Bob Gold­farb has been blog­ging about the Writ­ers’ Fes­ti­val at Mishkenot Sha’ananim all week. Stay tuned for his final post lat­er today.

Jonathan Safran Foer (pho­to by David Shankbone)

The best-sell­ing author Jonathan Safran Foer was one of the most pop­u­lar speak­ers at the first Inter­na­tion­al Writ­ers’ Fes­ti­val at Mishkenot Sha’ananim two years ago. Return­ing this year, he spoke to an over­flow audi­ence in con­ver­sa­tion with an Israeli nov­el­ist who, like him, has writ­ten about the Holo­caust. But Amir Gut­fre­unds play­ful first ques­tions weren’t about their com­mon sub­ject. He was more inter­est­ed in the con­se­quences of fame.

Don’t you feel you’re not the same per­son as before you pub­lished your books?” asked Gut­fre­und (a 2007 Sami Rohr Prize Choice Award win­ner). Foer respond­ed, Nobody is the per­son he was. And I don’t have an alter­nate life to com­pare my life to, had the book not been pub­lished.” Recount­ing how his book found a pub­lish­er only after a series of events beyond his con­trol, he added, I learned an impor­tant les­son at the begin­ning. Some peo­ple are lucky, some peo­ple are unlucky.”

Amir Gut­fre­und

Foer point­ed out, My envi­ron­ment isn’t lit­er­ary fes­ti­vals or an advance for a book.” Describ­ing his dai­ly life in Brook­lyn with his wife, his chil­dren, and his dog, he observed, Many things are ground­ing and hum­bling: hav­ing a chil­dren, hav­ing a fam­i­ly, liv­ing in a com­mu­ni­ty. I feel extreme­ly grate­ful for any suc­cess.”

Reflect­ing on the rela­tion­ship between writer and read­er, Foer reflect­ed, You hope some­one reads the book as you wrote it, as a nov­el. A book is not an argu­ment. You write the thing that seems to you authen­tic and you see what hap­pens.” And some­times it’s unpre­dictable. Foer recalled a radio call-in pro­gram where he was inter­viewed about Every­thing is Illu­mi­nat­ed. A lis­ten­er who had read the Holo­caust-themed book phoned in to say, You told my fam­i­ly sto­ry. I rec­og­nized myself, my fam­i­ly, the secrets we kept, the silences at din­ner.” The caller turned out to be a 60-year-old black man in Trenton.

Gut­fre­und won­dered how his col­league decid­ed what to write about. Loss, silence, dif­fi­cul­ties in express­ing one­self are real sub­jects,” not­ed Foer. And he agreed that one of the hard­est things is to choose a top­ic. Many peo­ple can write at the tech­ni­cal lev­el of a Nobel Prize win­ner. It’s the choic­es you make rather than how you exe­cute your choic­es.” Foer summed it up: It’s hard to care about some­thing over three or four years, wrestling with some­thing, being invest­ed in it. I write about the things that are home for me.”

One of Foer’s great influ­ences, he revealed, is Bruno Schulz: There’s no writer I like more than him, who is more inspir­ing.” Schulz, author of just two books, was shot by a Nazi offi­cer in the streets of Dro­hoby­cz in 1942. Foer wrote the pref­ace to a recent col­lec­tion of Schulz’s fic­tion. Bruno Schulz keeps me hon­est as a writer,” he attest­ed. You only have to look at a page of his to know what is possible.”

Bob Gold­farb is pres­i­dent of the Cen­ter for Jew­ish Cul­ture and Cre­ativ­i­ty in Jerusalem and Los Ange­les. He also blogs for the Los Ange­les Jew­ish Jour­nal.