t convert (he still has strong feelings for her). And let’s also keep in mind that upon arriving in Amsterdam (he stops there on the way home from Nice so as to avoid having to atone in flight), Jake Glaz visits the Red Light district and finds some answers to his dilemma of marriage and identity in a paid-for conversation with a part-German, part-Jewish prostitute. Since the experience Jake undergoes during the Yom Kippur service is a metaphysical one, his “clarity” is quite beyond words—either in his native Russian or his acquired English.
It would be presumptuous for me to overinterpret in discursive terms what I have related in the story though a combination of metaphors and a lyrical digression. I will tell you this much: Jake’s realization relieves him of some of his doubts about his own identity. Allow me to offer a brief quote from the scene (this is on p. 141 of the book): “Jake was no longer thinking of Yom Kippur, of Erin, of Jewishness and Christianity. Those matters he had already understood, if not fully resolved in his heart, and this knowledge comforted him. He arrived at a plan—in the streets of Amsterdam: he would return to Baltimore, where after seventeen years his immigrant family had rooted themselves; they had even brought back from Moscow and reburied the remains of his father's parents. In four years, when Jake turned forty, he would have lived in America for half his life. Leaving Russia at nineteen, he had carried with him on the plane baggage so heavy that it took him years to unload it and so lofty that there were still times he couldn't stand solidly on American ground. That first flight over the Atlantic was also a flight from all the demons, monsters, and sirens a Jew can never seem to escape.” 4. How does your book fit into the growing, and fascinating, body of fiction emerging from the post-Soviet landscape? MDS: That’s certainly not for me to judge, Marie. Take a look at this very amusing flyer (attached). A colleague of mine found it in a blog devoted to things Russian, American and literary. As you can see, this list of younger writers (how young is younger—in the Soviet Union it was 35, sometimes even 40), includes 5 authors born in the former USSR and writing in English, 1 author born in the USSR and writing in both English and Russian, 1 American-born author of Turkish descent with Russian literary interests, and 1 American-born author (whose origins I honestly don’t know) who writes fictions about Russian characters. What do you make of such a category of writers “on notice”? I certainly agree that the Russian-American literary landscape is beginning to expand again. But people sometimes forget that the Russian presence in Anglo-American letters goes back to the 1800s, and also that we have yet to climb peak Lolita or to descend to the bottom of canyon Fountainhead. 5. Tapping your expertise as a scholar of Soviet and Jewish literature, what are some recent Jewish/Russian fiction and nonfiction that Judaica librarians might consider adding to their collections? MDS: Volume 2 of Antony Polonsky’s The Jews in Poland and Russia is a must (it was just released), along with the previously published volume 1. It would also make me very happy if Judaica librarians got to know my Anthology of Jewish-Russian Literature. 6. Would you be willing to share a personal memory about a library that helped shape you as a scholar and a writer? MDS: In the spring of 1993 I spent almost two months in Prague gathering materials for what would eventually become my first book, The World of Nabokov’s Stories. I was renting a section in the house of Viktor Faktor, a vintage ’68 Czech dissident. Every morning I would have breakfast in an overflowing cherry orchard and then take a tram to the center of town. I would walk across the Charles Bridge and then disappear in the cloisters of the Slavonic Library. I was researching aspects of Russian émigré culture in then the recently opened holdings of what had remained of the Russian Historical Archive Abroad. Dr. Milena Klímová, at the time director of the Slavonic Library, introduced me to a saintly archivist by the name of Helena Musátova. A Prague-born daughter of Russian émigrés, Ms. Musátova was herself a living legacy of the great interwar émigré culture which had been destroyed and dispersed by the fires of World War 2 and the Holocaust. With Ms. Musátova’s help, I was able to read though the complete runs of dozens of émigré newspapers and magazines. I made small discoveries. To the librarians at the Slavonic Library—and to other dedicated librarians with whom I’ve had the good fortune of working—I owe a debt of gratitude. So imagine, I would spend the day perusing the time-yellowed émigré publications, and then I would wander around Prague, coming onto vestiges of its Jewish and Russian past—now Kafka’s grave, now a cottage where Tsvetaeva had stayed in the 1920s. That “Prague spring” of research and discovery has influenced me profoundly, and I have yet to cast these impressions and memories into creative prose. It’s a pleasure to talk to you, Marie. Good luck. 7 May 2010. Maxim D. Shrayer’s answers copyright © Maxim D. Shrayer.
posted on May 20,
For the holiday of Shavuot, AJL President Susan Dubin wanted to share a family tradition and poem she wrote about the holiday and what it means to her:
I share the book The 11th Commandment and have the children share their own 11th commandment. I also have written several poems that I am happy to share about the story of Ruth:
I am alone now.
My husband is dead.
My father-in-law is also gone, as is my husband's brother.
But still I had you, Mother Naomi, and Ruth, my sister.
I know I am not the daughter of your flesh,
But you are the mother of my heart.
I did not share parents with you, Ruth,
But you are my chosen sibling.
And now you, too, must go.
So, I am truly alone.
I cannot come with you like my sister Ruth.
It is not because I love you less, Mother.
My home is not in Israel.
My people are not the children of Jacob.
My god is not the God of Abraham.
I would be a stranger in your land.
When you have returned to your home, Mother,
Will you remember me?
I knew happiness with your son.
He loved me, and I loved him.
If he had lived, I would still be your daughter.
My children would be part of your household.
But you have left me in my own land.
I will never see your face again.
For this I weep.
Your Moabite daughter will sing your praises now and forever.
Hold the memory of your Moabite sister in your heart.
When I said that I would follow you,
I did not know where we would go.
I did not know who we would meet.
I did not know.
When I said that I would be one with your people,
I did not know how different our life would be.
I did not know how bitter you would become.
I did not know.
When I said that I would accept your God,
I did not know if your God would accept me.
I did not know if I could truly believe.
I did not know.
Now I know that when my husband died my life was not over.
Now I know that love can be mine again.
Now I know that happiness still awaits me.
Now I know.
Your people have shown me kindness and compassion.
Your kinsman has accepted my love.
Now I am a daughter of Israel even though I was born a stranger.
Now I am home.
How can I welcome this bride of my son?
She is not of my people.
She is not of my land.
And yet, she has been a faithful wife.
She has been a devoted daughter.
If she comes with me,
I will have to care for her.
I am afraid that my shriveled heart
Cannot make room for her devotion.
She claims that she desires only to make my people hers,
My home, her home,
My G-d, her G-d.
But what if she grows lonely for her own people,
Her own land, her own G-D?
I know not what awaits me in Bethlehem.
Maybe all she wants is my mother-love.
But I am a bitter woman
Who dares not promise anything.
If she leaves me, I will truly have nothing.
Can her daughter-love sweeten my sour soul?
posted on May 20,
Here are this week's links on Jewish books, reading, writing and libraries.
From the KarBen blog, Books Bring Shavuot into Your Home
From the New York Jewish Week, The Case for a Jewish Snopes
From The Forward, Becoming the People of the Pixel?
For the holiday of Shavuot, there are two great link roundups, one at The Jewish Book Council
and one at the Jewish Women's Archive
.Got a link about Jewish books you'd like me to see? Email me at mcloutier at jewishlibraries.org. Have a great week!
posted on May 19,
My regular job is as a cataloger for Florida Atlantic University; I also coordinate the book reviews for the AJL Newsletter. This involves contacting publishers and asking them for free books. And they actually agree to this! So my office is usually filled with books that are going to reviewers. My house is filled with books as well, most of which I haven’t read. There are books I intend to read, books I think I should read one day but know that I won’t, and books that simply look nice on the shelf. I think the real reason I have them is that I like to be prepared; if someone asks for the source of a rabbinical quotation or an unusual minhag, I can nonchalantly walk over to the bookshelf and answer them. If that’s not sufficient, I will navigate my way through the internet. Or IM one of my AJL buddies on Facebook who may have more expertise in that particular area.
People get into this profession because they love information. These days, the amount of information we all have access to is staggering. It’s exciting, yet intimidating. As professionals, we have the training and the desire to work our way through this information, to help others find and use resources that will ultimately lead them to the answers they seek. These resources are arguably our most important tools. It is crucial that we continually evaluate our reference sources and keep current in all fields of Jewish studies. I’m running for the position of RAS vice-president. This largely entails chairing the Judaica Reference and Bibliography Awards Committees. The Association of Jewish Libraries is a great resource for Judaica librarians to share ideas, learn from each other and find inspiration when we get stuck in a rut. I’m excited to be a part of this organization. Get involved in AJL. There is so much you can learn from us and so much we can learn from you.
posted on May 16,
, by Linda Glaser with illustrations by Claire A. Nivola. Published 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.Emma's Poem
is a lovely book about Emma Lazarus, activist for the poor and writer of "The New Colossus," the famous poem about the Statue of Liberty.
This charming book recounts her life story in a sweet, simple tone. Lazarus was born into a wealthy family but believed that educating the many struggling immigrants coming to the United States in the late nineteenth century would eventually yield benefits for society at large. She died young, at age 38, but left a lasting legacy of compassion towards the less fortunate.
The text, written in simple free verse poetry, is accompanied by Claire A. Nivola's delicate artwork. I've always admired the way Nivola shows details of clothing and domestic interiors, and she recreates Lazarus's privileged surroundings as well as scenes of immigrants arriving and the State of Liberty with equal grace.Emma's Poem
would make a lovely starting point for story-time for children of varying ages, as the librarian could choose to emphasize different parts of her story or use it as the basis for a variety of discussions on American and Jewish history, as well as tikkun olam
and other Jewish values.
Nonfiction Monday is a moving meme headquartered at Picture Book of the Day
and hosted this week at Rasco from RIF
posted on May 13,
Here are this week's links on Jewish books, reading, writing and libraries.
From the Jewish Publication Society blog: Dr. Marsha Bryan Edelman, author of Discovering Jewish Music, on music’s role in Jewish history (Part 2)
From Tablet: Keeper of the Flame; Few writers have had champions as fierce as Chaim Grade's widow, Inna Grade, who died earlier this month
From Schocken Books: Writerscast.com interview with author David Lehman
.The Whole Megillah
, "The Writer's Resource for Jewish-Themed Childrens' Books," a new blog for kiddie lit folks.
Book review of Aharon Appelfeld's Blooms of Darkness
, at the Jew Wishes
book blog.Got a link about Jewish books you'd like me to see? Email me at mcloutier at jewishlibraries.org. Have a great week!
posted on May 11,
Today we have the first in a series of posts about AJL's incoming slate of officers. First up, Heidi Rabinowitz Estrin.VICE PRESIDENT/PRESIDENT-ELECT: Heidi Rabinowitz Estrin
I was swept up into the whirlwind of convention-planning the minute I joined AJL in 1998. The South Florida chapter was preparing for the 1999 convention in Boca Raton, and I was instantly immersed in SSC programming. It was a great introduction to AJL, connecting me with the organization at large and helping me meet so many people. From that time on, I’ve always had a proactive approach to my membership.
Whether I was acting as South Florida AJL President, as chair of the Mentoring Committee or Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee, or as PR chair, my dual goals have always been (1) to make sure AJL is offering the best possible product or service and (2) to make sure everyone knows about it! I feel that we’ve made great progress in recent years and I’m thrilled that we’ve become an ALA affiliate, that we’ve hired a consultant, and that we are making our voices heard via social media. My overarching goal as Vice President/President-Elect is to strengthen the AJL “brand” to make it easier to market our organization and our field as a whole.
posted on May 09,
Today we have for you an interview with Elana MacGilpin, one of the organizers of the Mandell JCC Jewish Book Fest, an event made up of several book events, that takes place every year in Hartford, CT.1.Tell us a little about the Mandell JCC. How many members do you have? What other kinds of activities do you sponsor?
The Mandell JCC is a community of people of all ages, stages and beliefs who share laughter, learning, listening, and leading. Members are part of a "neighborhood" where minds grow more active, bodies grow stronger, and friendships grow exponentially. On the main campus in West Hartford, CT you will find a range of fitness, recreation, education and cultural
facilities including a new fitness center, a cultural center, a preschool, an aquatics center, a theater, a family room, an art gallery, a lecture hall and a physical therapy center. Off campus, the Mandell JCC includes two seasonal recreation/educational facilities - a waterfront summer camp in the woods and a suburban swim and tennis club - and two satellite preschools. The Mandell JCC is a Jewish community open to everyone regardless of faith, who value caring for and sharing with each other. It is a place that is warm and inclusive and we have 2720 membership units or about 7200 members.
2. Tell me a little bit about the Mandell JCC's Jewish Book Festival.
When is it held? What kind of speakers or authors did you have? How many
The Mandell JCC Jewish Book Festival is a year-round series of four Signature Events that usually take place in November, January, March and May. We also sponsor a program called Authors on the Road where we partner with synagogues, Jewish agencies and schools to host authors outside of the JCC - this is year round as well and add about 8-10 events per year. We switched to this format in the 2007-2008 series and have hosted Carl Bernstein, Jodi Picoult, Dennis Ross, Martin Fletcher, Jennifer Weiner, Michael Chabon, to name a few. We host authors who are Jewish or who aren't Jewish themselves but write on a Jewish topic. The celebrity/marquee authors that we have featured has really heightened the profile of the Festival and we have welcomed over 2000 participants a year.
3. I noticed on your website that rather than having one continuous
event, for a week let's say, the Mandell JCC breaks it up over several
months. Why? What advantages does this approach present?
[caption id="attachment_161" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="Author Jennifer Weiner"]
We worked with the traditional Festival model for 14 years and decided that in order to give it some fresh ideas and a fresh perspective having four major events throughout the year with authors who are household names would accomplish this. It gives us the opportunity to provide something for everyone on a schedule that fits better for our audience members who lead busy lives. With the traditional model if you happen to be on vacation for that week, or have other family or work commitments, you lose the opportunity to participate - with the year round model if you miss one event, you can still be present for the rest. We sell tickets to individual events as well as for the series.
4. What were the highlights from the
[caption id="attachment_160" align="alignright" width="240" caption="Author Mitch Albom"]
[/caption]2009-2010 season? What was your most well-attended event? What kinds of feedback do you get from the community?
Our kick off event featured NY Times Bestselling Author Alice Hoffman in conversation with RJ Julia Owner and West Hartford native Roxanne Coady.
Our festival established a new partnership with RJ Julia this year and are so thrilled to be working with them. Our most well attended event of the year happened on November 5 with Mitch Albom. His newest book, Have A Little Faith
, was #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list when he spoke in West Hartford which was such a thrill - we had 650 people in the JCC that night and had to move the event from our theater which seats 400 to our gymnasium! In January we hosted Rabbi Joseph Telushkin whose new book - The Code of Jewish Ethics: Love Your Neighbor as Yourself
- was presented. This event happened on the heels of the devastation in Haiti and the theme of Rabbi Telushkin's talk really resonated with participants. Our final event was on April 13 with Oprah favorite Chris Bohjalian. His book Skeletons at the Feast
is based on a real life diary about a young woman in Germany at the end of World War II and pulled in characters who were fighting for their lives during the Holocaust. This event was held just after Yom Hashoah so it was very meaningful.
[caption id="attachment_163" align="aligncenter" width="451" caption="Rabbi Telushkin with festival organizers"]
[/caption]5. How is the festival supported? Who organizes it? Does the Festival
have paid staff and/or volunteers?
The Festival is supported by corporate and community sponsors who have been very generous over the years. The Mandell JCC is the overall organizing body and I serve as the Director. I work with an outstanding volunteer committee comprised of JCC members and community members who are passionate about literature and Jewish culture. This amazing team spends countless hours throughout the year, working on every details to ensure that our participants have an enlightening experience with our featured authors.
[caption id="attachment_165" align="aligncenter" width="451" caption="Festival organizers schmooze with author Michael Chabon."]
6. What do you have coming up for the 2010-2011 season?
We are in the planning stages for the 2010-2011 season so we don't haveanything to announce just yet. Myself and three members of our steering committee are attending the Jewish Book Council conference in New York City where we will hear from over 200 authors. We have our wish list as well and will announce our season mid-summer. We will also be launching a new book club initiative with an event in October where Roxanne Coady from RJ Julia will come talk to book club members, give them tips on how to run a successful book club, talk about her favorite book club picks and will give the participants an opportunity to shop for books as well. It is going to be our 18th season so we will surely be planning something special.
7. What tips or do's and don't's would you offer to JCCs or small organizations looking to put on their own book festival?
In my experience, working with a volunteer committee who is as committed and dedicated as the staff is so important. Authors come and go but engaging your members and the community can lead to years of success. Certainly knowing your community is also key - like if your community only likes household names or has interests in specific themes. Being a member of the Jewish Book Council is also a great way to expand your access to and repertoire of Jewish literature and authors as well make connections to staff at JCCs and organizations who run their own Jewish Book Festivals. Their website is www.jewishbookcouncil.org
[caption id="attachment_182" align="aligncenter" width="601" caption="The Committee"]
Elana, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to AJL and share your successes. Mazel tov and best of luck for the future! I hope you keep us posted about your activities!
If you have an event you'd like to see covered on the blog, email me at mcloutier at jewishlibraries.org and we'll talk about how to make that happen!
posted on May 06,
Here are this week's links on Jewish books, reading, writing and libraries.
Cathy Balshone-Becze talks about What Public Libraries Can Do for Special Libraries: Presenting an Overview of Services in Massachusetts
. This region-specific but very interesting presentation was made at last year's New England Association of Jewish Libraries conference and has ongoing relevance for Judaica librarians.
From the New York Times
, an Arts Review column on Medieval Remnants of the Jews in Spain
.Anne Frank's Diary- complete, original- is on display for the first time
. From the Christian Science Monitor
For laughs: Scenes from the post-print apocalypse
. From the New York Times
From the Jewish Publication Society blog: Lost, But Not Forgotten
From the Jerusalem Post
: Jerusalem Limmud FSU event to highlight Nobel prize theme: Jewish learning festival for Russian speakers follows successful events in Ukraine, Moscow
Check out the Jewish Book Council's upcoming Twitter Book Club
: Jennifer Gilmore's Something Red: A Nove
l, on June 2.Got a link about Jewish books you'd like me to see? Email me at mcloutier at jewishlibraries.org. Have a great week!
posted on May 05,
Did you know that May is National Jewish American Heritage Month?
What are you doing? Does your library or shul have any special activities planned? Speakers? Festivals? Book fairs? We want to know!
Send me your links or summaries to mcloutier at jewishlibraries.org; I want to compile a link roundup or even some guest posts as the month progresses.
If you need some ideas, or just want to see what's going on elsewhere, you can take a look at the official site
as well as the site prepared by The Library of Congress
If you attend any of these events, or those not listed here, I would love to hear from you and offer you the opportunity to do a guest post for the AJL blog. Email me (mcloutier at jewishlibraries.org) with your ideas!
posted on April 30,
On the last day of National Poetry Month, I have for you today an interview with Boston-area poet Ellen Steinbaum, Pushcart-nominated author of Container Gardening
.1. Tell us a little about yourself. How long have you been writing? Who or what influences your work? What poets do you love to read?
I have always been a writer. As a child I wrote a family newspaper (which was a little pathetic since I was an only child, so there wasn't much news, but I persisted). For much of my life I wrote magazine and newspaper articles and then later found myself drawn to the idea of what I could do with poetry that I couldn't do with prose.
Influences include my teacher, Ottone Riccio, and contemporary poets like Linda Pastan, Gail Mazur, Ruth Stone, Marie Ponsot, and Dorianne Laux who combine "the materials at hand"--details of daily life--with careful craft.
I also love the work of Galway Kinnell, W.S. Merwin, and Richard Wilbur who does rhyme so elegantly that it looks effortless. Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman--two very different poets whose work intrigues me. And the sound of Gerard Manley Hopkins' poems is so wonderful. Keats...Mark Doty...Wislawa Szymborska...Edward Hirsch. Yeats. Yehuda Amichai. Octavio Paz. So many--depends whose work I've read most recently. And two friends whose poetry I greatly admire and enjoy, Susan Donnelly and Patricia Smith.
2. What is your approach to or style of poetry? Do you think it's important to have a style or define yourself within a movement? Does it limit or expand what you can do?
Obviously, when you write poetry you're going to be aware of what other poets are doing and of the long tradition you are part of. But my concern is more on doing my own work than on figuring out where I fit in. I'm just concentrating on writing in an authentic voice and trying to make it as clear and true and precise as I can.
One thing I do want to mention is what I visualize as almost the collaboration between poet and reader. I know there are poets who feel that the poem exists only as they intend it to, but I don't entirely. I believe the poet has his or her intentions, but readers come to the poem with their own set of attitudes and experiences and so what the poem is varies a little from reader to reader. It becomes at some level a combination of the original intent and the received thing.
It's a huge gift to a poet to have readers willing to bring themselves fully and respectfully to the work. It's humbling. I am always grateful when readers tell me that my work has meant something to them.
3. Onto the poems themselves, which I loved. My favorite poem in Container Gardening is probably "Gathering," about using shells collected by speaker's aunt to mark her grave. Can you talk about some of the themes in this lovely poem?
Thank you! I am writing this, actually, on the birthday of that very dear aunt. Primarily what I was thinking about when I wrote that poem was how the small pieces of our lives that, at some point, have real meaning to us, get lost to ourselves and to others. They just melt away, the way we forget where the stones were from. We think we'll never forget this experience, and then we forget, though of course something of it remains with us. And when the stones and shells are someone else's, they show how impossible it is to really know another person's life. No matter how close you are to that person, there are always mysteries.
4. In the first poem, "Standing at the Shore," the moment described- people on the beach, children rooted but striving for freedom- starts as "soft"- "the same soft moment"; later, it's "that messy instant." Why the change? Is the moment soft and messy at the same time?
The softness, I guess, is the light just at dusk, the quiet on the beach, and everyone concentrating on standing there and looking good for the photograph. At least the adults are feeling that. But the children always have another agenda. While the adults are thinking about preserving the moment, the children are busy living it, squeezing the juice out of it.
But I hadn't actually thought about that before. (This is why I knew it would be fun to answer your questions--they make me think of new things about my work and about poetry in general.) What I was thinking about--or at least what I thought I was thinking about when I wrote this was time and impermanence, which is probably what I am often thinking about when I write.
5. In the first part of the book, dominant themes include loss, memory and history, and the poems are deeply personal. In the second, the tone is somewhat more political with mentions of wars, terrorism and allusions to first-world privilege; still, the poems are rooted in day to day life. In the third section, there's a hint of menace as we move from the past through the present and into the future- an idea that the future is a dark place. Can you talk about this progression? Is there optimism as well or is it all bad news?
I didn't think of it as menacing, but rather just as life with its certainty of pleasures and sorrows. When I named the book Container Gardening
, I was thinking of how we construct our own little universes to live in. Partly they're private, built out of our own experiences. Partly they are touched by the larger world we live in, and that's where the political poems come in.
But then--and I guess this is that third section--we take those pieces and go forward with our lives into whatever happens next. And we hope that some of what happens will bring us joy. And we know that some of what will happen is bound to bring us sorrow, simply because we are mortal beings connected to other mortal beings. And all we can do, I think, is muddle through the best we can. There's a Jewish saying I read once about the idea that at the end of our days we will be called to account for every fruit we did not taste in its season. That is often in my mind and I hope that's what that third section is about, the sense that with all the certainty of sadness, we still can--must- notice the joy. As the last words of the last poem say, "rest within the wonder/of this gift."Thank you so much for agreeing to participate! This interview was originally posted at the weblog Boston Bibliophile as a part of the National Poetry Month Blog Tour, hosted at Savvy Verse and Wit.
Visit Ellen at her site, www.EllenSteinbaum.com
posted on April 29,
Here are this week's links on Jewish books, reading, writing and libraries.From AP:
Short story writer Deborah Eisenberg wins MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant.From the New York Times
: Israeli Museum Unveils Rare RenaissanceThe Jewish Book Council blog announces
the Canadian Jewish Book Awards.Tablet reports
Amid Dying Languages, Yiddish Lives On.From the New York Times
: Adding More Jewish Voices to the DiscussionGot a link about Jewish books you'd like me to see? Email me at mcloutier at jewishlibraries.org. Have a great week!
posted on April 22,
Here are this week's links on Jewish books, reading, writing and libraries.For Yom Ha’atzmaut
, The Jewish Publication Society did a terrific link roundup of their own, on Israeli literature.Nothing can equal Pi
, from the National Post, on reaction to Yann Martel's Holocaust allegory, Beatrice and Virgil
. Have you read it yet? What did you think?Live and "Virtual" Literary Events to Share
, from the My Machberet book blog.Jerusalem 1995-1996: Eating Standing Up
, at the Jewish Book Council blog.Got a link about Jewish books you'd like me to see? Email me at mcloutier at jewishlibraries.org. Have a great week!
posted on April 20,
Today we have a special treat- an interview with comics artist and author Steve Sheinkin, author of three terrific graphic novels featuring his character Rabbi Harvey: 2006's The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey
, the 2008 follow-up Rabbi Harvey Rides Again
and Rabbi Harvey vs. The Wisdom Kid
, just out this month. All three are available in paperback from Jewish Lights Publishing.1. Tell us a little about yourself and Rabbi Harvey. How did he come into your life?
That question really takes me way back to my Hebrew school days. I was bored to death by all the memorization, and my dad, seeing this, got me a book of Jewish folktales. I loved the stories, and started imagining how I would change them – mostly by adding jokes. Rabbi Harvey evolved years later, when I came up with the idea of setting Jewish folktales in the Wild West. I wanted a main character who was part rabbi, part sheriff, someone who could defeat villains without using a gun, and that led me to Harvey. His look has changed a bit since those first sketches, but he always had the unibrow. 2. Who or what influenced your particular style of art? What comics artists do you like to read?
I wasn’t a big superhero comics reader as a kid. It wasn’t till I was in my 20s that I realized you could do any kind of stores you want in comic format. Reading Art Spiegelman’s Maus
was a big part of that realization. I started little drawing comics of crummy jobs I had, and it was a lot of fun. These days I love a wide variety of artists: Chris Ware, Adrian Tomine, Joann Sfar, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, and many more. What I love about the format is that everyone has a unique visual style. It doesn’t matter that I’m not a great artist, as long as stick to my own style.3. Why did you choose to do a book-length story after your previous two volumes of shorts?
Partly for the challenge – to see if I could string a few dozen Jewish folktales and bits of Talmudic wisdom into a cohesive plot. Also, I thought it would be fun to read. Comics are so close to movies, and I’m a huge fan of old Hollywood westerns. So it seemed natural to try to do a Harvey “movie” in comics form.4. You draw heavily from the rich tradition of Jewish folktales for all of your Rabbi Harvey stories; one of the pleasures of reading about the rabbi's adventures is recognizing familiar tales retold and learning new ones. Which ones are particularly meaningful for you? What are some that you like that haven't made into the rabbi's stories so far?
I read hundreds of stories, maybe thousands, looking for just the right ones for these books. I always wanted to use the beautiful story of the two brothers – each gets the idea of helping the other by secretly bringing wheat to the other’s barn. I finally figured out a way to work that one into the new book. I’ve also been trying to think of a way to get some of the Wise Men of Chelm stories into a Harvey book. With this new book, I realized I needed to create a whole new town, Helms Falls, Colorado, where these stories could take place. I look forward to revisiting in future volumes…5. Rabbi Harvey, a question for you. How do you feel about the way Steve Sheinkin
portrays you? Does he portray you fairly? And- what's really going on between you and Abigail?
Yes, I would say that the books are a fairly accurate portrayal of life in Elk Spring. One minor point: Steve had taken to drawing me with pants that are a little too short, and I don’t feel that’s 100 percent accurate. Overall, what I enjoy is the ability to share wisdom from thousands of years of Jewish thought. The danger, of course, is that people think I’m the one who thought up all this stuff. They think I can answer any question they throw at me. Like Steve says in the books, it’s not always easy to be the rabbi.
As for Abigail, well, I lobbied Steve to give her a larger role in this new book, and my motives were not wholly unselfish. I’m hoping her part in these stories continues to grow. But I suppose it’s not entirely up to me…Steve, thank you so much for a great interview and I'll be watching for the Rabbi's latest adventures!
You can also visit Sheinkin's webpage
or Rabbi Harvey's Facebook page
posted on April 15,
Here's a roundup of some interesting links about Jewish books this week:Listen to an interview with Zoe Fishman
, author of the new novel Balancing Acts
, with HarperCollins' Book Club Girl.Schocken Books announces
that Elie Wiesel's A Mad Desire to Dance
is now in paperback.
A beautiful review of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel's I Asked for Wonder can be found at the Jew Wishes book blog
Have you been following Tablet Magazine's serialization of Steve Stern's The Frozen Rabbi
, forthcoming from Algonquin Books?
On Twitter? The Jewish Book Council is running its third "Twunch and Talk"
on April 27 at 1:00 EST. It's going to be a discussion of Dara Horn's All Other Nights
.Got a link about Jewish books you'd like me to see? Email me at mcloutier at jewishlibraries.org. Have a great week!