Ear­li­er this week, Nora Gold shared her dis­cov­ery of Jew­ish music and its influ­ence on her lat­est nov­el, The Dead Man. Nora is blog­ging here all week as part of the Vis­it­ing Scribe series on The ProsenPeo­ple.

Late­ly I’ve been think­ing a lot about the cre­ative process, because my new nov­el, The Dead Man, is about a com­pos­er of Jew­ish sacred music who is unable to com­pose. The cre­ative process is a com­pli­cat­ed and mys­te­ri­ous thing, not only to my pro­tag­o­nist Eve, but in gen­er­al. There is a moun­tain of lit­er­a­ture about the cre­ative process, includ­ing tens of thou­sands of inter­views with artists (writ­ers, musi­cians, dancers, and visu­al artists) about what is enabling for them in their acts of artis­tic cre­ation. Yet there is much about this process that remains elusive.

What is far less elu­sive, though, is our under­stand­ing of what impedes, dam­ages, or stunts the cre­ative process. An artist’s work is pro­found­ly affect­ed not only by their inner life, but also by the social con­text in which they live — includ­ing the clas­sism, sex­ism, racism, and het­ero­sex­ism inher­ent in this place. So social real­i­ty plays a sig­nif­i­cant role in the cre­ative process.

I encoun­tered this fact force­ful­ly about a decade ago when the pub­lish­ing indus­try was already deeply in cri­sis due to the advent of dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy, and when con­se­quent­ly it was becom­ing much hard­er for authors to find pub­lish­ers for their work. Sev­er­al writ­ers of my acquain­tance, after years of failed efforts to find a pub­lish­er for their work, had become dis­cour­aged, depressed, and unpro­duc­tive. A few of them had even decid­ed to take a break from writ­ing” and do oth­er things for a while.

Obvi­ous­ly there are inter­nal fac­tors, not just exter­nal ones, at play in these deci­sions. There are intrapsy­chic vari­ables that influ­ence an artist’s capac­i­ty to engage in cre­ative work. But what I heard from these writ­ers real­ly drove home for me how pow­er­ful­ly one’s cul­tur­al and artis­tic envi­ron­ment can affect an individual’s cre­ative process. 

I real­ized back then that, although all writ­ers were being affect­ed by the cri­sis in the pub­lish­ing indus­try, Jew­ish writ­ers seemed to be tak­ing a par­tic­u­lar­ly hard hit. Much Jew­ish-themed fic­tion was (and still is) con­sid­ered niche” lit­er­a­ture, which means it has a rel­a­tive­ly small mar­ket and is there­fore less desir­able to pub­lish­ers, and a lot of very good Jew­ish fic­tion was not find­ing a pub­lish­ing home. So in 2010, I start­ed the free online lit­er­ary jour­nal Jew​ish​Fic​tion​.net. Now, six years lat­er, we have pub­lished 280 first-rate works of fic­tion that had nev­er pre­vi­ous­ly pub­lished in Eng­lish, with read­ers in 140 coun­tries. We’ve pub­lished some of the most well-known Jew­ish writ­ers liv­ing today, but our pri­ma­ry goal is, and has always been, to cre­ate a space for pub­lish­ing and show­cas­ing new Jew­ish writ­ing that oth­er­wise might be lost.

For those who care about fos­ter­ing Jew­ish cre­ativ­i­ty, any indi­vid­ual can play a gen­uine­ly help­ful role in enabling Jew­ish cre­ativ­i­ty. Many peo­ple, though, don’t seem to know or believe that they can have a real impact on Jew­ish artists. Per­haps this is because of the wide­spread and roman­ti­cized myths and mis­con­cep­tions about artists and their cre­ative process as a mys­ti­cal, oth­er­world­ly expe­ri­ence untouched by the real world, a mat­ter of sit­ting around and wait­ing for inspi­ra­tion to strike, like a bolt of light­ning. In real­i­ty, how­ev­er, none of this is true.

When it comes to cre­at­ing a fer­tile con­text for Jew­ish cre­ativ­i­ty, even a few small acts on the part of an indi­vid­ual can make a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence to local Jew­ish artists and to the cul­tur­al life of a com­mu­ni­ty. Invite a Jew­ish artist to your home to come speak about her work with a group of your friends. Buy Jew­ish books and music record­ings. Go see Jew­ish plays, con­certs, and dance per­for­mances. Vis­it Jew­ish art exhibits. And if you like some­thing you’ve read, seen or heard, shout it out as loud­ly as you can to every­one you know, via phone, email, and social media.

You real­ly can make a dif­fer­ence to the lives and cre­ative out­comes of today’s Jew­ish artists. Which means, in essence, that you can help shape the cul­tur­al future of our people.

Nora Gold is the author of The Dead Man, Fields of Exile, and Mar­row and Oth­er Sto­ries. She is the edi­tor of the online jour­nal Jew​ish​Fic​tion​.net and the Writer-in-Res­i­dence at the Cen­tre for Wom­en’s Stud­ies of OISE/​University of Toronto.

Relat­ed Content:

Dr. Nora Gold is the prize-win­ning author of five books. Her first book, Mar­row and Oth­er Sto­ries, won a Vine Cana­di­an Jew­ish Book Award and was praised by Alice Munro. Fields of Exile, the first nov­el about anti-Israelism on cam­pus, won the inau­gur­al Cana­di­an Jew­ish Lit­er­ary Award for best nov­el, and was acclaimed by Ruth Wisse and Irwin Cotler. The Dead Man received a Cana­da Coun­cil for the Arts trans­la­tion grant and was pub­lished in Hebrew in Israel. 18: Jew­ish Sto­ries Trans­lat­ed from 18 Lan­guages, an anthol­o­gy of trans­lat­ed works, was praised by Pub­lish­ers Week­ly, Cyn­thia Ozick, and Dara Horn. Gold’s newest book, com­ing out March 1, 2024, is In Sick­ness and In Health/​Yom Kip­pur in a Gym (two novellas).

In addi­tion, Gold is the founder and edi­tor-in-chief of the pres­ti­gious lit­er­ary jour­nal Jew­ish Fic­tion, which has read­ers in 140 coun­tries and has pub­lished near­ly 600 works of Jew­ish fic­tion, nev­er before pub­lished in Eng­lish, that were either writ­ten in Eng­lish or trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish from 20 lan­guages. Gold is also the co-founder of three pro­gres­sive Zion­ist orga­ni­za­tions in Cana­da: Cana­di­an Friends of Givat Havi­va, New Israel Fund of Cana­da, and JSpace­Cana­da. Gold holds both Cana­di­an and Israeli cit­i­zen­ship. nor​agold​.com.