Lauren Grodstein’s books include the novels “The Explanation for Everything,” “A Friend of the Family,” and “Reproduction is the Flaw of Love” and the story collection “The Best of Animals.” Lauren teaches creative writing at Rutgers-Camden, where she helps administer the college’s MFA program. Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
Recently, one of my writing students turned in a story featuring an adorable, vulnerable child whose blue eyes were “wide with wisdom” or something similarly icky. Although I otherwise liked the story, I warned my student – my entire class, in fact – against this particular cliché, the urchin who spouts soul-ennobling maxims while either bringing the adults together or putting them in their place. This child is usually between the ages of four and eight, preternaturally mature, humorless, and almost always blond. I call him the Golden Child, and he annoys the crap out of me.
After I finished teaching that day, I met my four-year-old son for lunch in the campus garden. My son is blond. My son is blue-eyed. My son has a good sense of humor, but still: my creative writing students saw us in the garden and said, kindly, that it looked like I had a Golden Child of my own. I smiled through my cringe. They were right: Nathaniel is golden, as all-American as a fourth of July firework. I, on the other hand, look like I was just crowned Miss Shtetl 2013. In other words, my son doesn’t look like me at all, and he doesn’t look particularly “Jewish.”
Earlier this week, Daniel Torday wrote about Jewish novella-writers and discussed the complicated “Jewish Writer Question.” Daniel’s novella “The Sensualist” won the 2012 National Jewish Book Award in Outstanding Debut Fiction. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
After five years as a magazine editor in New York City, I took the leap and the risk to exit the race and take an MFA. I was in my 20s and didn’t know much more than that I loved books and wanted to write one. My first workshop there was taught by an African-American writer whose novels I love, and whose advice — every word of it — has stuck with me every day since.
In one of my first days there, I turned in a short story about a Jewish kid who goes to visit his grandparents in Montreal, and after a long night of drinking ends up skinny-dipping in a hot tub only to see, dramatically and in great detail, that his grandfather isn’t circumcised.
This fact came under appropriate scrutiny by my fellow workshop members. Maybe the writing wasn’t so hot (it wasn’t). Maybe no one wants to read a long description of an octogenarian’s foreskin (they sure don’t!). So I demurred. The story’s been in a drawer since.
But in private conference after workshop, the novelist sat me down. He could see how dejected I was.
“Look look look — so maybe you didn’t pull of that scene,” he said. “But you’ve got material here.”
Earlier, Daniel Torday wrote about Jewish novella-writers. Daniel’s novella “The Sensualist” won the 2012 National Jewish Book Award in Outstanding Debut Fiction. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
About three days after my second daughter, Delia, was born, I got a call from the editor of a novella I’d published the previous year. She said, “Congratulations!” I thought she was talking about the new baby. After three long minutes of my bumbling about diapers and sleeplessness she said, “You don’t know, do you? You won the National Jewish Book Award!”
My first response was: Holy Oh My God! My second was: I mean, G-d! And my third was: Wait, so, does this make me a Jewish Writer? Because some part of me doesn’t know what that means, and what that means for me.
So here are some facts:
Daniel Torday’s novella “The Sensualist” won the 2012 National Jewish Book Award in Outstanding Debut Fiction. His debut novel, “The Last Flight of Poxl West,” will be published by St. Martin’s Press in 2015. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
I’m biased, having recently published a novella with strong Jewish themes. And this is deeply unscientific and probably not defensible. But I’ll just say it unequivocally and then back off if need be: the most timeless, lasting novellas of the second half of the 20th century were written by Jewish novella writers. With apologies to Jim Harrison and Denis Johnson, whose novellas I love and teach, it seems to me that Philip Roth and Saul Bellow are the two major novellists (the proper epithet for the novella writer) of the past 60 years. You’d be hard-pressed to put Philip Roth’s “Goodbye, Columbus” and Saul Bellow’s “Seize the Day” up against virtually any other novella of their epoch and find them wanting. Those novellas have grown to be foundational texts of their times, cornerstones of those two major Jewish American writers’ oeuvres.
But more than that, what distinguishes Roth and Bellow as novellists is the sheer quantity and quality of novellas each published — frequently. A quick perusal of the table of contents of Bellow’s “Collected Stories” turns up nearly as many novellas as “stories” — “The Bellarosa Connection,” which was published stand-alone; “A Theft,” one of the Nobel-winner’s finest; “What Kind of Day Did You Have?” clocking in at 70-plus small-print pages. And after the small masterpieces of his mid-career gave us the 86 pages of “The Prague Orgy,” 96 pages of “The Breast,” and the speedy “The Ghost Writer,” the back half of Roth’s celebrated late-career output finds the hopefully-future-Nobelist (a fan can dream, can’t he?) alternating big novels with quick strike novellas published as “novels”: “The Dying Animal” and “Everyman.”
An anthology of 50-plus years of Ron Rubin’s published commentary on topics of import to world Jewry, “A Jewish Professor’s Political Punditry” (Syracuse University Press), is now available. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
Despite the contributions of the Internet, turning out a college daily newspaper today still requires human ingenuity and dedication, as it did more than a half century ago. Computers left to themselves don’t write editorials, accounts of student council intrigue, reviews of drama society productions, or play-by-play accounts of intercollegiate sports events, and they don’t know how to meet a deadline!
In my senior year at NYU’s Bronx (“uptown”) campus — way back in 1960-1961 — I wrote a lot about the facets of collegiate culture mentioned above. I was editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, the Heights Daily News (HDN). Since the newspaper covered a campus of only 2,000 students enrolled in NYU’s two uptown colleges — liberal arts and engineering — the publication held the distinction of being “the smallest college daily in America.” (By contrast, the Columbia Daily Spectator, which covered the comings and goings of tens of thousands of students and faculty at Columbia University’s campus in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights section a dozen miles to the south, had many richer and more provocative sources to draw from to produce its daily miracle.)
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