I’m noticing a trend among my coreligionists-who-write: arguing against being “labeled” as Jewish writers — especially when they are simultaneously speaking in Jewish-sponsored lecture/reading series, blogging for the Jewish Book Council, and/or benefiting from awards given specifically for works deemed to have Jewish significance. These writers protest too much as they engage in a variation of that proverbial activity: biting a hand that feeds them.
Years ago, I created a class, “Writer’s Marketplace,” dedicated to the business side of writing. It was inspired by all the I-wish-I’d-known-then-what-I-know-now moments in my own career, the realization that good writers often are clueless about how to sell their work, and that writing schools are often remiss in communicating the practical aspects of the profession to their students.
Author and illustrator Art Spiegelman and Israeli novelist Aharon Appelfeld are among the winners of the 2011 National Jewish Book Awards.
Each autumn, the Milken Family Foundation throws one of the best luncheons of the year, and it’s not the fine kosher fare at the Luxe Sunset Boulevard hotel that draws us in.
Jeremy would be standing in front of 220 people the next day, including colleagues, friends, family and his bride. As he walked the streets, the groom-to-be mentally composed his wedding speech. The following evening, without missing a single beat, Jeremy had the audience in fits of laughter and bouts of tears as he delivered a sincere, witty and memorable speech.
As usual, it started out with questions.
"Where do you work? What do you do? Have you been on any trips lately?"
I was all for talking about myself, what I do, where I've been, where I'm going. But then it got personal.
Do you write from memory? Someone always asks, and I become tongue-tied and uncertain, scrambling for the words, the ways to make believable what I know will sound bizarre -- a too-complicated response where all that is required is a simple "Yes" or "No" or "Sometimes; the rest is research."
I lived in Iran for only 13 years. I remember very little -- a handful of places, a couple of dozen friends and relatives. Yet, I've spent my entire career writing about the country and its people, and I've written it all -- this is the part that's difficult to explain -- from memory.
For Walt Whitman, the Civil War was about the body. The crime of the Confederacy, Whitman believed, was treating blacks as nothing but flesh, selling them and buying them like pieces of meat. Whitman's revelation, which he had for the first time at a New Orleans slave auction, was that body and mind are inseparable. To whip a man's body was to whip a man's soul.
With few exceptions, I sincerely hate bugs ... a lot. I hate the way they look. I can't stand it when they bite. And most of all, I feel violated each time I catch one crawling up my leg. Yeeech!
Roughly 20 years ago, Sudan, whose western Darfur region has been engulfed in genocide for four years, watched another other tragedy unfold -- the deaths of thousands of Ethiopian Jews trying to escape to Israel via Operation Moses.
When author Marge Piercy was a little girl, her grandmother set a special place at the Passover seder for Blackie, her grandmother's cat.
When I first started writing, I sat with Khanum for hours at a time, asking questions. I was 21 and on leave of absence from law school. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life, but I knew some stories from Iran, and had begun to write them. They were scattered pieces of people's lives, bits of conversations I had overheard through the years, rumors that had been whispered too many times and taken on a reality that may or may not have been deserved.
Who doesn't love old Jewish comedians? Those mamzers of mirth and halutzim of humor who paved the road from the Catskills to Vegas as first-generation entertainers.
To meet him, you might think Steven Rubin is a normal person. Tall, handsome, happily married with young children, he is personable, affable -- in short, one of the gentlest and nicest guys you could meet. But he is a man obsessed with war -- World War II to be precise.
On Jan. 25, 1997, my oldest son, Zachary, became a bar mitzvah, a ceremony that inaugurated him into the Jewish community as a responsible young adult. It also catapulted me into the world of Jewish journalism as a family columnist. Call it writing therapy. Call it black humor. Dealing with the bar mitzvah preparations -- from the trivial to the transcendent -- sent me scrambling for books explaining the ritual's history and meaning.
Oliner's personal turnabout resulted in studies, which still continue, at his Altruistic Personality and Prosocial Behavior Institute at Humboldt. From there, Oliner and his wife, Pearl, have interviewed more than 500 rescuers who risked everything to save others, while seeking no personal reward.
"It's cozy out here," says Arthur Golden, author of "Memoirs of a Geisha." Out here is in the Japanese garden in the back of Elixir, a teahouse in West Hollywood.
Writing is said to be a lonely business, solitary in the task to fill up so many empty pages. And before I decided to try my hand at writing my autobiographical novel, "The Other Shulman," I'll confess I had fears about such an undertaking.
In Shalom Auslander's recent collection of short stories, "Beware of God," God appears as many, many things, except for the Almighty, All-Knowing, Omniscient powerful Being He has traditionally been for the last however many-thousand years (depending on which religion you ask).
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has joined the long list of solons who have dabbled in writing. Unlike John Kennedy, she admits to collaborating with a professional writer. Also unlike Kennedy, she is not likely to win the Pulitzer Prize.
With a copy of "Making the Case for Israel" under one arm and a blue solidarity bracelet on my wrist, I first entered The Media Line's (TML) Jerusalem bureau seeking an outlet for my pro-Israel passion.
On Monday, Sept. 19, at 9 p.m., the WB will premiere "Just Legal." Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, the current home-run king of TV, this is no "C.S.I." clone, but rather a one-hour drama with occasional comic moments that is about the beauty, the promise, the reality and the heartbreak that is the American legal system.
"Just Legal" stars Don Johnson as Grant H. Cooper, a demoralized attorney who operates out of a Venice office, a block from the circus-like boardwalk, and for whom the Santa Monica Courthouse is home base. Cooper is so down and out that he no longer argues cases, he just settles or pleads them out. Jay Baruchel (from "Million Dollar Baby") plays David "Skip" Ross, an idealistic young prodigy -- emphasis on the young -- he graduated college at 14, law school at 17 and having passed the bar at 18, he's now trying to get a job. No one will hire him, other than Cooper whom he meets while caddying for him in a golf game in which Cooper successfully hustles his opponent. Cooper promises to get Ross into court fast -- handling trials and showing him the way the real world really works. Will Cooper dash Ross' idealism? Will Ross manage to rekindle some of Cooper's former passion for the law? Of such questions is the pilot made.
Spend some quality time with the kiddies before the back-to-school commotion ensues.
In late fall of 1999, I wrote a short story, "Summertime," which I eventually included in my collection, "Assumption and Other Stories" (Bilingual Press, 2003). When the book reviews started coming in, most noted that particular story's unsettling premise.
If you do a LexisNexis search for the screenwriter-director Paul Haggis and his new film, "Crash," you'll come up with a surprising number of hits for newspapers in Canada.
It turns out Haggis was born in London, Ontario. He came to Los Angeles in 1977, started writing for television, then in 2001 switched to movies. His screenplay for "Million Dollar Baby" won a much-deserved Oscar, and "Crash," his directorial debut, has been an early summer sleeper hit.
7 Days in the Arts
It's 4 p.m. "Erev Christmas," and 21-year-old Adam Bodenstein is still rushing around his home in the Pico-Robertson area. He has yet to take a shower before Shabbat comes. In four days time, the Modern Orthodox UC Berkley graduate, who grew up in a Conservative household, will board a flight at New York's JFK Airport that will take him to his new home -- Israel.
But this is no ordinary El Al flight. This is Nefesh B'Nefesh's (NBN) eighth flight (and first-ever winter flight) in three years.
Last week, I pulled out a big, unsorted folder from my desk filled with material I had used for my Jewish Journal columns.
Andrea Hodos cuts a sprightly figure directing 14-year-old Sophie Porter-Zasada, dancing the biblical story of Sarah laughing as she hears of her pregnancy with Isaac.
Confession: It's not Virginia Woolf I'm afraid of -- it's Cynthia Ozick. Even though she blurbed my last book (disclosure, disclosure) and once recommended me for a fellowship I didn't get (thanks for the memories, Mr. Guggenheim), still I'm afraid of her. She reminds me of Virginia Woolf, is why.
A- and B-listers do Brecht for a pricey cause tonight.
A- and B-listers do Brecht for a pricey cause tonight.
Brace yourself. This Sunday night, some angels, a spy, a cynic and a meddling mother-in-law are coming over to break the Fast of Gedaliah. You don't have to feed them, however. They're all part of the 56th annual Emmy Awards on Sept. 19, hosted this year by comedian Garry Shandling.
At present, the tradition or writing hanhagot continues. At the back are two neo-Chasidic hanhagot, by Hillel Zeitlin, a writer and martyr of the Warsaw Ghetto, and Arthur Green, a contemporary scholar and theologian, who is the author's mentor.
In fact, it could be said that in America today, we have a new definition of a Jewish writer: A Jewish writer is one who is asked to participate in a panel during which she will be asked the question, "Do you consider yourself a Jewish writer?"
>"A senator came to Israel as part of a mission to learn more about the country and the issues," recalled Herta Amir at a ceremony for the Israel Museum's honorary fellows on June 7. "This senator told me that finally she came to the Shrine of the Book.
Among the allergens being released this June is a remake of "Around the World in 80 Days," the Jules Verne novel that launched a thousand travel articles. Perhaps Jackie Chan will inhabit the role of Passepartout in a fashion that surpasses the achievements of Cantinflas, "the world's greatest comedian," according to Charlie Chaplin, a person of no small ego or talent himself. That remains to be seen -- or not seen, as the case may be.
I don't know how many Jewish psychics there are in Great Neck, N.Y., but Rochelle Jewel Shapiro is easy to spot in the lunchtime crowd at Bruce's, a restaurant and bakery in the heart of the Long Island town.
Tova Mirvis began her second novel with the thought of writing an Orthodox "Madame Bovary."
Shavuot, the holiday that celebrates the receiving of the Torah, will be honored this month with special tributes by two area congregations. Figuring prominently is the holiest of all Jewish books, but each event has its own twist.
Laurie Gwen Shapiro is not, repeat not scion to a matzah fortune, like the heroine of her hyperkinetic new novel, "The Matzo Ball Heiress."
The "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" have come to Los Angeles.
When Iris Rainer Dart's cousin was diagnosed with schizophrenia decades ago, the illness sent shockwaves through her Jewish family. "They were from the shtetl and superstitious," said Dart, 59, the best-selling author of 1985's "Beaches." "They thought that the illness was a curse, that the parents must have done something wrong and that it was perhaps contagious."
Dart's cousin was spoken of in hushed tones and kept behind closed doors, a fate that haunted the author.
It's official. American Jews are now the People of the Book Festival.
Nowadays, literature in general -- and Jewish literature in particular -- have become much more public entertainments.
When Alfred Uhry was growing up in a German Jewish family in Atlanta, he didn't know what a bagel was. The word, "klutz" was as foreign to him as Chinese.
"Keeping Ahead of Winter" written and illustrated by Ruth Silnes (Xlibris Corporation, $21.99).
Run a Google search of "Jews" plus "boats" and you'll likely come up with something about steamships and Ellis Island.
Then there's Ruth Silnes, one Jewish mariner who refuses to go into dry dock.
Themes for this year's submissions to the fourth Holocaust writing contest by Chapman University's Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education ranged from defiant public protesters in Berlin to the instigators of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising to hate mongers from Hitler to Osama bin Laden.
Michael Prywes was 24 when he decided to make a film.
Until recently, the word Drohobycz (pronounced "Dro-ho-bit-ch") sounded to most American readers like an exotic Eastern European tongue twister.
In a key scene in "Masterpiece Theatre's" "Daniel Deronda," adapted from George Eliot's 1876 novel, the hero attends a Zionist meeting.
When Dr. Richard Braun started hanging out with his temple's organist in the late '60s, he probably didn't think he'd become a player in the
evolution of synagogue music.
It's Washington's birthday today. Why not celebrate another national treasure?
Dara Horn wrote an exuberant scene in her stunning debut novel, "In the Image," upon returning to her dreary garret flat during a year abroad in 1999. "I'd been to this dismal British market in which an entire aisle was devoted to butter and fats," the ebullient Horn, 25, said animatedly. "I recall a product called 'beef drippings.' The produce was wilting. All the milk was expired yesterday.Â I was very homesick."
Two lecture series, one on biblical archaeology, the other on the beginnings of writing, will allow participants to escape the unruly present and explore the ancient world of 2,000 to 5,000 years ago.