Ear­li­er this week, Daniel Tor­day wrote about Jew­ish novel­la-writ­ers. Daniel’s novel­la The Sen­su­al­ist won the 2012 Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award in Out­stand­ing Debut Fic­tion. He will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

About three days after my sec­ond daugh­ter, Delia, was born, I got a call from the edi­tor of a novel­la I’d pub­lished the pre­vi­ous year. She said, Con­grat­u­la­tions!” I thought she was talk­ing about the new baby. After three long min­utes of my bum­bling about dia­pers and sleep­less­ness she said, You don’t know, do you? You won the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award!”

My first response was: Holy Oh My God! My sec­ond was: I mean, G‑d! And my third was: Wait, so, does this make me a Jew­ish Writer? Because some part of me doesn’t know what that means, and what that means for me. 

So here are some facts: 

My father was bar mitz­va­hed one year before I was. My grand­par­ents both con­vert­ed to Catholi­cism in Budapest in the 40s to sur­vive the war. I have not been to shul in a very long time. I teach under­grad­u­ates, and when a sem­i­nar falls on Yom Kip­pur, I gen­er­al­ly fail to can­cel class. I have writ­ten and pub­lished short sto­ries about a kid who makes a broth­er for him­self out of duct tape; a guy who is being tor­tured for not believ­ing the day is thir­ty hours long; an affair between two non-reli­gious­ly affil­i­at­ed adults who have an affair on or around Sep­tem­ber 11. My sec­ond daugh­ter, Delia, who I men­tioned above, def­i­nite­ly has an Irish name. 

But then here are some con­cur­rent facts: I was bar mitz­va­hed after many years of Hebrew school, and went on to be con­firmed in the shul I attend­ed all through my teenage years. I know what the word shul” means. I fast every year on Yom Kip­pur even if I’m teach­ing — and would prob­a­bly can­cel class if I had the fore­sight when writ­ing a syl­labus. Though my grand­moth­er died too afraid ever to admit she was Jew­ish after the war, hav­ing lost almost every­one in her fam­i­ly, my grand­fa­ther told us his family’s his­to­ry long before he passed a cou­ple sum­mers back. My novel­la has a major scene that takes place at a Passover seder. I did not have to do research” in order to find out how a seder goes, to look up the Hebrew for the Four Ques­tions—my mem­o­ry has them. The book I’m fin­ish­ing now, a first nov­el, is in part about a Jew­ish teenag­er who is forced to leave his home north of Prague before the war and who ends up pilot­ing a Lan­cast­er bomber for the RAF. My first daugh­ter, Abi­gail, has a name derived from the Hebrew for a father’s joy.” 

Which is all to say: Am I a Jew­ish writer? I am Jew­ish. I have now writ­ten two books with decid­ed­ly Jew­ish themes. I have spent time draft­ing sto­ries and oth­er books whol­ly absent Jew­ish themes. Ear­li­er this week I post­ed a blog here about my favorite Jew­ish” novel­la writ­ers — Roth and Bel­low, both of whom are wide­ly thought of as Jew­ish writ­ers. And who are among my major influ­ences. But then I also love James Salter, who was born James Horowitz. And EL Doc­torow. And JD Salinger. All of whom nev­er quite got that moniker. 

Which is all to say again: Am I a Jew­ish writer?

Here’s one more fact: 

Last sum­mer I was assigned a review of the New Amer­i­can Hag­gadah, trans­lat­ed by Nathan Eng­lan­der and edit­ed by Jonathan Safran Foer (Jew­ish writer; Jew­ish writer). And so for the first time in many years I sat down and read Gen­e­sis and Exo­dus. When I did, I had a feel­ing not of learn­ing, or of read­dress­ing, but of a bone-deep mem­o­ry that put tears in my eyes by the end of my read­ing every day. Jew­ish writer? In many ways com­pli­cat­ed. Jew­ish read­er? I’ll own it with­out equivocation. 

Daniel Tor­days debut nov­el, The Last Flight of Poxl West, will be pub­lished by St. Martin’s Press in 2015

Daniel Tor­day is the author of the nov­el The Last Flight of Poxl West, a New York Times Book Review Edi­tor’s Choice, and an Inter­na­tion­al Dublin Lit­er­ary Award nom­i­nee. Tor­day’s work has appeared in The New York Times, NPR, The Paris Review Dai­ly and Tin House, and has been hon­ored in both the Best Amer­i­can Short Sto­ries and Best Amer­i­can Essays series. He was longlist­ed for the 2020 Simpson/​Joyce Car­ol Oates Lit­er­ary Prize. A two-time Nation­al Jew­ish Book Awardee and win­ner the 2017 Sami Rohr Choice Prize, Tor­day is Direc­tor of Cre­ative Writ­ing at Bryn Mawr Col­lege. His sec­ond nov­el, Boomer1, is out now from St. Mar­t­in’s Press.