The ProsenPeople

What Aquinas and Augustine Knew

Wednesday, January 20, 2016 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Mary Glickman shared what makes writing historical fiction work for her. With the upcoming release of her new novel An Undisturbed Peace, Mary is blogging here all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series on The ProsenPeople.

In the canon of Christian philosophy, it is clear that both Thomas Aquinas and Augustine described the Jews as “witnesses to history.” These men considered Jewish existence a vital part of God’s plan. They viewed Jews as eternal outliers, dispersed throughout the world, functioning as sacred historians, designed to suffer, digest, and report on the adventures and misadventures of both Christian and pagan narratives. As a Jew, a Jew who writes historical fiction, their thesis works for me. But there’s another, a more Jewish take on history and memory.

The public memory is exceedingly short. I’ve mentioned in the past on these very pages that it astonishes me that people are forgetful of history as recent as fifty years in the past, let alone one hundred. I’ve met Jewish and gentile individuals who are vigilant, intense on the issue of American racism, who have never heard of the White Citizens Councils of the ‘50s—I’m talking about Southerners whose parents lived through the Civil Rights terror in ways Northerners could never imagine, even those brave souls who spent a few weeks of their summers as voter registration workers during their student years. Likewise, non-Jews are poorly informed of old world pogroms and of the pre-Nazi, millennia-long flight of stateless Jews murdered en masse or hounded from country to country by state sponsored antisemites.

In my most recent novel, An Undisturbed Peace, I emphasize a curious correspondence between the Jewish and Native American experience, a comparison of the history of both peoples. Unfortunately, the catalogue of events afflicting Native Americans before the Trail of Tears is as obscured in modern memory as the two thousand years of the Jewish Diaspora and oppression before World War II. I’ve been told over and over by advance readers of the novel, “I never knew about that,” or “Surely, you made this part up,” when all I’ve done is take fleshed out characters and plopped them into the seamy cauldron of historical fact.

Many of my fellow authors have chosen the Holocaust as subject, in the honorable and necessary effort to make sure the world never forgets. I find I cannot go there. The idea intimidates. The Holocaust is a most holy literary ground and I fear I may be too profane an author to render it properly. I leave works on the Holocaust to those with a deep familial connection or some other hook embedded inside their souls that pulls them into that dark, horrific time. I respect any creative mind taking up the challenge.

For now, I prefer to never forget, to witness the forces that shaped the world that allowed the Holocaust to happen. Why was America so slow to enter World War II? People knew or at the very least strongly suspected what was happening to the Jews of Europe, no matter how they covered their tracks or rationalized later on. Was it a hardness of national heart fostered by a history of slavery, racial oppression, rapacious settlers, Native American land-grab and death march? These things are also matters we must never forget. As Aquinas and Augustine knew, there were Jewish witnesses all along the way. I plan to do my part in delivering their reports.

Mary Glickman is the author of Home in the Morning, One More River, and Marching to Zion. Glickman was born on the South Shore of Boston, Massachusetts, and studied at the Université de Lyon and Boston University. She now lives in Seabrook Island, South Carolina.

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The Historical Me

Monday, January 18, 2016 | Permalink

Mary Glickman is the author of the Home in the Morning, One More River, Marching to Zion. With the upcoming release of her new novel An Undisturbed Peace, Mary is blogging here all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series on The ProsenPeople.

Over the course of publication of four novels, I have become aware of a personal truth that eluded me in the previous thirty odd years of writing seven unpublished ones. Hold your breath. Here it comes.

I write historical fiction. That is, historical fiction is my métier. I am it and it is me.

When I look back on my writing career—battle-scarred veteran that I am—I can see that whenever I wrote novels of the present era or ventured into the more rarefied territory of allegory, there was something missing, at the very least from the marketing point of view. But there may have been deeper flaws than market. It may be that my sensibilities are most harmonious with cultural tropes gone by. It may be that my gut finds indigestible modernist poses, especially about things Jewish, the current antipathy towards all things Israeli, for example, or the general lack of respect for the pious life, one I fail at living but greatly admire. Or it may be something entirely different.

I have always been enchanted by the past. I grew up on a diet of music, books, and film from my parents and grandparents eras, their libraries and oral traditions. Long before I knew something of Rashi, my spiritual guides were Frank Capra, Verdi and Puccini, Dickens, the Brontes, Hugo, and Balzac. Enshrined in their work were icons of virtue, blessing, and tragedy: The Working Stiff, The Fallen Woman, The Mother, The Child, The Drunken Poet, The Kindly Grandfather, The Tortured One, and The Villain, who could take many forms including The Fat Cat, The Overseer, The Seducer, The Strong Arm. I also learned from the same sources that each of these icons could contain bits and pieces of its opposite, that nothing was as simple as it seemed in a manner very different from both melodrama and postmodern cynicism. There was always a universal humanity, classic set pieces of contradiction, in my childhood icons. They had resonance for me, even as a precocious child absorbing stories above her grade level. Sixty years later, I admit I still find them the truest models I know of real life.

But on whom were they modeled? One need look no further than the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, to find the most glorious array of human archetypes ever gathered in one place. Take human frailty for example. Where in all of literature are there better examples than an angry Moses, a lustful David, a jealous Cain, a drunken Noah? I don’t think it’s an accident that before Dickens, before the Brontes, my first childhood books were picture books of Bible stories, stories and characters that consumed my imagination even then.

At present, we live in a world where the common wisdom has it that truth is elusive and personal, good is defined by political desires, evil judged nonexistent, at least in the traditional sense. No small wonder then that a writer of my proclivities needs to travel back in time to exercise her favored images of heroes and heroines, antagonists and forces of nature in which the Voice of God bellows warning into deaf, unwilling ears. Back then, I am home. My historical people can breathe, walk, love, sin, expiate, and sacrifice. In the present, they might only be objects of fun. But when they are set in the past, readers find resonance, recognition, and are moved.

Mary Glickman was born on the South Shore of Boston, Massachusetts, and studied at the Université de Lyon and Boston University. She now lives in Seabrook Island, South Carolina.

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So What the Heck Happened?

Friday, December 27, 2013 | Permalink
Earlier this week, Mary Glickman wrote about the similarities in the cultural narratives of African Americans and Jews and a strange interview question. Her most recent book, Marching to Zion(Open Road Media), is now available. She has been blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

The Civil Rights Era represented a Golden Age for Jewish and African American relations. We were partners in justice. Allies against racism. American Jewish memory was haunted by the images of the Holocaust, the newsreels of Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen still fresh in the mind. African Americans suffered the indignities of Jim Crow in the South, their fractured American dream neutered by de facto segregation in the North and West. We were people who empathized with each other, understood each other’s racial scars.

And then it all fell apart.

Why? Hard to say. The emergence of the Black Power Movement had something to do with it. Quite understandably, quite naturally, African Americans desired to carve their own paths to liberation, through their own metaphors, their own cultural touchstones. Self-determination, self-expression was an imperative and who could blame them? Jewish connections were cast off, collateral damage in a battle for identity. On the other side, there was resentment.

Time went by. A Malcolm X and a Meir Kahane later, Jews and African Americans perceive themselves often as strangers, sometimes enemies, to each other. The Civil Rights Era legacy of blended families, of black Jews, recent and antique, has been tossed into the dungheap of history and redeemed only recently through the efforts of Be’chol Lashon and others in the Jewish Diversity Movement. Today, in an America with an African American president whose wife’s cousin, Rabbi Capers Funnye, is spiritual leader of the largest African American Jewish congregation in the country, resentments on both sides of the racial divide persist. It’s a shanda.

But back to the original question posited by these blogs: “Why do you care so much about black people?” The answer is not so simple as “Why shouldn’t I?” although that resonates on an elementary level. It’s also because so much has been lost that should be recovered. In a world where the nation-wide race riots of 1917 have been forgotten, when the young must Google the word ‘pogrom’ to comprehend its tragedy, old alliances, ancient communalities must be celebrated, reanimated. My novels seek to do that in whatever measure they are capable.

So I look forward to the day when, like Golde Fishbein and her grandfather in Marching to Zion, African Americans and Jews can recapture their closeness and say as if in sight of the red clay spires of Jaffa: “Hallelujah. We are home.”

Mary Glickman is an author, a former free-lance copywriter, public relations professional, and fundraiser who has worked with many Jewish charities and organizations. Her 2011 novel One More River was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award. Her most recent book, Marching to Zion (Open Road Media), is now available. Read more about Mary Glickman here.

There’s Something About Moses

Wednesday, December 25, 2013 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Mary Glickman wrote about a strange interview question. Her most recent book, Marching to Zion (Open Road Media), is now available. She is blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

Once I started thinking seriously about the similarities in the cultural narratives of African Americans and Jews, I thought I had something exciting, something new in hand. Then I realized my “Eureka!” moment was more of a “Duh.” The common themes of slavery and liberation were self-evident. There were differences, of course. Africans were taken to the Americas by cruel force. Jews willingly went to Egypt to escape famine. They were even invited by mishpukah. Slavery destroyed African families. Apart from an occasion of Egyptian army infanticide and at least one Jewish mama who sent her baby in a basket down river, Jewish families stayed pretty much intact. American slaves were forcibly converted to Christianity. Egyptians apparently didn’t much care who Jews worshipped until plague came to town. But bondage is bondage and emancipation always bloody.

I’m sure that’s why African American spirituals, fragments of which I use for my titles, are chock full of Moses, the River Jordan, a gung-ho Joshua. During the Civil Rights Era, American Jews responded to those songs of yearning, remembering their own. Up to 60% of the white Freedom Riders, 70% of the Civil Rights attorneys, and 65% of the volunteers during Freedom Summer were Jews. Our communities were close, devoted, brothers-in-arms. And who, at least in the beginning, were the generals of these armies of righteousness? Men of the cloth. African American ministers like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Andrew Young. American rabbis like Abraham Joshua Heschel in New York and Perry Nussbaum in Mississippi. What brave, inspired men! Their congregations? Depending on the generation and hometowns of the people in question, not so much.

Recently, my novels and I were paired at an arts function with fellow author John Reynolds, whose Civil Rights Era memoir, The Fight For Freedom, chronicles his experiences as a foot-soldier in that movement. In 1965, he was an 18-year-old black from Alabama who volunteered with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to register blacks to vote. Soon after, he was appointed a field leader by Martin Luther King, Jr. In the end, he was jailed and/or beaten more than twenty times.

In those lulls between little waves of book buyers, John and I chatted about Jews and blacks. I mentioned to him how the arrival of Northern Jews in the South as Civil Rights activists frightened Southern Jews whose profiles were suddenly raised in the eyes of increasingly enraged segregationists. When Northern activists returned North, Southern Jews became targets of revenge. Homes were burned, businesses destroyed, lives maimed. John shook his head, remembering, I suspect. He told me his own father was antagonistic to his Civil Rights activities, fearing the same treatment those Southern Jews suffered. He disowned him; they didn’t speak for years. “Luckily, I found a second father in the Movement,” John said. “A Jew. Leon Gutherz. My father and I later reconciled but Leon will always be my second father. He was the one who comforted me and mentored me through those years.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. Rabbi Perry Nussbaum. Leon Gutherz. They are all Moses.

Mary Glickman is an author, a former free-lance copywriter, public relations professional, and fundraiser who has worked with many Jewish charities and organizations. Her 2011 novel One More River was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award. Her most recent book, Marching to Zion (Open Road Media), is now available. Read more about Mary Glickman here.

Is Your Husband Black?

Monday, December 23, 2013 | Permalink
Mary Glickman is an author, a former free-lance copywriter, public relations professional, and fundraiser who has worked with many Jewish charities and organizations. Her 2011 novel One More River was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award. Her most recent book, Marching to Zion (Open Road Media), is now available. She's blogging here this week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

Every author has strange questions thrown at them with the subtlety of a shofar blast. Asked if my husband was black, I felt as if a loud, shattering noise erupted just behind me. The words echoed inside my head, crashing into each other. I contemplated whether or not I’d heard right, and then with unadorned eloquence, I responded: “No.” The conversation was a phone interview, but I’m sure the questioner’s face screwed up in confusion. He pressed on. “Well,” he said, dog with a bone like, “do you have black people in your family?” I considered my beautiful, mixed race great niece. “Doesn’t everybody these days?” I asked, which seemed to put the question to rest.

Our conversation improved from there on, but its subtext has plagued me ever since. Over the course of three novels, Home in the Morning, One More River, and Marching to Zion, I’ve written about the confluence of the African American and Southern Jewish experiences throughout the 20th century. In each of my novels there are strong interracial friendships and affairs of the heart, arguably most powerfully in Marching to Zion. So the subtext of that question, Is your husband black? was clearly: “Why do you care so much about black people?”

The French have a saying to cover the phenom of discovering the perfect rejoinder to an unexpected question that’s struck you dumb: Le bon mot d’escalier. Translation: that perfect retort that hits you after the disastrous dinner party when you’re on your way down the stairs and out the door. I’ve had a few since that interviewer stunned me. Examples:

“Is your husband black?”

(a) “I never asked.”

(b) “Not this one. But I’m really hoping the next one will be.”

(c) “He wasn’t when I left the house.”

I was in a situation where I was required to be polite – authors who aren’t Norman Mailer need to keep smiling – or I might’ve been combative. In the nicest possible way. I might’ve said: “Is that a prerequisite for a Jewish woman to care about/write about African Americans?” and watched where that led. Or I could have told him the truth. When I started writing in a Southern meme, about race relations, about the New South vs. the Old South, about American liberty, who gets it and who doesn’t, I was writing to Northern Jews about Southern Jews, to rescue the mindset of my Northern cousins from the cultural trap of Hollywoodthink on the history of Jews in the South, on what the South is like today, and how the races relate. To my surprise, I discovered a whole crop of African American characters had been sleeping in my brain, waiting for the wake-up call. I fell in love with them. So did my readers. My thoughts deepened. I recognized where the African American and Jewish experiences meet, echo. Those points of communality – and dissonance - became my new focus.

Read more about Mary Glickman here.

The One About Process

Wednesday, October 02, 2013 | Permalink
This week, Mary Glickman, the author of Home in the Morning , National Jewish Book Award Fiction Finalist
One More River and the forthcoming Marching to Zion blogs for The Postscript on the the writing process and how readers' feedback plays in. 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. 

To "host" Mary at your next book club meeting, request her through JBC Live Chat

One of the curiosities about writing is that the author often doesn’t know what they’ve got until a work’s finished. You start out writing one thing, with a general idea in mind, perhaps character sketches, or for the OCD among us, outlines. As you continue, the work assumes an internal logic, and consequently, you make adjustments. For me, the guiding principle here is voice. I go where the voice leads. Whatever rings false is anti-voice; whatever is true embraces voice. 

When I started Home in the Morning, I didn’t know much. I knew I wanted to address the North/South divide in understanding about race and class and the Civil Rights Era particularly. I wanted to make a distinction between what I perceive as the social warmth between African Americans and white Southerners in the New South and the less cordial institutionalized equality of opportunity in the North. I thought to use Southern vs Northern Jews as my mode d’emploi. Why not? The history fit. The activism of Northern Jews in the Civil Rights Era is legend. The danger this thrust upon Southern Jews indisputable. The voice I chose is a Southern one I call an “oral narrator”; one who eschews quotation marks, varies point of view, and hops about in time. And I have to say, for me anyway, that voice sang. 

Characters came to me I had not anticipated, among them Mickey Moe Levy, who was so attractive to both myself and sympathetic readers, that I fleshed out his history in One More River. New themes evolved and characters, too, including Aurora Mae Stanton, a complex person I explored further in my new novel, Marching to Zion. But still, after completing each work, I looked at the finished text and thought: Now, Mary old girl, what exactly have you got here.  In part, it’s my readers that gave me the answer. 

After I wrote the first two novels, a reader mentioned to me that I’d written a narrative of African American and Jewish relations over the course of the 20th century. It was a Eureka! moment for me. It was not my conscious intent to do so, but I could see the reader’s point. One of the tragedies of the last decades of the 20th century is the estrangement of the African American and Jewish communities in America after a long history of empathy and as brothers-in-arms during the Civil Rights Era. So I decided to deepen my themes in Marching to Zion with the hope that a reawakening of old understandings and communalities might be inspired. 

When I speak to book groups, I like to point out that the feedback I receive from readers is invaluable as it helps me understand what I have accomplished and informs my next work. I had a 30 year history of writing novels before publication, so I can say with authority: While many of us write in the dark, the glory of publication is that we no longer write in a vacuum. Writing and reading. Reading and response. As they say, it’s a process!

One Book, One Community: Spertus

Wednesday, October 24, 2012 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Last year, Spertus planned a fantastic line-up around Lisa Pearl Rosenbaum's A Day of Small Beginnings for their One Book, One Community program, featured during Jewish Book Month. This year, Spertus's One Book, One Community program will feature National Jewish Book Award finalist Mary Glickman's One More River

Events include a kick-off screening of Shalom Ya'll on November 10th, a book discussion on November 29th, and three presentations by Mary at locations across the area. You can find information about all of the One Book, One Community events here. And, don't forget to download Spertus's reader's guide for One More River here, which includes discussion questions, an interview, Southern Jewish recipes, historical bites about Jews in the South, and more.

Browse JBC's website for more information on Mary and her books:

One More River (review, interview, book club questions)
Home in the Morning (review, book club questions)
Twitter Book Club transcript for Home in the Morning

Find out more about Mary Glickman and One More River here:

A Foodie on Tour

Wednesday, May 23, 2012 | Permalink

Throughout the past year, Mary Glickman has traveled around the country to discuss her first two novels, Home in the Morning and One More RiverBelow, she writes about her experiences as a foodie on a book tour. Mary will be touring the country once again for the Jewish Book Network's 2012-2013 season on her second novel, One More River. For more information about the Jewish Book Network, please visit here.

People ask me, now that I’ve completed a year’s worth of traipsing about doing book tours, what I’ve gained from the experience. First there are the obvious perks of having one's work validated at last: being taken seriously, the great gift of feedback from readers which will inform my future work, and hopefully, a growing audience. I’ve made a friend or two who I hope will be around the rest of my life. But on the most personal level, I have to say the most striking effects are: 1) the stress of post 9/11 air travel has thinned my hair, and 2) my generous hosts have made sure I piled on the pounds. So you might say the two most significant effects of touring have been going bald and getting fat. 

And it’s been worth every pound. 

Jewish women like to feed you and Jews like to eat, so there’s a natural process going on here. And my hostesses did our people proud. There was the New Orleans Booklover’s Luncheon that was tastier than a wedding supper. The menu: spring salad with white basalmic vinegarette, seared drum fillet with sugar cane beurre blanc sauce, wild mushroom orzo with red pepper confetti, and crisp haricots verts. When I told my hostess I’d never had such an elegant repast at such an event, she said: “Well, of course! This is New Orleans, darlin’!” 

I enjoyed lunches at south Florida country clubs where the menus provided healthy, low-fat options but where the homemade seeded flatbreads took a look at any resolve I’d built up to “go easy” and laughed in my hungry face. Loudly. I visited Hartford, Connecticut, during Passover. We had a catered dinner that was truly one of the best I had all tour: succulent salmon and roast vegetables in a gingery sauce that I can still taste. They even sent me back to my hotel with a pesadik coffee cake and fruit to enjoy for breakfast before my flight home. It didn’t last through Jay Leno. 

In Boston, my old hometown, I was taken by happy accident to a favorite restaurant I had missed since my move to the South. I ordered dinner but instead of taking half home as I used to do, I ate it all. (There was no fridge in my room, after all. What good Jew wastes food?) In Baltimore, I enjoyed a fabulous salmon and risotto dinner paired with rosé, personally prepared for me by a Jewish fox-hunting aficionado in an equestrian estate so palatial it shall ever be known to my intimates as “little Downton Abbey.” But damn her crystal dishes of chocolate-covered coffee beans in the elegant lounge where I presented my work. 

So here I am, ten pounds later, hitting the gym, snarling at Brie, and getting ready for this year’s Jewish Book Network auditions. This year I’m a 2011 National Jewish Book Award Finalist for One More River, so I’m hoping for a new tour; let me say Baruch ha-Shem on that one. And if it is His will, I intend to be in fighting trim next fall. When all those kitchens and hostesses urge me to “eat, eat!”, I’ll just smile and say, “bring it on!”

As for the hair, I’m thinking extensions.

Read (and watch) more about Mary Glickman at Open Road Media.