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 18,
Dr. Joseph Janes will be the keynote speaker at the 2010 AJL Convention. An Associate Professor at the Information School of the University of Washington, he is the founding director of the Internet Public Library (www.ipl.org). He writes the "Internet Librarian" column for American Libraries magazine. As you can see in this video, he is a very interesting speaker! Take a look, then read his exclusive AJL interview below.
Dr. Janes, can you give us a sneak peak into the theme of your keynote address for AJL?
I’d love to—but I haven’t written it yet! I’ll do my best to make it interesting, at least as a preamble to the fireworks later that night.You are the founder of the Internet Public Library, and very involved in digital life. Why is it important for librarians to participate in the online world?
Is it possible not to? It’s an ever-more digital world, as people spend more time there, more resources are born digital, and the expectation of instant access to, well, everything, approaches the universal. With only very rare and increasingly exotic specialized environments, an online presence is critical if not imperative.Studies have shown that Seattle is the most literate city in the nation. What makes Seattle such a great place for reading and libraries? Can you give us a recommendation for any recent books you enjoyed?
You mean besides the rain and the coffee? We spend a lot of time inside, caffeinated, so we’re alert and reading fits in there beautifully. We also have great libraries in the region, of all kinds, and fantastic librarians who make it all work.
I just finished Alistair Horne’s Seven Ages of Paris
, which is just the sort of popular history I enjoy, vividly and cogently written, with a vibrant feeling for the place and the people. I’ve switched gears back to an old favorite, rereading Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal
(again).The Seattle area is the home of both Amazon and Apple. What’s your preference, Kindle or iPad? Your feelings on digital books?
I don’t have either one, though when I saw the first iPad commercial I started to drool in much the same way I did when the iPod came out. The “book” obviously is undergoing a transformation in form of epochal proportions, as the physical codex coexists with emerging digital forms for some time to come. I can’t imagine the current digital versions will be the final ones, and there are lots of issues yet to be resolved about shape, size, standards, rights management, interoperability, the reading experience, and so on…but I also think that this evolution will happen really fast and will be better off with the participation and insight of librarians, on behalf of the communities we serve and represent.What Seattle experience should visitors be sure not to miss?
So many to choose from! Pike Place Market, of course, Pioneer Square, a ride up in the Space Needle, the flagship Nordstrom’s, local coffee (try Stumptown, available at some cafes downtown)…but worth trying a few less-well-known things as well: take a ferry over to Bremerton or Bainbridge Island, worth it for the view alone, wander down 1st Street to see the marquee for the Lusty Lady before they tear it down, and of course visit the spectacular Central Library on Fifth and Spring, just a few blocks from the Fairmont. When I’m downtown, I always love to just wander around, and look up; there are some fantastic architectural features on many buildings in the area, and it’s all quite walkable (though hilly in spots); bring comfortable shoes and enjoy!Dr. Janes, thanks for speaking with us! We're looking forward to your keynote presentation at the AJL Convention!
Enter the Mention Convention weekly drawing for a $10 Amazon gift card by linking back to this interview during the week of May 16-22 , 2010 on your blog, on Facebook, or on Twitter (hashtag #AJL10) — just email firstname.lastname@example.org to show us what you did!
posted on May 17,
Author Jennifer Poulter
has won the Week #1 Mention Convention drawing! A $10 Amazon gift card is heading her way.
Winning was easy! Jennifer simply posted about the convention to Twitter (see above), and then sent a message to email@example.com
to let us know.
Watch for tomorrow's Convention Countdown interview with keynote speaker Dr. Joseph Janes, and tweet, Facebook, or blog about it to enter the Week #2 Mention Convention drawing!
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 11,
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="500" caption="L-R: Toby Harris, Janet Heineck, Susan Dubin, Rita Frischer, and Pat Pawelak-Kort"]
[/caption]Toby Harris is co-chair (with Janet Heineck and Rita Frischer) for the 2010 AJL Convention that will take place in Seattle, WA, July 4-7. She is the president of AJL's Northwest Chapter, and librarian at Temple De Hirsch Sinai.Toby, what are some of the most exciting things planned for the 2010 AJL Convention? Can you give us some highlights?
There are so many sessions I’m excited about! We have a couple of off-site choices which will give some an opportunity to see a bit of Seattle and I’m very excited to show off our city! One is the Seattle Public Library, a mere two blocks from the hotel with quite dramatic architecture and bold ideas. There, we’ll get a tour and get to use their computer lab classroom. The other is a visit to Seattle Hebrew Academy, an incredibly beautiful historic building set in a Northwest forest, with an award winning library.
I am struck by the range of interesting settings our presenters work in. Hearing about challenges for the National Library of Israel and Yad Vashem, the many special collections and resources at Columbia, Yeshiva, Stanford and here at the University of Washington, along with some bookdealer perspectives and those of us building community in our synagogues and day schools. A big focus will be on examining our users, planning and making digitization and technology choices. And of course, those fabulous book critics and Sydney Taylor award-winning authors will be ever present!
Our keynote speaker, Dr. Joseph Janes, Associate Professor in the Information School of the University of Washington is supremely engaging and witty, and he’ll share his passion for reference, innovation and our digital world. He’s the founder of the Internet Public Library and writes the Technology column for American Libraries
Those night owls who want to venture out Sunday night to watch fireworks over urban Lake Union will view a wonderful display of good ole July 4th spectaculars. And those arriving earlier on Sunday get to be there for an afternoon of music, poetry and exhibits in the elegant Spanish foyer of the hotel.Planning the convention must be a huge job. What have been some of your best and worst experiences in getting ready for convention?
Well, it’s not over yet so I’d like to reserve that question! It definitely takes many people to pull together but I can already feel the rewards coming!Studies have shown that Seattle is the most literate city in the nation. What makes Seattle such a great place for reading and libraries?
The gray skies might help a bit. Mainly we’re just a bunch quirky characters who love to learn and escape! We have lots of independent bookstores here which seem to be surviving just fine and we do love our incredible libraries!Can you give us a recommendation for some of your favorite Jewish books?
Two of my favorite Jewish adult books which haven’t yet lost their standing are A Pigeon and a Boy
, by Meir Shalev, and The Book Thief
, by Marcus Zusak. I loved Shalev’s brilliant and meaningful story and need to read more books written by him. And one of my fondest AJL convention memories is when I got to meet charming and handsome Marcus Zusak! Aside from his charms, looks (and accent), what makes Book Thief
so wonderful is its unique perspective and outsider look at the Holocaust. Another book that has stayed with me for several years is Anna in the Afterlif
e, by Merrill Joan Gerber, the last of her Anna Goldman series, and the best in my opinion. I can spend a lot of time gazing at the cover art on this raw and expressive book while thinking about people in my own life. Not recommended for the faint-hearted.The Seattle area is the home of both Amazon and Apple. What’s your preference, Kindle or iPad? What are your feelings on digital books?
I still prefer the feel and look of a real book and all of its details! I do appreciate some of the features and portability of digital books and can see they have their place but I have no interest in acquiring one yet.What Seattle experience should visitors be sure not to miss? And what’s your favorite vendor at Pike Place Market?
Besides the Market, which is a must, the Space Needle allows you to see the whole layout of the city and is quite remarkable. Seattle buses are free downtown which makes it easy to explore that area! The Ballard Locks are very impressive, especially if you like boat watching. And of course, I highly recommend one of the tour options: Seattle’s old Jewish neighborhoods led by Washington State Jewish Historical Society or Seattle’s native trees and plants in the Washington Park Arboretum.Toby, thanks for kicking off the Convention Countdown! We can't wait to visit with you in Seattle!
Enter the Mention Convention weekly drawing for a $10 Amazon gift card by linking back to this interview during the week of May 9-15, 2010 on your blog, on Facebook, or on Twitter (hashtag #AJL10) -- just email firstname.lastname@example.org to show us what you did!
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 07,
List compiled by Kathe Pinchuck, Outgoing Chair, Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee
The All-of-a-Kind Family Series is a quintessential example of the Jewish America story. While many books which received the award named in Sydney Taylor’s memory are about immigrants from Eastern Europe who passed through Ellis Island and lived on the Lower East Side of New York City, the Jewish American experience includes unique rituals, challenges of combining traditional Jewish values with modern American life, and carving out an identity with which one is comfortable:
2010 Sydney Taylor Book Awards
Davies, Jacqueline. Lost. Tarrytown, New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2009. ISBN: 978-0761455356. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire provides the backdrop for this historical novel about friendship and loss. (Honor Award Winner for Teen Readers)
Friedman, Robin. The Importance of Wings. Watertown, Massachusetts: Charlesbridge Publishing, 2009. ISBN: 978-158-89330-5. The title of this coming-of-age novel refers to both the layered hairstyle Roxanne wants but cannot achieve with her straight locks, and what happens when an Israeli teen who wants to be more American discovers her inner beauty and self confidence with the help of a friend. (Award Winner for Older Readers)
Greene, Jacqueline Dembar. Rebecca Series (American Girl Collection). Illustrated by Robert Hunt. Middleton, Wisconsin: American Girl, 2009. ISBN: Various. The latest historical character lives on the Lower East Side in 1914, hopes to be an actress, and tries to balance an American way of life with traditional Jewish values. (Notable Books for Older Readers)
Hoberman, Mary Ann. Strawberry Hill. Illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin. New York: Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009. ISBN: 978-0316041362. When her family moves from New Haven to Stamford, Allie Sherman has to adjust to making new friends, juggle alliances, and handle the disappointment that her new street, Strawberry Hill, is not the bucolic, strawberry-laden lane she had envisioned. (Notable Book for Older Readers)
Ostow, Micol. So Punk Rock (and Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother). Art by David Ostow. Woodbury, Minnesota: Flux, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-7387-1471-4. The Ostows combine graphic novel vignettes filled with sarcastic commentary with a coming-of-age novel in which Ari Abramson is struggling to find his true calling and identity while also trying to fit in, hoping that playing a band will win him popularity and the girl of his dreams. (Notable Book for Teen Readers)
Tal, Eve Goldberg. Cursing Columbus. El Paso: Cinco Puntos Press, 2009. ISBN: 978-1-933693-59-0. Told in the duel voices of Raizel and Lemmel in alternating chapters and scenarios, Tal crafts a realistic and poignant picture of an immigrant family’s struggles in the early 20th century. (Notable Book for Teen Readers)
Wayland, April Halprin. New Year at the Pier: A Rosh Hashanah Story. Illustrations by Stéphane Jorisch. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2009. ISBN: 978-080373279-7. The author employs her own memories of community tashlich at the beach in this loving, charmingly illustrated description of Izzy and his family and friends as they gently apologize for misdeeds, grant forgiveness, and toss breadcrumbs into the sea as part of their Rosh Hashanah observance. (Award Winner for Younger Readers)
Weber, Elka. Yankee at the Seder. Illustrations by Adam Gustavson. Berkeley, California: Tricycle Press, 2009. ISBN: 978-1-58246-256-1. Based on a true tale, this beautifully illustrated story recounts the participation of a “Yankee Jew,” Myer Levy, as a guest at a Virginia Passover Seder shortly after the end of the Civil War. Ten-year-old Jacob sees the words of the Haggadah ring true, as all who are hungry are welcome at the table. (Honor Award Winner for Younger Readers)
Winter, Jonah. You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax? Illustrations by André Carrilho. New York: Schwartz & Wade Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, 2009. ISBN: 978-0375837388. Koufax's rise from a Jewish boy in Brooklyn to one of the all-time greats of baseball as a Los Angeles Dodger is told in conversational style by an imagined teammate. A lenticular cover and magnificent artwork brings the left-hander’s style to life. (Honor Award Winner for Younger Readers)
1968-2009 Sydney Taylor Book Awards
Blanc, Esther Silverstein. Berchick. Illus. by Tennessee Dixon. Volcano, CA: Volcano Press, 1989. ISBN: 0912078812. Homesteading in Wyoming in the early 1900's, a Jewish mother develops an unusual relationship with a colt she adopts named Berchick. (1989 Award Winner for Younger Readers)
Cohn, Janice. The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate. Illus. by Bill Farnsworth. Morton Grove, IL: Albert Whitman, 1995. ISBN: 0807511536 pbk. Describes how people in Billings, Montana joined together to fight a series of hate crimes against a Jewish family. (1995 Honor Award for Younger Readers)
Ducharme, Dede Fox. The Treasure in the Tiny Blue Tin. Fort Worth, TX: Texas Christian University Press, 1998. ISBN: 0875651801 pbk. In the early 1900’s in Texas, a twelve-year-old Jewish immigrant runs away to search for his father who he fears is sick, and he is joined on his dangerous journey by a prejudiced country boy. (1998 Honor Award for Older Readers)
Greene, Jacqueline Dembar. One Foot Ashore. New York: Walker and Company, 1994. ISBN: 0802776019 pbk. Arriving alone and destitute in Amsterdam in the spring of 1654, sixteen-year-old Maria Ben Lazar finds refuge and friendship in the household of the artist Rembrandt and continues to search for her parents and her younger sister. (1994 Honor Award for Older Readers)
Greene, Jacqueline Dembar. Out of Many Waters. New York: Walker, 1988. ISBN: 0802774016 pbk. Kidnapped from their parents during the Portuguese Inquisition and sent to work as slaves at a monastery in Brazil, two Jewish sisters attempt to make their way back to Europe to find their parents, but instead one becomes part of a group founding the first Jewish settlement in the United States. (1988 Honor Award for Older Readers)
Heller, Linda. The Castle On Hester Street. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1982. ISBN: 0827603231 pbk. Julie's grandmother deflates many of her husband's tall tales about their journey from Russia to America and their life on Hester Street. (1982 Award Winner for Younger Readers)
Heller, Linda. The Castle on Hester Street. Illustrated by Boris Kulikov. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007. ISBN: 0689874340. A young girl visiting her grandparents learns the story of their immigration to the United States, their life on the Lower East Side of New York City, and how they met in this newly illustrated edition, winner of the Sydney Taylor Book Award when it was first released in 1982. (2008 Honor Award for Younger Readers)
Hesse, Karen. Brooklyn Bridge. New York: Feiwel & Friends, an imprint of Macmillan, 2008. ISBN: 9780312378868. While his family left the anti-Semitism of Russia to build the American dream, Joey Michtom’s dream is to visit the glittering Coney Island. Crafting a story from the spark of a true event, the invention of the Teddy Bear in 1903, Hesse masterfully weaves multiple themes of hard-work, survival, homelessness, and familial dedication. (2009 Award Winner for Older Readers)
Hest, Amy. Love You, Soldier. Illus. by Sonja Lamut. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2000. ISBN: 0763609439.Katie, a Jewish girl living in New York City during World War II, sees many dynamic changes in her world as she ages from seven to ten waiting for her father to return from the war. (2000 Honor Award for Older Readers)
Hest, Amy. When Jessie Came Across the Sea. Illus. by P.J. Lynch. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 1997. ISBN: 076361274X pbk. A thirteen-year-old Jewish orphan reluctantly leaves her grandmother and immigrates to New York City, where she works for three years sewing lace and earning money to bring Grandmother to the United States, too. (1997 Honor Award for Younger Readers)
Krensky, Stephen. Hanukkah at Valley Forge. Illustrated by Greg Harlin. New York: Dutton Children’s Books, 2006. ISBN: 0525477381.
During the grim winter at Valley Forge, a Polish-born soldier tells General Washington about Hanukkah, who draws a parallel between the Macabbee’s war against their foes with the American war against the British oppressors. Beautiful watercolor illustrations add immeasurably to a delightful and inspirational account of this legendary encounter. (2007 Award Winner for Younger Readers)
Levitin, Sonia. Silver Days. New York: Atheneum, 1989. ISBN: 0689715706 pbk. In this sequel to Journey to America, the reunited Platt family works hard at settling in to America, but the spectre of the war in Europe continues to affect their lives. (1989 Honor Award for Older Readers)
Littman, Sarah. Confessions of a Closet Catholic. New York: Dutton Children’s Books, 2005. ISBN: 0525473653. Justine Silver struggles to balance her family’s expectations that she should be Jewish “but not too Jewish.” Frustrated, she follows a Catholic friend’s example by giving up Judaism for Lent, and thus begins a search for identity and belonging that will resonate with readers of all religions. (2005-2006 Award Winner for Older Readers)
Meyer, Carolyn. Drummers of Jericho. San Diego: Gulliver Books for Harcourt Brace, 1995. ISBN: 0152001905 pbk. A fourteen-year-old Jewish girl goes to live with her father and stepmother in a small town and soon finds herself the center of a civil rights battle when she objects to the high school band marching in the formation of a cross. (1995 Honor Award for Older Readers)
Michelson, Richard. As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom. Illustrations by Raul Colon. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, 2008. ISBN: 9780375833359.
This fictionalized parallel biography of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, presents a beautiful and inspiring tribute to a little known alliance in American history. Colon’s stunning illustrations with subtle coloring bring the text, and the message of persistence, justice, and brotherhood, to life. (2009 Award Winner for Younger Readers)
Moskin, Marietta. Waiting for Mama. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1975. ISBN: 0698203194. A Russian immigrant family living in New York in the early 1900's prepares for the long-awaited arrival of their mother and baby sister. (1975 Award Winner)
Napoli, Donna Jo. The King of Mulberry Street. New York: Wendy Lamb Books/Random House, 2005. ISBN: 0385746539. This powerful historical novel about an Italian-Jewish immigrant child reveals to readers that just 100 years ago, children as young as eight came to this country alone, with nothing but their wits and good luck to help them survive. (2005-2006 Honor Award for Older Readers)
Olswanger, Anna. Shlemiel Crooks. Illus. by Paula Goodman Koz. Montgomery, AL: Junebug Books, 2005. ISBN: 158838165X. Told with Yiddish inflected English, sprinkled with familiar Jewish curses and words, Anna Olswanger elaborates on the true story of the attempted robbery of her great-grandfather’s saloon in St. Louis in 1919. (2005-2006 Honor Award for Younger Readers)
Polacco, Patricia. The Keeping Quilt. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988. ISBN: 0689844476 pbk. A homemade quilt ties together the lives of four generations of an immigrant Jewish family, remaining a symbol of their enduring love and faith. (1988 Award Winner for Younger Readers)
Rael, Elsa Okon. Rivka’s First Thanksgiving. Illus. by Maryann Kovalski. New York: Margaret K. McElderry/Simon & Schuster, 2001. ISBN: 0689839014. Having heard about Thanksgiving in school, nine-year-old Rivka tries to convince her immigrant family and her Rabbi that it is a holiday for all Americans, Jews and non-Jews alike. (2001 Award Winner for Younger Readers)
Rael, Elsa Okon. When Zaydeh Danced on Eldridge Street. Illus. by Marjorie Priceman. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1997. ISBN: 0689804512.
While staying with her grandparents in New York City in the mid-1930’s, eight-year-old Zeesie joins in the celebration of Simchat Torah and sees a different side of her stern grandfather. (1997 Award Winner for Younger Readers)
Rosen, Sybil. Speed of Light. New York: Anne Schwartz Book/Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1999. ISBN: 0689841515 pbk. An eleven-year-old Jewish girl living in the South during the 1950s struggles with the anti-Semitism and racism which pervade her small community. (1999 Award Winner for Older Readers)
Rosenblum, Richard. Journey to the Golden Land. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1992. ISBN: 082760405X. Having left oppressive czarist Russia in search of better living conditions, Benjamin and his family endure the difficult journey and land at Ellis Island to start a new life in America. (1992 Honor Award for Younger Readers)
Rosenblum, Richard. The Old Synagogue. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1989. ISBN: 0827603223. A once-beautiful synagogue on a crowded street in a big city is abandoned and becomes a factory when the original neighborhood inhabitants become more prosperous and move away; but as time goes by young Jewish families rediscover the area, move in, and restore to beauty the old synagogue. (1989 Honor Award for Younger Readers)
Schuman, Burt E. Chanukah on the Prairie. Illus. by Rosalind Charney Kaye. New York: UAHC Press, 2002. ISBN: 080740814X. After the Zalcman family immigrates to Grand Forks, North Dakota, they are welcomed by the local Jewish community and celebrate their first Chanukah on the prairie. (2003 Honor Award for Younger Readers)
Snyder, Carol. Ike and Mama and the Block Wedding. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1979. ISBN: 0698204611. Rosie Weinstein is getting married on Sunday but not without a little help from the residents of East 136th Street. (1979 Award Winner)
Snyder, Carol. Ike and Mama and the Seven Surprises. New York: Lothrop, Lee and Shepard, 1985. ISBN: 0688037321. Ike is very skeptical when his mother promises that he will have seven surprises in the month before his Bar Mitzvah, especially, with his father still hospitalized with tuberculosis and a newly-arrived, jobless cousin living in their small apartment. (1985 Award Winner for Older Readers)
Sugarman, Brynn Olenberg. Rebecca’s Journey Home. Illustrated by Michelle Shapiro. Minneapolis: Kar-Ben Publishing, Inc., 2006. ISBN: 1580131573. The story of a Jewish-American family who adopts a child from Vietnam is recounted with warmth and sensitivity from the adoption procedure and the trip to Asia to the baby’s first Shabbat with her new family and her conversion and naming ceremony. (2007 Honor Award for Younger Readers)
Wolf, Ferida. Pink Slippers, Bat Mitzvah Blues. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1989. ISBN: 0827605315 pbk. Thirteen-year-old Alyssa tries to balance the conflicting demands of ballet training with finding her place as a Jew in today's world. (1989 Honor Award for Older Readers)
Yolen, Jane. Naming Liberty. Paintings by Jim Burke. New York: Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin, 2008. ISBN: 9780399242502. Parallel stories tell the arrival of two young ladies to the United States - Gitl, the daughter of a Russian family, who decide to emigrate to avoid the pogroms and persecution of Czarist Russia and the Statue of Liberty, conceived and developed by the young French artist Frederic Auguste Bartholdi as a commemoration for America’s centennial birthday. Illustrations in counterpart oil paint panels reflect the 19th century Eastern European village against the more modern cities of Paris and New York. (2009 Honor Award for Younger Readers)
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 May 03,
Help spread the word about the Convention Countdown and be entered into the "Mention Convention" weekly drawing for a $10 Amazon gift card, May 10 through July 2.
To enter, write about the Convention Countdown or about the convention itself on your blog, on Twitter, on Facebook, or add the information to your email as a signature. Then immediately send the URL of your post (or a copy of your email with the convention-related signature) to email@example.com . Be sure to give us your name and email address so that we can contact you if you are a winner!
Please note that the final week's drawing will not be held until after the convention, since we will be very busy in the week leading up to the event. Good luck, and thanks for mentioning convention!
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,
Our 8-week Convention Countdown begins the second week of May, with a new convention-related interview on the AJL blog every Tuesday! Watch www.jewishlibraries.org/blog! Help spread the word and be entered into our "Mention Convention" weekly drawing for a $10 Amazon gift card: mention the AJL convention on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, or your email signature to enter! Watch this space for details....
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!