The ProsenPeople

The Origin of Russian for Lovers

Monday, April 04, 2011 | Permalink

Marina Blitshteyn is the author of the new poetry chapbook Russian for Lovers. She will be blogging all week for the Visiting Scribe.

It was my first semester in the MFA program and I was having a hard time, as can be the case. I was in the shower one day and it occurred to me I wanted to write an alphabet book to help my American lover learn Russian faster.

He’d been expressing interest in the language, picking up some words and phrases here and there, so I figured I could work out a little side-project from all the MFA work I was supposed to be doing. I planned on going letter by letter, making each poem revolve around the sound of that letter so he could learn it better.

I started composing A in the shower. I wanted to have the letter A be the only vowel in the piece. Needless to say, when I put it to the page it didn’t look as good as it sounded in my head while it was being shampooed. So I scrapped that idea and allowed other vowels in. A ended up having many different versions; I had to go back and re-do the beginning a bunch of times.

Russian for Lovers was originally only about love; it was supposed to be about a long-distance relationship and a communication divide. Soon enough I started thinking about larger ideas like the fact that we speak Russian in my house, my family’s journey to the States, my own relationship with my place of birth.

Interestingly, I’d never written poems about these questions before. And then “Love in Moldova” came out of me, and it sounded angry and hurt and I figured there was an emotional core to this project that extended beyond a personal relationship to a loved one and into more political and cultural concerns.

Marina Blitshteyn is the author of Russian for Lovers. Come back all week to read her blog posts.

100th Anniversary of Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

Tuesday, March 29, 2011 | Permalink

A few days behind on this one, but never too late to share some of the great content from the Forward. To commemorate and honor the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire the Forward published a special section last week. The section included the first-ever translations of the Jewish Daily Forward‘s original Yiddish coverage of the event, including the front page of March 25, 1911, the day of the fire.

The special section also includes an original essay from David Von Drehle, author of Triangle: The Fire That Changed America, as well as the winners of its Triangle Fire Poetry Contest, a prize poetry contest that the Forward held earlier this year to elicit  submissions for both an English and Yiddish poem to honor the poetry of Morris Rosenfeld who documented the fire at the time and to reflect upon the fire’s meaning and legacy.The winner of the English poem was Zackary Sholem Berger of Baltimore, MD and the winner of the Yiddish section was Alec (“Leyzer”) Burko of New York City.

NYC Event: Howard Jacobson at NYPL (Discount Code)

Friday, March 25, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

LIVE from the NYPL presents

Howard Jacobson in conversation with Paul Holdengraber

Friday, April 1st at 7PM in the Celeste Bartos Forum of The New York Public Library

$25 General Admission
ENTER DISCOUNT CODE: LAUGH to purchase tickets for just $15

1.888.71.TICKETS (1.888.718.4253)

When Howard Jacobson won the Man Booker prize for The Finkler Question last autumn it was hailed as a victory for the comic novel. ‘Except that I write tragic novels,’ Jacobson declared. But he is nonetheless gratified that Jonathan Safran Foer said of him ‘I don’t know a funnier writer alive.’ Being funny should go without saying if you’re a novelist, Jacobson insists. In conversation with Paul Holdengräber, Harold Jacobson will discuss why any novelist who doesn’t make you laugh is short-changing you.

So what makes Howard Jacobson laugh?

· Ping pong, for a start but that doesn’t mean I don’t take it
· Ditto being Jewish.
· Ditto being English and Jewish.
· Ditto masochistic sex.
· The novel that preceded The Finkler Question is about a man who wants his wife to be unfaithful to him, and the hero of The Mighty Walzer plays ping pong to lose. But then we don’t read or write novels, Jacobson argues, if we aren’t half in love with losing.

HOWARD JACOBSON is the author of eight novels, including The Mighty Walzer which won the 1999 Everyman Wodehouse Award for comic writing and The Finkler Question which won the Man Booker Prize last autumn.

PAUL HOLDENGRABER is the Director of LIVE from the NYPL.

Sarah’s Key: The Movie

Thursday, March 24, 2011 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Sarah’s Key (Tatiana de Rosnay) will hit the big screens in July:

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.