The ProsenPeople

Meet Sami Rohr Prize Finalist Yelena Akhtiorskaya

Thursday, February 12, 2015 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Yesterday we spent a little time getting to know Sami Rohr Prize finalist Kenneth Bonert, author of The Lion Seeker. Today we hear from Yelena Akhtiorskaya, whose debut novel Panic in a Suitcase was published this past summer by Penguin. Below, Yelena reveals her true feelings about books and numbers, the dark moment in her life when she decided to become a writer, and her penchant for great book covers and great book titles. If you're in the New York-area and would like to see Yelena live, check out JBC's May 19th Unpacking the Book event, "Soviet Roots, American Branches."

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

Making it consequential. The job is to find the weight, make it true. Basically, the hardest part about fiction is making it not. Aside from that, grammar. It can be, tricky.

What or who has been your inspiration for writing fiction?

Inspiration is a very positive word, too positive for me. Certain things are inspiring, sure, like Amelia Earhart, but inspiration feels like a dead end street. I’m much more motivated by the horrors.

Who is your intended audience?

Every human being on planet earth, with the exception of my loved ones. Of course the reality is pretty much exactly the inverse.

Are you working on anything new right now?

I’m working on a novel, which, if I ever finish, I’m going to put out under a pseudonym.

What are you reading now?

Gilbert Sorrentino’s Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things and Peter Pomerantsev's Nothing is True and Everything is Possible. When I don’t choose a book based on its cover, it’s the title.

Top 5 favorite books

I have to gripe here. I’m sorry. It’s not just a problem with lists, but more general—any interaction between books and numbers upsets me.

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

I was in drama class in junior high school, which I don’t think is a coincidence, since that was when life was the darkest and there wasn’t a glimmer of hope.

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

The mountaintop is a mountaintop. Seriously. I’ve been at sea level too long. The most banal version of success I can muster is being in a position to quit my obligations and go live on a mountain, or, okay, in a hotel on a mountain in Switzerland à la Nabokov. I’d just write and take walks. There are people who think I’d tire of this pretty quickly but I would be very determined to prove them wrong. I guess this just reflects financial success, but I think the notion of success should stay in the financial realm.

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

At first it’s pen and paper. Everything goes to shit when the computer gets involved. The computer is connected in a not very convenient way to my psyche. Everywhere outside of my open Word doc, the id runs amok. Inside my Word doc, the superego reigns supreme. If I wrote only on the computer, I’d go into word debt. I’d probably have to start deleting other people’s masterpieces.

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

A new perspective on absolutely anything.

Yelena Akhtiorskaya was born in Odessa in 1985 and raised in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. She holds an MFA from Columbia University. She is the recipient of a Posen Fellowship in Fiction, and her writing has appeared in n+1, The New Republic, Triple Canopy, and elsewhere. She lives in New York City.

Related Content:

Unexpected Guests in Fiction

Wednesday, February 11, 2015 | Permalink

This week, Judith Felsenfeld, the author of  Blaustein's Kiss blogs for The Postscript on the reaction of some friends and family to her work of fiction. 

The Postscript series is a special peek "behind the scenes" of a book. It's a juicy little extra something to add to a book club's discussion and a reader's understanding of how the book came together. 

A couple of days after Blaustein’s Kiss, my collection of short fiction, is published, my cousin Roz phones to say how much she loves the book but — miniscule correction — the ‘shayna kupp’ issue came up around Thanksgiving, not a Seder. On Facebook, a former roommate posts that her memories of the years she and I hung out together differ substantially from mine. She unfriends me. In an e-mail, Aunt Flo, who moved to Oaxaca in 1985 and is not often in touch, calls the book a fabulous read and expresses her gratitude that finally someone understands where she’s coming from, family-wise. My niece shoots me an e-mail: Really enjoyed your stories. Quick fact check - Mom was no longer playing the cello when Dad passed away. She had given it up several years before, due to lower back issues.

Why is it, I wonder, that these friends and family members assumed I was writing about them? Why are people driven to insert themselves into works of fiction, particularly the fiction of someone close to them? Is it a kind of hubris, validation? There I am in black and white on the page, therefore I exist?

In the interest of clarification: I write fiction. However, as in the stories in Blaustein’s Kiss, there was a much beloved grandmother in my childhood; a boy in my son’s class contracted diphtheria; friends of mine set up a not-for-profit that provides sanctuary for abused women; I once sat next to a mouthy little girl on the Broadway #104 bus who entertained the entire back row with funny, inappropriate remarks; a neighbor’s kid took oboe lessons; the death of our family dog was a totally wrenching experience; we carry a quilt in the back seat of our car. It comes in handy.

Recipes for Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale

Wednesday, February 11, 2015 | Permalink

Posted by Miri Pomerantz Dauber

With the publication of Kristin Hannah's new book, The Nightingale, earlier this month, JBC Book Clubs worked in cooperation with St.Martin's Press to create a book club kit with a Jewish twist. The kit includes historical information, discussion questions, recommended reads, and, of course, recipes! You can download the full kit here, but a few of the recipes are shared below. 


Baguette


(adapted from Saveur
Baguettes play a role in the resistance as well, hiding Isabelle’s underground newsletters and delivering blank identity papers to Viann as an unusual filling, Henri’s maman’s special recipe. And, well, it’s France. 

Ingredients 
1 ½ cups tap water, heated to 115° F
1 tsp. active dry yeast
3 ¼ cups all–purpose flour
2 tsp. kosher salt
Canola oil, for greasing bowl
½ cup ice cubes

Use a whisk to combine the yeast and water in a bowl, and let sit about 10 minutes, until the yeast is foamy. Add in flour and stir with a fork until a dough forms. Add salt and begin to knead on a lightly floured surface, until dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.

Transfer dough to a lightly oiled bowl and turn over once to make sure that all sides have a light coating of oil. Cover with with plastic wrap and allow to rise for an hour, until doubled in size.

Roll dough into a rectangle and fold all four sides in toward the middle (first with the long sides, then the short) to create a rounded packet. Seal the seam and return the dough, with the seam facing down, to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap again, and allow to rest until it doubles in size again, approximately one hour.

Place a cast iron skillet on the bottom shelf of the oven and preheat to 475 degrees.

Transfer dough to the floured work surface, and divide it into three equal pieces. Form 12-14 inch ropes out of each piece. Cover a cookie sheet (or any rimless baking pan) with parchment paper and dust it with flour.

Evenly space the ropes of dough across the sheet, and then create dividers between the dough by pulling up the paper in between each loafand use rolled kitchen towels under the paper pleats to help the loaves keep shape as they rise. Cover the pan loosely with plastic and allow the dough to rise again for about 45-60 minutes, until doubled in size.

Uncover loaves, remove the towel dividers, and straighten the paper to space the loaves out. Make four slashes (about ¼ in. deep and 4 in. long) on each loaf with a paring knife. If you are using a baking or pizza stone (recommended), slide parchment paper onto the stone and place in the oven. Add ½ c. of ice cubes to the skillet on the bottom shelf of the oven (to create steam which helps create the soft inside before the crusty outside bakes). Bake for about 30 minutes, until the bread is golden and crispy (it should sound hollow when tapped).


Naturally Fermented Sour Dill Pickles

Viann does a lot of pickling and canning to make her garden harvests last through the winter. One of Viann’s pickled vegetables is cucumbers, so why not serve pickles at your book club? 

For this recipe, we asked writer and pickler Jeffrey Yoskowitz for advice. Learn more about Jeffrey following the recipe. 

Ingredients 
1 quart jar
1 lb of small, fresh pickling cucumbers (Kirby or Persian cu-cumbers)
1 T non-iodized kosher salt
1-2 Bay Leaves
3 peeled but whole cloves of garlic
2-3 sprigs of dill
1 dried chili pepper
¼ tsp coriander
¼ tsp mustard seed
¼ tsp black peppercorns
a few cloves
Any other spices and herbs you want to add (optional)

Fill the jar halfway from top with cold water. Add salt, tighten lid and shake to dissolve salt. Add garlic, dill and spices. Pack quart jar with cucumbers. Make sure vegetables are below water level—you can wedge them under the neck of the jar.

Leave the jar out on the counter at room temperature with the lid on, but not too tight. After the first two days, “burp” the jar (open lid to relieve pressure). After 3-4 days (for half-sour pickles), 5 to 7 days (for full-sours) or whenever you like the flavor, transfer the jar to the fridge. Enjoy!

Jeffrey Yoskowitz is a writer, pickler and entrepreneur. He was recently named to Forbes Magazine’s 30 under 30 list in Food and Wine and was a guest chef at the James Beard House kitchen in both 2013 and 2014.

In 2012, Yoskowitz co-founded The Gefilteria (www.gefilteria.com), a venture re-imagining Old World Jewish Foods through unique dining experiences, talks and demos and production of an artisanal gefilte fish sold around the country. He got his start in the food world at Adamah Organic farm in Litchfield County, Connecticut, where he worked as a farm fellow and returned a year later as a pickle apprentice.

Yoskowitz has written about food and culture in publications such as The New York Times, The Atlantic, Slate, Tablet, Gastronomica, Meatpaper, The Forward, among others. Through his writing and research he has become an authority on food and culture. In 2016, his forthcoming cookbook The Gefilte Manifesto will be published by Flatiron Books, an imprint of Macmillan.


Related Content:

Meet Sami Rohr Prize Finalist Kenneth Bonert

Wednesday, February 11, 2015 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

With the recent announcement of the 2015 Sami Rohr Prize finalists, we thought you might want to learn a little more about the five outstanding writers who made the list. Last week we introduced you to Ayelet Tsabari, who wrote a collection of short stories called the The Best Place on Earth. Today we turn our attention to Kenneth Bonert, whose novel, The Lion Seeker, won a 2013 National Jewish Book Award. Set in South Africa, Bonert's novel stretches across the 1930s and 1940s, following a Jewish family as they seek to find their place in a new culture, having escaped their war-torn homeland. 

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

I think writing well depends on being able to concentrate for long periods of time. You need to have patience, you need to make a sustained effort, to stick with it when it doesn't seem to be working. If your mind wanders, you need to train it to come back to the task at hand. I suppose it's like a kind of meditation. Eventually you come out the other side and find those moments of soaring excitement and clarity that carry you along. That rush of creative expression––it’s what I live for.

What or who has been your inspiration for writing fiction?

Life and books. I mean that the inspiration for me often comes from a combination of two things: having the spark of a good idea, and then finding the right language to transform it into a story. The ideas usually come from life, from situations. It could be something that disturbs me, like a reaction to an argument, or gnawing on a difficult problem, or else having an insight into how someone's personality works . . . or it could be a flash of memory, like the smell of rain in the woods, or a face passing on a city street . . . some flicker of feeling that I want to try to capture with words and make permanent, a moment that sets the machinery of the imagination humming into action.

But then the inspiration for the language and the structure of the story, I almost always find in books. By reading carefully, I see what other writers have done and the possibilities are opened up to me, different avenues I might try, experiments that will in turn generate their own inspirations until I've found what I'm looking for.

Who is your intended audience?

I don't have an audience in mind when I write, at least at the beginning stages. I believe that would be a mistake. You need to write for yourself and not try to please others. You need to write the kind of book that you would honestly love to read. Of course you hope that others will enjoy the book also, that it will find a large audience, but I think it is folly to chase after that. You would only be trying to guess the tastes of complete strangers, and that is surely a mug’s game.

Are you working on anything new right now?

Yes, I'm close to finishing a novel which is a kind of sequel to The Lion Seeker, although it’s a very different sort of novel, one that draws more on my own direct experiences of growing up in South Africa, which I left at the end of high school.

What are you reading now?

In fiction, it's a long novel called An Act of Terror, by Andre Brink, a South African writer of Afrikaner background. I'm finding this to be an absolutely brilliant novel. It’s the story of a bomb plot in apartheid South Africa in the late 1980s and it is both riveting and profound. Unfairly perhaps for the book, it was overtaken by history since just as it was published the apartheid state came crashing down, and the story was no longer as relevant to the reading public, which is a great shame because it really is masterful. I'm full of admiration for Mr. Brink at the moment.

In non-fiction, I'm reading The State vs. Nelson Mandela, by Joel Joffe. This is an interesting and well-written account of the famous 1963 treason trial, by the man who was one of the defence attorneys. I became especially interested in the trial when I learned just how many of the principals involved were Jewish. Not only among Mandela’s co-defendants but also, on the opposite side, the rather unsavoury prosecutor trying to convict him.

Top 5 favorite books

  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  • The Wall by John Hersey
  • Operation Shylock by Philip Roth

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

I can't think of a specific moment. It's something I've always wanted to do.

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

Success for a novel is measured four ways, I think. Critical success, commercial success, longevity, and influence.

For me, the top of the mountain would be to write a novel that attains all four.

However, the “top of a mountain” also implies that there is some end point to a long journey. This is not the way I look at what writing is. Rather, it’s a joyful art that I would never want to stop practicing. I can’t imagine ever not writing novels. Writing is a way of life, and to live this way is success for me.

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

I write in a room with few distractions, just a desk and a computer that is not connected to the internet. Nothing on the walls. The desk is an old one, a gift from my father. I also like to wear the same set of clothes, my work clothes. When I put them on I feel myself getting into the right frame of mind for work.

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

I would hope that they would experience what I have experienced when I come across a book I really love: a story that sweeps you along, characters that come alive. A deep book that you can’t put down, and afterward you don’t look at the world quite the same way anymore. You want to re-read it again, in order to savour favourite parts.

Kenneth Bonert’s fiction has appeared in McSweeney’s, Grain, and The Fiddlehead, and his journalism has appeared in the Globe and Mail and other publications. Born in South Africa, Bonert is the grandson of Lithuanian immigrants. He now lives in Toronto.

Related Content:

Book Cover of the Week: Immigrants Against the State

Tuesday, February 10, 2015 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

It's been a while since we featured a nonfiction title on The ProsenPeople's Book Cover of the Week series, so how's this for a break:

Kenyon Zimmer explores how the anarchist movement at the turn of the twentieth century enabled American immigrant communities—Italian and Jewish, in particular—to shed their nationalist loyalties without enforcing assimilation into "the Melting Pot"; instead embracing differences and diversity as they adapted to a new life in the United States.

Related content:

New Jewish Book Council Reviews

Friday, February 06, 2015 | Permalink

This week's new Jewish Book Council reviews:

Related Content:

Occupational Hazards and Emotional Realities in Writing about the Holocaust

Friday, February 06, 2015 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Richard Dean Rosen wrote about Sophie Turner-Zaretsky, one of the subjects of his new book, as well well as how he came to write his recently published book, Such Good Girls: The Journey of the Holocaust’s Hidden Child Survivors. He has been blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

When I began researching and writing Such Good Girls: The Journey of the Holocaust’s Hidden Child Survivors, I thought it would be great to cross the Holocaust off that list of subjects that I hadn’t studied, and didn’t understand. What I didn’t anticipate was that the more you read about the Holocaust, the more you talk to Holocaust survivors, the more you seem to know about it, the less you can comprehend it.

I was surprised by the tenacity of the depressed feelings that studying the Holocaust left me with. When I shared my distress with friends, it turned out that this was a common occupational hazard for people who tackled the subject with any seriousness. I felt I had unwittingly joined a club whose members had struggled, and failed, to understand the most concentrated, organized, industrialized, large-scale, and international act of inhumanity in history.

When a close friend of mine, Paul—a brilliantly well-informed, ravenously curious, and very competitive man—read the galleys of my book, he set out to see for himself about the Holocaust. He’s a man accustomed to mastering new subject matter with ease. After a week of reading, he called me in frustration, already defeated by the enormity of it, the scale of the inhumanity. That the Final Solution mocks one’s efforts to understand it became, for me, no longer just a clever intellectual remark made at dinner parties, but a deeply felt emotional reality.

An emotional reality that, once I started working on the book, began to manifest itself all around me. After attending a conference of hidden child survivors and their descendants in Cleveland, I jumped on an Amtrak train back to New York (Hurricane Katrina was closing in), and was seated in the dining car next to a non-Jewish woman who told me that, when she was a child in Florida, her parents had adopted a Jewish refugee who had been one of Mengele’s experimental subjects. Then I discovered that the husband of one of the women in my book had hid in the Dutch Resistance during the war, and he has a brother who lives a few blocks from where I grew up in Highland Park, Illinois. How strange to go home, where I had grown up in a state of such obliviousness to the Holocaust, to interview him. Then I heard from a high school classmate of mine, whose parents had been child survivors, and she told me about another classmate of mine, whose parents were survivors, and no one had ever said anything about it! And then, just a month ago, I was visiting my sister, walking the dog with her, and she introduced me to a man my age whose parents were on Schindler’s list. And he told me that his family was one of the rare ones where the Holocaust and the camps were talked about openly. So openly that when his parents told this man at the age of seven that they were sending him to summer camp, he assumed it was a concentration camp, that this was just something of a family tradition!

I can’t even count the number of people I’ve run into recently who turn out to be the children of survivors. There will soon come a time, however, when the Holocaust will take its silent place in the history of inhumanity, when even the children of the children will be gone, and the stories will all begin, “A long time ago, when my grandmother was a little girl” in Poland or France or Holland or Hungary….

Richard Dean Rosen has written many books, but none presented more challenges than Such Good Girls: The Journey of the Holocaust’s Hidden Child Survivors. It’s a book that neither he initially wanted to write nor his subjects wanted written, but fate and the author’s own hidden agenda intervened.

Related Content:

Finding a Place for Contemporary Jewish Literature in Jewish Day Schools

Thursday, February 05, 2015 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Josh Lambert wrote about the importance of exposing teenagers to great Jewish books. His most recent book is Unclean Lips: Jews, Obscenity, and American Culture. He has been blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

In my last post, I mentioned that Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus changed my life when I picked it up off a dusty shelf in the basement of my parents’ house when I was about 17. If not for that book, I probably wouldn’t have spent so much time thinking about modern Jewish literature since then.

Roth’s first book resonated with me because it’s funny and acidly observant of a Jewish community that wasn’t too different from the one I grew up in, in Toronto, and because its title novella is powerfully evocative of a young man’s growth into maturity. But what was most stunning to me was that I had found the book on my own, rather than being handed it by my parents or teachers.

At the time, I was a student at a Jewish day school, from which I would go on to graduate after twelfth grade. Throughout high school, I spent hours each day in classes on Tanakh, Talmud, and Jewish ethics. In English class, though, we read exactly what would be read in any public school: Shakespeare, George Orwell, and, when it came to more contemporary fiction, popular non-Jewish writers like Barbara Kingsolver. It wasn’t until I arrived at college—a centuries-old, nonsectarian institution named for a Puritan minister—that I learned the names Sholem Aleichem, Isaac Babel, and Cynthia Ozick.

What’s strange about this is that these authors’ works have such deep textual relationships to the classical Jewish texts I was studying in high school. And, even more important, they directly address the central question that my community Jewish day school seemed to want me and my classmates to be thinking about: what does it mean to be a Jew today, in a cosmopolitan culture?

I realize, of course, why in earlier generations a book like Roth’s might not have been thought appropriate for a Jewish day school. Even in the 1990s, there might have been teachers and administrators at my school who would have worried that Roth’s story “The Conversion of the Jews,” about a kid in a Jewish supplementary school class who asks the most loaded theological question and then threatens to jump off the roof, might have given us some bad ideas. Literature is subversive; S. Y. Abramovitch, who became known as Mendele Mocher Sforim and as the grandfather of modern Hebrew and Yiddish literature, was once literally run out of town because his satires were so biting.

But does that mean these texts have no place in Jewish education? I hope not.

I hope, on the contrary, that Jewish day school teachers and administrators realize that literature that asks difficult questions about Jewishness and forces us to confront the conflicts and tensions within Jewish life can be one of the best ways to reach teenagers, and that it can help them to think about who they are, where they come from, and what choices they want to make.

That’s why I’m delighted to have the opportunity to lead the first Great Jewish Books Teacher Workshop, this summer at the Yiddish Book Center. Educators from across North America will come together to read and discuss some of the most fascinating modern Jewish texts and to develop new ways of introducing that literature into the curriculum, in English and language arts, Jewish history, social studies. Then we’ll work collaboratively all year to integrate these ideas into classrooms.

Will exposing more teenagers to modern Jewish literature solve all the problems facing the American Jewish population? Of course not. But will it help to create a generation that is more thoughtful, more committed, and more willing to face the challenges head-on? I think it will.

Josh Lambert is the Academic Director of the Yiddish Book Center and a Visiting Assistant Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Read more about the Great Jewish Books program at the Yiddish Book Center here.

Related Content:

Book Cover of the Week: A literary birch tree forest

Wednesday, February 04, 2015 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

Given that I hail from a city named for trees, it's no surprise that Tu B'shvat is one of my favorite holidays—and it's today!

              

I've noticed a particularly lovely trend of birch trees on book covers, and the Jewish New Year for the Trees seems like a good time to point it out—especially since it seems to be a reliable indicator of an excellent read: Olga Grjasnowa's debut was perhaps my favorite novel of 2014, and Ramona Ausubel's eerie Holocaust allegory struck me to the core when I first came to the Jewish Book Council in 2012—the same year Reagan Arthur Books released the bebirched paperback edition of Eowyn Ivey's desolately whimsical adaptation of a magical Russian fable, set in 1920s Alaska:

A birch tree on a book cover is always a good sign.

Related content:

Meet Sami Rohr Prize Winner Ayelet Tsabari

Wednesday, February 04, 2015 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

The announcement of the year's Sami Rohr Prize finalists is always one of the absolute highlights of my year. Each year, the books reflect a wide-range of voices exploring themes of significance to Jewish life—past and present. The prize highlights some of the key authors to keep an eye on and offers a platform for them to further contribute to both the literary community, generally, and the Jewish community, specifically. 

The importance of naming five finalists, rather than just one winner, each year is in its ability to reflect a spectrum of ideas: each voice is important on its own, but taken as a whole, it's the range of voices that provoke some of the most enriching conversations: conversations that are both thoughtful and nuanced and take into consideration Jewish perspectives that stretch across time, place, and circumstance. 

And, as we've done in years past, in the weeks leading up to the announcement of the winning author, we highlight here on the JBC blog each of the five finalists. Today we hear from Ayelet Tsabari, whose collection of short stories, The Best Place on Earth, made this year's list.

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

I find all writing challenging. Being a new(ish) mom, my biggest challenge is finding the time to do it.

What or who has been your inspiration for writing fiction?

Reading, traveling, and my father, a closet poet who inspired my love of books and motivated me to write as a child.

Who is your intended audience?

I try not to think about audience when I write. I worry it will ruin the magic. But if I had to choose, I’d say people who love books as much as I do.

Are you working on anything new right now?

I’m finishing up a memoir in essays about growing up Mizrahi in Israel, and about leaving, traveling, and returning. I’m also starting a novel about the Yemeni Jewish community set during Israel’s early days.

What are you reading now?

Like most writers I know, I’m reading several books at once. I’m finishing up Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer, and starting All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Towes, Between by Angie Abdou, and The Best American Short Stories 2014. I’ve also been reading a lot of Dr. Seuss for my daughter, which I wasn’t familiar with from my own childhood. It’s pretty great.

Top 5 favorite books

I’m going to answer quickly so I don’t have a chance to rethink it. You would likely get an entirely different answer tomorrow.

  • One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
  • The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
  • The Kites, Romain Gary
  • La Storia, Elsa Morante
  • The Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri

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

I didn’t. I like to say that it came built in. I started telling stories to neighbors and cousins as early as four, moved on to comic strips at five, and once I learned the alphabet I started writing poems and stories and sent them out to Israeli children’s magazines, like Haaretz Shelanu. I published my first poem at nine.

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

Having readers emotionally connect, engage and respond to my work. When I was growing up and dreamt of becoming an author, that’s what I wished for: I wanted to move and touch people, to give readers that magical feeling books instilled in me. On a practical note, being able to afford writing full time, and finding a way to balance it with the demands of motherhood would be a triumph. Oh, and I’d love to have a beautiful writing shed in my backyard I will call Tel Aviv (after George Bernard Shaw’s London).

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

I can write anywhere. I’ve written on my phone while pushing a stroller, scribbled scenes on coffee shop napkins, and I once wrote an entire story in the bath on a tiny notepad. But I write best at home, in my office, and I love having my stuff around. A good chair and an alternative standing option. A cork board with hippie inspirational quotes and pictures of loved ones. Comfortable writing pants (which some foolish people may refer to as yoga pants.) A large wall mirror I can use to play out my characters’ physical gestures to ensure they’re realistic. And a window. I know writers who prefer to stare a blank wall to minimize distractions. That’s not me. I love catching glimpses of life outside my little room. It inspires me.

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

To be moved. To feel deeply. To get to know a side of Israel they don’t see in the news, and a facet of Jewish experience they may not have read much about.

Ayelet Tsabari is an Israeli of Yemeni descent; she grew up in Israel, served in the army and moved to Canada in 1998. She is a two-time winner of the EVENT Creative Non-Fiction Contest and has been published in literary magazines such as PRISM, Grain and Room. Her unpublished non-fiction manuscript was shortlisted for the First Book Competition sponsored by Anvil Press and SFU’s Writer’s Studio. She is a graduate of the MFA in Creative Writing Program at the University of Guelph and lives in Toronto, where she is at work on a novel. Learn more at www.ayelettsabari.com or follow her on Twitter @AyeletTsabari.

Related Content: