Post­ed by Nao­mi Firestone-Teeter

In Jan­u­ary, we announced the five final­ists for this year’s Sami Rohr Prize for Jew­ish Lit­er­a­ture. The win­ner of this prize receives $100,000 and the run­ner-up receives $25,000. Not too bad, eh? We’ll be announc­ing the win­ner lat­er this month! In the mean­time, we asked our final­ists a few ques­tions about their process, their audi­ence, and the cur­rent books on their night­stand. First up is Abi­gail Green, author of Moses Mon­te­fiore: Jew­ish Lib­er­a­tor, Impe­r­i­al Hero. The Rohr judges praised Moses Mon­te­fiore as “[a] mon­u­men­tal biog­ra­phy of Mon­te­fiore [that] pro­vides a fas­ci­nat­ing and com­pre­hen­sive glimpse into the life and times of an amaz­ing man.” Below, Abi­gail explains her per­son­al con­nec­tion to Mon­te­fiore and her role as a his­to­ri­an and a writer:

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

The things I find chal­leng­ing are: re-read­ing my research notes before I get start­ed because it’s impor­tant to do it prop­er­ly but it can be real­ly bor­ing; wear­ing my learn­ing light­ly because I’m writ­ing for dif­fer­ent audi­ences at the same time; and cut­ting, cut­ting, cut­ting the text because any­thing short­er is almost by def­i­n­i­tion better. 

What or who has been your inspi­ra­tion for writ­ing non-fiction?

The past.

Who is your intend­ed audience?

It depends on the book. Mon­te­fiore is quite an eclec­tic book so it was meant for all sorts: Jew­ish read­ers, gen­er­al read­ers, biog­ra­phy read­ers, ama­teur and pro­fes­sion­al his­to­ri­ans. My moth­er was born a Mon­te­fiore and my husband’s father grew up in Yemin Moshe in Jerusalem, when it was still a run-down neigh­bour­hood. The orig­i­nal inhab­i­tants were all evict­ed dur­ing the War of Inde­pen­dence to pro­tect them from ene­my gun­fire. So this one’s for my fam­i­ly too.

Are you work­ing on any­thing new right now?

Think­ing, not writ­ing as yet.

What are you read­ing now?

In a Dark Wood Wan­der­ing by Hel­la S. Haasse. It’s a Dutch his­tor­i­cal nov­el set in four­teenth cen­tu­ry France, writ­ten in the 1950s. And Lib­er­al­ism, a Counter-His­to­ry, by Domeni­co Losurdo.

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

All good his­to­ri­ans should also think of them­selves as writ­ers. I’m British and my inter­est in his­to­ry was sparked by Queen Eliz­a­beth II’s Sil­ver Jubilee in 1977. I read Our Island Sto­ry — an ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry his­to­ry book for British chil­dren that is so wild­ly out­dat­ed that it recent­ly came back into fash­ion. And I spent hours in a sec­ond-hand book­shop sell­ing dusty his­tor­i­cal nov­els oppo­site a medieval cas­tle near where my grand­par­ents lived. 

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

When a review­er described my book as one of the essen­tial works on mod­ern Jew­ish his­to­ry.’ No his­to­ri­an could ask for more.

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

Once I’m under­way with some­thing, I can write pret­ty much any­where. I gave birth to our first child when I was half way through writ­ing Mon­te­fiore, so I wrote a lot of it at night.

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

I’d like them to think about the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry – and par­tic­u­lar­ly the Jew­ish nine­teenth cen­tu­ry — in new ways.

Abi­gail Green is Tutor and Fel­low in His­to­ry at Brasenose Col­lege, Uni­ver­si­ty of Oxford. She is nom­i­nat­ed for Moses Mon­te­fiore: Jew­ish Lib­er­a­tor, Impe­r­i­al Hero, which was a Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award Final­ist, a Times Lit­er­ary Sup­ple­ment Book of the Year 2010 and a New Repub­lic Best Book of 2010. Her first book Father­lands: State-Build­ing and Nation­hood in Nine­teenth Cen­tu­ry Ger­many, was short­list­ed in Das His­torisches Buch 2002. She lives in Oxford, England. 

Orig­i­nal­ly from Lan­cast­er, Penn­syl­va­nia, Nao­mi is the CEO of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil. She grad­u­at­ed from Emory Uni­ver­si­ty with degrees in Eng­lish and Art His­to­ry and, in addi­tion, stud­ied at Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Lon­don. Pri­or to her role as exec­u­tive direc­tor, Nao­mi served as the found­ing edi­tor of the JBC web­site and blog and man­ag­ing edi­tor of Jew­ish Book World. In addi­tion, she has over­seen JBC’s dig­i­tal ini­tia­tives, and also devel­oped the JBC’s Vis­it­ing Scribe series and Unpack­ing the Book: Jew­ish Writ­ers in Conversation.