The ProsenPeople

April 6th

Thursday, March 24, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

April 6th is a big day for Jewish literature in NYC this year. Not only is it the evening of the Symphony Space event with Etgar Keret and Jonathan Safran Foer, but you can also check out the following events:

2011 Sami Rohr Prize Winner Announced

Tuesday, March 22, 2011 | Permalink





March 22, 2011 (New York, NY) – The Jewish Book Council today named Austin Ratner the winner of the $100,000 2011 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature in fiction for his debut novel The Jump Artist (Bellevue Literary Press ). The Jewish Book Council is also pleased to announce Joseph Skibell, author of A Curable Romantic (Algonquin Books), isthe 2011 runner-up and recipient of the $25,000 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature Choice Award. Established in 2006, the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature is the largest monetary award of its kind given to writers of exceptional talent and promise in early career.

Hailed as a transformative award for emerging writers, the annual Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature honors the contribution of contemporary writers in the exploration and transmission of Jewish values and is intended to encourage and promote outstanding writing of Jewish interest in the future. Fiction and non-fiction books are considered in alternate years.

The Jump Artist was featured in Publishers Weekly in spring 2009 as one of 10 promising debut novels.  Based on the true story of Phillipe Halsman, a man who Adolf Hitler knew by name, who Sigmund Freud wrote about in 1930, and who put Marilyn Monroe on the cover of Life magazine, the novel has been called “a remarkable work…[that] documents a triumph of the human spirit over tremendous adversity” (Harper’s Magazine), and an “elegantly written tribute [that] makes as beautiful a use of the darkness and light of one man’s life as a Halsman photograph of a pretty young woman” (GQ).

The finalists for the fifth annual Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature are:

Allison Amend – Stations West (Louisiana State University Press)

Nadia KalmanThe Cosmopolitans (Livingston Press)

Julie OrringerThe Invisible Bridge (Knopf)

By virtue of being named a Rohr Prize finalist, these writers are welcomed into the fellowship of a foremost Jewish literary community. The winners, finalists, judges and advisory board members of the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature meet biennially at the Sami Rohr Jewish Literary Institute, a forum devoted to the continuity of Jewish literature. The Institute, run under the auspices of the Jewish Book Council, creates an environment in which established and emerging writers can meet and exchange ideas and perspectives. Within a short period of time, the Sami Rohr Jewish Literary Institute has become an important meeting place for the leading lights of the American Jewish literary world.

For more information about The Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, please click here!

JBC Bookshelf: Baseball Edition

Monday, March 21, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Batter up! With spring training underway and baseball season fast approaching, we have a few “Jews and Baseball” titles to throw your way:

Out of Left Field: Jews and Black Baseball, Rebecca T. Alpert (July 2011, Oxford University Press)
A look at the many-faceted relationship between Jews and black baseball in Jim Crown America

Pitching in the Promised Land: A Story of the First and Only Season in the Israel Baseball League, Aaron Pribble (April 2011, University of Nebraska Press)
Israel’s only season of professional baseball boasted an unforgettable cast of characters: a DJ/street artist third baseman from teh Brox, a wildman catcher from Australia, the journeymen Dominicans who were much older than they claimed to be, and even Sandy Koufax

Hank Greenberg: The Hero Who Didn’t Want to Be One , Mark Kurlansky (March 2011, Yale University Press)
Kurlansky explores the truth behind the slugger’s legend: his Bronx boyhood, his spectacular discipline as an aspiring ballplayer, the complexity of his decision not to play on Yom Kippur, and the cultural context of virulent anti-Semitism in which his career played out

Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg, Shelley Sommer (March 2011, Boyds Mill Press)
Young adults, 10 and up, will be able to enjoy this biography of Hank Greenberg, which includes archival photos

Lipman Pike: America’s First Home Run King, Richard Michelson; Zachary Pullen, illus. (February 2011, Sleeping Bear Press)
Award-winning author Richard Michelson chronicles the meteoric rise of one of baseball’s earliest (and unsung) champions

Meet Sami Rohr Prize Finalist…Nadia Kalman

Friday, March 18, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Our fifth, and final, installment of this year’s “Words from our Finalists”…Nadia Kalman

Nadia…meet our Readers
Readers…meet Nadia

What are some of the most challenging things about writing fiction?

When writing The Cosmopolitans, I found it challenging to emphasize with characters who initially seemed very different from me – such as Jean Strauss. Finding that empathy is also the most rewarding part about writing.

What or who has been your inspiration for writing fiction?

Family stories, and the way people in my family tell stories – spinning funny stories out of sad histories, and cautionary tales out of seeming triumphs. Writers such as Osip and Nadezhda Mandelstam, Sholem Aleichem, Primo Levi, Lev Tolstoy, Vladimir Nabokov, Philip Roth, and Michael Chabon.

Who is your intended audience?

Jewish people and immigrants of all kinds.

Are you working on anything new right now?

I am now one third of the way through writing a second novel. Entitled “The Women’s Battalion of Death,” and set in the Russia of 1917, the novel fictionalizes the exploits of an historical all-female militia whose members included Jews from the Pale, laundresses, princesses, opera singers and maids.

What are you reading now?

A Tale of Love and Darkness, by Amos Oz – I’m fascinated by his memories of a Jerusalem neighborhood in which everyone “worked for Chekhov.”

When did you decide to be a writer? Where were you?

There are many moments that led to my becoming a writer, beginning in my early childhood, but when I turned thirty, I decided to make it the focus of my life. I was scuba diving at the time – perhaps I realized there were safer ways of finding excitement.

What is the mountaintop for you – how do you define success?

I used to think that success meant accumulating awards and recognition, but I now I think it is doing what you love, and, in some small way, contributing to the well-being of others. I hope to connect with readers and help them connect with one another.

How do you write – what is your private modus operandi? What talismans, rituals, props do you use to assist you?

Before starting to write, I read a little, from the Torah, Chekhov’s notebooks, Mandelstam’s poems, the Brothers Grimm, etc. (I suppose it’s a little strange to write “etc.” when these sources are so disparate.)

What do you want readers to get out of your book?

We are all, in some sense, immigrants – none of us feel completely at home in the world. If we recognize this about one another, that recognition can allow us to connect.

Turkish Coffee for the Crown Prince

Friday, March 18, 2011 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Reyna Simnegar, the author of Persian Food from the Non-Persian Bride: And Other Sephardic Kosher Recipes You Will Love, wrote about Miss Venezela Material and Sephardim Strike Back!

It was a regular morning at my home, dishes to wash, laundry to fold, when I got a phone call from my husband. “Reyna, I am coming this afternoon with Reza Pahlavi.” Thinking it was a work colleague, I casually asked him, “At what time? Do you guys want to have dinner here?” That’s when he finally explained to me this “Reza Pahlavi” was not any “Pahlavi,” he was His Imperial Highness Crowned Prince Reza Pahlavi of Iran!

The Prince was visiting Boston and somehow my husband (if you know him, you know this is right up his alley) had convinced His Imperial Highness to come have dessert and tea at our house! My legs were shaking. “The crowned prince — here? In this messy house? I am going to kill Sammy!” I immediately recruited a cleaning lady and set off for a hunt to buy Persian desserts. As I was pulling off the driveway, I noticed the secret service searching the vicinity of my house making sure it was a safe place for the prince.

The more I thought about it, the more nervous I became. “We are Jewish, I wonder if he realizes he is coming to an Orthodox Jewish home…” My mind kept on thinking how this would probably have never happened back in Iran. I loaded the car with more sweets than an army could finish and tons of gorgeous fresh flowers. “Persians love flowers,” I told myself. I headed back home and started to get ready to meet the son of the Shah! I was so nervous. To calm myself, I started thinking, “He is just another human being, just like me, there is nothing to be nervous about.” I solemnly decided it was so silly of me to be nervous and I was going to even refer to him by his name: “We are in America, these nonsense titles are so passé!”

The doorbell rang. I could see from the window his armored car parked outside. I opened the door and there he was, in his entire splendor, tall-dark-and-handsome. He approached me with a smile, bodyguards on both sides, self-confident and impossible to evade, “Thank you for having me over, Mrs. Simnegar.”

I nearly fainted. I just stared at him and quietly blurted out, “It is my pleasure, Your Highness.”

I had surrendered.

The Prince was incredibly charming and kind. I figured I must offer him chai, since this is what most Persians crave after sweets. To my surprise, instead of tea, His Imperial Highness wanted coffee! Unfortunately, all I had was tea. I had never been a good coffee-maker, much less a good Turkish coffee-maker. Ever since this episode, I made it a personal goal to learn the secrets of Turkish coffee-making. A few years later I met the expert, Peleg Morris. Peleg learned the art of making Turkish coffee while serving in the Israeli Army and camping in treacherous deserts. He was even appointed the best Turkish-coffee-maker in his division. If His Imperial Highness ever honors me visiting again, I will surely be ready.

Turkish Coffee: Kahveh

Turkish coffee is traditionally made in a special long-handled copper jug called ibrik. However, a very small saucepan will also do the trick.

This coffee is served in tiny porcelain cups. After drinking this coffee, some people read the future by looking at the patterns the coffee grounds have left behind in the cup. I am not even kidding! We have no real fortunetellers in the family, but a few aunts are known for making great guesses.

1 cup water
2 teaspoons fine ground Turkish coffee
2 teaspoons sugar
3 cardamom seeds or ¼ teaspoon cardamom powder

1. Place the water in an ibrik or very small saucepan with a long handle. Bring to a boil over high heat.
2. Remove from heat and add coffee, sugar, and cardamom. Mix with a spoon.
3. Reduce the flame to medium. Return the ibrik to the heat and boil until the coffee rises to the top of the ibrik just like lava in a volcano.
4. Immediately remove from the heat before “eruption” occurs and serve.

Yield: 4 (¼-cup) servings

Reyna Simnegar‘s Persian Food from the Non-persian Bride: And Other Sephardic Kosher Recipes You Will Love is now available. She has been blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

Imre Kertesz’s “Fiasco”

Thursday, March 17, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Melville House is publishing Imre Kertész’s Fiasco later this month. Considered to be the “untranslated “missing” book from the trilogy that won Imre Kertész the Nobel Prize,”Fiasco continues the story that Kertész began with Fatelessness and Kaddish for an Unborn Child. More from the publisher:

Fiasco, as Imre Kertész himself has said, “is fiction founded on reality” – a Kafka-like account that is surprisingly funny in its unrelentingly pessimistic clarity, of the Communist takeover of his homeland. Forced into the army and assigned to escort military prisoners, the protagonist decides to feign insanity to be released from duty. But meanwhile, life under the new regime is portrayed almost as an uninterrupted continuation of life in the Nazi concentration camps – which in turn, is depicted as a continuation of the patriarchal dictatorship of a joyless childhood. It is, in short, a searing extension of Kertész’s fundamental theme: the totalitarian experience seen as trauma not only for an individual, but for the whole civilization – ours – that made Auschwitz possible.

Read more here.

The Urban Family Passover Haggadah

Thursday, March 17, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Remember Alef Betty?

To further her exploration of “Modern Hebrew Arts,” Tsilli Pines has created The Urban Family Passover Haggadah:

Old traditions, new perspectives. A modern design with English text, as well as Hebrew blessings and transliterations.

64 page softcover book with perfect binding, glossy color cover, and 1-color interior.

Read about the story behind the Haggadah here (including the design!) and check out blog posts on Haggadot she collected during her research:

Maxwell House Haggadah

Jacob Wexler Haggadah

Pre-order your copy (and view sample pages) here.


$59/set of 5

$89/set of 10

JLit Links

Thursday, March 17, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Philip Roth on Thomas Wolfe at The Center for Fiction

Joshua Cohen in the Paris Review

Nicole Krauss is a finalist for the Orange Prize for Fiction

Manga for Purim

Thursday, March 17, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Dani Crickman

We’ve seen a graphic megillah before, but this is something else.

Earlier today, MyJewishLearning posted about Throne of Secrets, a new comic book version of the Purim story that follows the megillah but isn’t afraid to take artistic license.

King Achashverosh is painted as even more lecherous than the usual, stabbing his soldiers when they displease him, and a straight-up sadistic humor. Esther is bashful and demure, her grandfather (grandfather!?) Yair is old, but sagely, and Mordechai is — well, not the civil, cultured Mordechai we’re used to reading about …

Read more (and see a page from the book!) here.

Intriguing, right? And the art looks great.

And there’s a movie in the works, too? Fun.

Meet Sami Rohr Prize Finalist…Allison Amend

Thursday, March 17, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Our fourth installment of “Words from our Finalists”…Allison Amend

Allison…meet our Readers

What are some of the most challenging things about writing fiction?

The most challenging aspect about writing fiction is actually writing it. Sometimes sitting down at that desk (or standing; I have a standing desk) and pounding it out seems a Herculean task. I find great excuses not to write: I have to alphabetize my sock drawer, pick a fight with my brother, defrost tomorrow’s dinner, research waterproof mailboxes, clean my makeup brushes….

What or who has been your inspiration for writing fiction?

I am a writer because I love to read. I love the way a book can transport you to a different time, place, culture or even body. On my best days, I escape myself and succeed in seeing the world from a different perspective, in questioning the categories the world creates.

Who is your intended audience?

My mom. She is a 60-something, highly educated avid reader who belongs to multiple book clubs. She reads and pays attention to the New York Times and theNew Yorker book reviews, and, best of all, she buys hardcover books. She is also a fierce salesperson for Stations West. I once saw her corner a man in an independent bookstore and practically force him to purchase my book.

Are you working on anything new right now?

I am finishing a novel that combines art forgery and human cloning. It was originally supposed to be diametrically opposed to Stations West—set in the future without overt Jewish themes—but of course the plot has been taken over by Holocaust survivors attempting to recover art stolen by the Nazis. You can’t escape your interests! I’m also working on short stories, screenplays and Jewish children’s books for the PJ Library. It’s good to have a project that you’re cheating on by working on other projects.

What are you reading now?

I like to read my peers’ work—I’m reading the other Sami Rohr Prize finalists’ excellent books, and I find I’m in great company. Other recent favorites include A Visit From the Goon SquadThe Thousand Autumns of Jacob de ZoetWhat the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves UsSomething Red

When did you decide to be a writer? Where were you?

I have always wanted to be a writer, ever since I gave up my dreams of becoming a princess or a superhero, or Princess Superhero. I didn’t know you were “allowed” to be a writer, though, until I attended grad school at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and met people who had dedicated their lives to the craft. I knew I wanted to be among them. But I think my parents are still holding out hope that I’ll go to law school.

What is the mountaintop for you — how do you define success?

The “mountaintop” is a good metaphor for success. I know from hiking that often you reach “false peaks”—where you arrive at the top only to find a higher peak further along the ridge. I think being a writer feels like that. There’s always someone more successful than you. I imagine some famous writer saying, “Yes, I won the Pulitzer, but I still don’t have a Nobel!” I feel so proud to have my words in print; getting recognized for the Sami Rohr Prize is gratification galore. To extend the hiking metaphor—I’ve reached a lovely spot. I think I’ll have my lunch here and enjoy the view for a while.

How do you write — what is your private modus operandi? What talismans, rituals, props do you use to assist you?

Mostly I need a good ergonomic set up, lots of coffee, and few distractions. That’s not very sexy, I know. Writing is not a sexy job.

What do you want readers to get out of your book?

In Stations West, I’m trying to reclaim the myth of the Old West and show the extent to which Jews helped form that history. We’ve romanticized the Wild West, but it was an unforgiving place, quick to judge, slow to accept. In a larger sense, I want to record how the history of American Judaism is emblematic of the history of America in general. Placing the very contemporary struggle of assimilation and identity in the past hopefully sheds light on our own struggles, and helps us to negotiate our daily lives. But what I love to hear most is that it’s a good read. My favorite books keep me up all night reading; I’m thrilled to think that I’ve contributed to literary insomnia.

You can read more about Allison Amend by visiting her website: