Both Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House and David Hopen’s The Orchard deal with mag­ic, friend­ship, and pow­er imbal­ances at elite insti­tu­tions. Jew­ish Book Coun­cil spoke with the two authors about inte­grat­ing Judaism into the cam­pus novel. 

Jew­ish Book Coun­cil: To start off, could you tell us a bit about the inspi­ra­tion for your books?

Leigh Bar­dugo: Ninth House began with my first glimpse of the Book and Snake tomb, a mas­sive mau­soleum cov­ered in wrought iron snakes direct­ly across the street from the gates to the Grove Street Ceme­tery in New Haven. Yale’s sup­pos­ed­ly secret soci­eties cre­ate bizarre, won­der­ful facades for their meet­ing places that invite all kinds of spec­u­la­tion. But it would be years before I under­stood the real shape of the sto­ry I want­ed to tell and how it would explore mag­ic and insti­tu­tion­al power.

David Hopen: I began The Orchard as a high school senior, eager to make sense of the world I inhab­it­ed. Grow­ing up, I stud­ied in yeshiv­as that val­ued Torah Umad­da, the notion that cul­ture and Judaism height­en each oth­er. Going off to Yale and then earn­ing a master’s at Oxford, I was exposed to rich uni­vers­es of lit­er­a­ture and phi­los­o­phy. My nov­el syn­chro­nizes these worlds, depict­ing what it is to bal­ance ancient tra­di­tion with con­tem­po­rary youth, what it is to dance in mul­ti­ple spheres and ren­der each one deeper.

JBC: Leigh, loca­tion plays such a piv­otal role in how and why events unfold in your nov­el. You por­tray New Haven as a place imbued with mag­ic, where Grays (ghosts) and the super­nat­ur­al are a bit clos­er than else­where in the world. Can you dis­cuss your use of the actu­al Yale Hous­es in Ninth House, and the idea of rewrit­ing his­to­ry with mag­ic? How did your own expe­ri­ences at Yale inform your novel?

LB: When I was first talk­ing about this book with my edi­tor, I made it clear that I did­n’t want to write it if it could­n’t be set at Yale, not some cheek­i­ly named stand-in. I want­ed to use the real names of the soci­eties. I want­ed to point to those very real places on the map. Mag­ic is just anoth­er kind of pow­er in the world of Ninth House. It’s a com­mod­i­ty, and for it to oper­ate effec­tive­ly and con­vinc­ing­ly, I need­ed to draw direct lines to the way real pow­er works in our world, whether it’s the abil­i­ty to suc­cess­ful­ly pre­dict the stock mar­ket or the charis­ma of a politi­cian work­ing the room.

JBC: On a sim­i­lar note, even though the nov­el has many mag­i­cal aspects, the char­ac­ters are moti­vat­ed by real­is­tic issues. The wealth and pres­tige of Yale con­trast with the eco­nom­ic tumult of the town itself. The sharp divide between those who attend the insti­tu­tion ver­sus those who live in the area is sim­i­lar to the social dynam­ic Alex has encoun­tered in her home­town of Los Ange­les. How did you go about blend­ing fan­ta­sy and real­i­ty in such a strik­ing way?

LB: It’s embar­rass­ing to admit this, but I knew very lit­tle about New Haven despite hav­ing spent four years there as an under­grad­u­ate. The cam­pus is built to keep the city out, and it works. But when I went back to Yale to dig into my research for the nov­el, I fell in love with New Haven — its cul­ture, its his­to­ry, its strange­ness. That’s part of why I want­ed to blur the line between fan­ta­sy and real­i­ty. It’s a joy when peo­ple say that on their way to New York, they got off the train at New Haven, had lunch, and fol­lowed the map in the book to trace Alex’s footsteps.

JBC: Turn­ing to place in your nov­el, David: Ari grows up in a hum­ble ulta-Ortho­dox com­mu­ni­ty in Brook­lyn and expe­ri­ences some­thing like cul­ture shock when his fam­i­ly moves to a wealthy Flori­da sub­urb and he begins attend­ing a prep­py Mod­ern Ortho­dox school there. How did you go about cre­at­ing these two dif­fer­ent worlds?

DH: Mod­ern Ortho­dox Judaism oper­ates as a fas­ci­nat­ing — and beau­ti­ful — sub­cul­ture of com­plex­i­ties. It’s a way of life I believed had not been depict­ed in lit­er­a­ture. I was intrigued by the idea of exam­in­ing vari­a­tions of this lifestyle, albeit in a some­times exag­ger­at­ed form, because it’s a lifestyle that equips com­mu­ni­ties with deeply mean­ing­ful foun­da­tions on which to con­struct lives still very much attuned to the con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­can land­scape. Equal­ly rel­e­vant, how­ev­er, was my sense that these reli­gious back­drops would allow me to cat­a­pult char­ac­ters and read­ers into the moral ter­ri­to­ry to which I was drawn.

JBC: Many books about stu­dents at elite schools or col­leges are about non-Jew­ish char­ac­ters (such as The Secret His­to­ry, to which your nov­el has been com­pared). Or if they do fea­ture a Jew­ish char­ac­ter, it’s often to high­light the strug­gles of that char­ac­ter in an oth­er­wise non-Jew­ish world. But your book is dif­fer­ent. Ari is out of place not for being Jew­ish, but for the type of Jew he is. How do you feel your book is in con­ver­sa­tion with oth­er cam­pus novels?

DH: As a child, as a young adult, I read relent­less­ly. And at the age when I began to write The Orchard, I was par­tic­u­lar­ly engulfed by works that took fun­da­men­tal ques­tions of moral­i­ty and beau­ty seri­ous­ly. Often­times, these works fit with­in the cam­pus nov­el mold, in part because edu­ca­tion­al insti­tu­tions pro­vide a unique space for self-con­tained mytholo­gies. This was true of some of my first lit­er­ary heroes — take Fitzger­ald, for instance, or Don­na Tartt — and it remains true today, in works by writ­ers like Zadie Smith or Sal­ly Rooney. That The Orchard emerges from this genus is not entire­ly coin­ci­den­tal, giv­en that the nov­el aims to cap­ture a cer­tain trans­for­ma­tion­al peri­od: when ambi­tious youth bleeds into adult­hood, when things have a habit of assum­ing out­sized grandeur, when thinkers find them­selves solid­i­fy­ing what will enliv­en and haunt them for decades to come. It’s thrilling — and hum­bling — to have any­one con­ceive of The Orchard in dia­logue with what are, in my mind, canon­i­cal texts like The Secret His­to­ry. What an hon­or if my book plays some small role with­in the meta-genre, push­ing the con­ver­sa­tion toward ques­tions of faith, mod­ern holi­ness, and yearning.

JBC: Leigh, Judaism is inte­grat­ed qui­et­ly but pow­er­ful­ly into the plot of Ninth House through Alex’s mem­o­ries of her grandmother’s Ladi­no phras­es and songs. Can you speak a bit about the role of Ladi­no in the sto­ry and how you see Alex’s Jew­ish iden­ti­ty work­ing in the novel?

LB: I want­ed to iso­late Alex as much as pos­si­ble, stack the odds against her. And part of that iso­la­tion is cul­tur­al. I grew up in a house where no one was reli­gious, no one went to tem­ple. There were no prayers said for Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kip­pur. We got togeth­er, we ate, we argued. But when my grand­par­ents died, even that tra­di­tion dis­ap­peared. In the book, I talk about Alex hav­ing all of her threads cut. She has noth­ing to tie her to the strength that cul­ture and reli­gion can offer, and that leaves her vul­ner­a­ble. In singing Ladi­no, she’s con­nect­ing to the dead and to a source of strength — a his­to­ry she knows lit­tle about but that is there for her when she’s most des­per­ate for help.

JBC: David, I’m also intrigued by the clash­es over reli­gious obser­vance in your nov­el. At school, Ari is made fun of for his reli­gious obser­vance; at home, his par­ents dis­agree about how sec­u­lar their lifestyle should be. For Ari, becom­ing less obser­vant is tied up with a gen­er­al moral decline, but for his moth­er, embrac­ing the sec­u­lar world seems empow­er­ing. Could you talk about these dif­fer­ent trajectories?

DH: This is a ques­tion that per­sists through­out Ari’s expe­ri­ences: what teth­ers the moral and the good? I was inter­est­ed in exam­in­ing the impulse to asso­ciate reli­gious obser­vance with virtue, and the degree to which these vari­ables con­verge or frac­ture in var­ied set­tings. At the root of that famil­iar impulse might lie an aspi­ra­tional qual­i­ty — the belief that prin­ci­pled liv­ing cor­re­lates with char­ac­ter. On the oth­er end of the novel’s spec­trum stand char­ac­ters who might find that inde­pen­dence of thought out­weighs dili­gent adher­ence to con­vic­tions pre­scribed by tra­di­tion. Or, per­haps, that staid prac­tice con­tributes lit­tle to the moral mar­ket­place if divorced from kind­ness and decen­cy. And yet, as I think Ari dis­cov­ers, these con­ver­sa­tions have a way of reduc­ing to an exer­cise com­mon to any com­mu­ni­ty, reli­gious or sec­u­lar: how do peo­ple ascribe val­ue? In that sense, the char­ac­ters and com­mu­ni­ties to which Ari is exposed might all be said to arrive at sim­i­lar endgames: uncov­er­ing enriched ways of going about the world.

JBC: The plot of The Orchard is ground­ed in a myth from the Gemara. How did you come across the myth, and what is its sig­nif­i­cance to you? How did you go about rework­ing it as a nov­el set in the present day?

DH: To be edu­cat­ed with­in yeshi­va day schools is to, almost by osmo­sis, absorb a spec­tac­u­lar col­lec­tion of Tal­mu­dic and bib­li­cal tales. What results is an inter­est­ing phe­nom­e­non: a capac­i­ty to draw from this reser­voir with­out always ful­ly real­iz­ing the pow­er of such sto­ries. Return­ing to the myth of the four rab­bis pro­vid­ed an ide­al way to launch this sto­ry­line, giv­en that the myth, in my mind, pos­es ques­tions that are inte­gral to our for­ma­tion of reli­gious — and civic — iden­ti­ties. Some­times, the most effec­tive way to repos­sess some­thing to which you have such close prox­im­i­ty is to recast the object in unfa­mil­iar light. That was what I set out to do with this myth. I remem­ber sit­ting in my child­hood bed­room, at sev­en­teen or eigh­teen, and jot­ting down pre­his­toric notes. And as I sat sketch­ing char­ac­ters and clar­i­fy­ing my ear­ly vision for the nov­el, I reimag­ined the myth and real­ized it was the per­fect entry­way into larg­er top­ics I hoped to explore.

JBC: On a relat­ed note, I’m fas­ci­nat­ed by the blend of fan­ta­sy and real­ism in your book. Mag­ic is present through­out Ninth House, but your char­ac­ters don’t encounter it until the very end of The Orchard. Was this deci­sion also based on the orig­i­nal myth from the Gemara?

DH: More than any­thing, this deci­sion was prag­mat­ic. What­ev­er hap­pens with­in my ver­sion of what one might call an orchard” — I will reserve inter­pre­ta­tions for my read­ers — marks a cul­mi­na­tion of a spe­cif­ic pro­gres­sion. This pro­gres­sion unfolds over the course of sev­er­al months, cat­alyzed by an insis­tence on mak­ing sense of cer­tain pil­lars of belief. This place­ment just reflects the nat­ur­al prod­uct of these months of experimentations.

JBC: Both of youal­so make sev­er­al ref­er­ences to oth­er works of lit­er­a­ture in your nov­els. David, you focus on tragedies in par­tic­u­lar — there are ref­er­ences to every­thing from the Greek tragedies to Ham­let to The Great Gats­by. How did these works inform The Orchard? Leigh, you include ref­er­ences to poet­ry, Ladi­no bal­lads, and Latin death words” — used for pro­tec­tion against the super­nat­ur­al — as well as includ­ing excerpts from fic­tion­al works like Lethe Days Diary as chap­ter head­ings. How did oth­er works inform Ninth House, and what was it like to cre­ate your own fic­tion­al canon?

LB: Mag­i­cal lan­guage does­n’t just belong to high cul­ture in Ninth House. A ghost can be fright­ened away by the right poem in Latin or by a jin­gle from a local mor­tu­ary. Lan­guage is pow­er­ful mag­ic in our world, so why not make that mag­ic lit­er­al? I think we all know that lan­guage can be weaponized and I want­ed to make that lit­er­al, too. The Life of Lethe and the Lethe Days Diaries show the respon­si­ble, aca­d­e­m­ic side of Lethe in con­trast to what hap­pens when a bunch of under­grads are giv­en near­ly unfet­tered access to arcane mag­ic. Of course things are going to get reck­less and ridiculous.

Lan­guage is pow­er­ful mag­ic in our world, so why not make that mag­ic lit­er­al? I think we all know that lan­guage can be weaponized and I want­ed to make that lit­er­al, too.

DH: One result of pro­duc­ing my nov­el while pur­su­ing aca­d­e­m­ic work was dis­cov­er­ing a con­flu­ence of thought in both spheres of my writ­ing. Work­ing on stud­ies in lit­er­a­ture and in moral and legal the­o­ry nec­es­sar­i­ly informed my book, large­ly because such stud­ies informed my think­ing. With­in the world of The Orchard, too, lit­er­a­ture offers a means of escap­ing and of liv­ing. A great deal of Ari’s intel­lec­tu­al devel­op­ment occurs on his own, before mov­ing to Flori­da, when he los­es him­self in books not mere­ly to dis­ap­pear, but also, cru­cial­ly, to reemerge trans­formed into some­one who had vic­ar­i­ous­ly accu­mu­lat­ed oth­er­wise inac­ces­si­ble expe­ri­ences. I want­ed that hunger to per­me­ate the atmos­phere I was build­ing, and I want­ed that sense of urgency, that lit­er­ary feel­ing of awe and scale, not only to ani­mate char­ac­ters, but also to present a test by which to mea­sure the won­der — and pow­er — of their pursuits.

JBC: In both of your books, drugs are a cat­a­lyst for super­nat­ur­al and poten­tial­ly very dan­ger­ous expe­ri­ences. Could you talk more about their role in your respec­tive sto­ries? What is their rela­tion­ship to magic?

We’re intrigued by how dif­fer­ent­ly your char­ac­ters react to the idea of being drugged, too. Could you talk a bit about that? In Ninth House, Alex is deeply dis­turbed when she learns that her friend was drugged. In The Orchard, how­ev­er, Ari’s friends have a more ambigu­ous reac­tion when they find out that one boy in their group, Evan, slips a Xanax in Ari’s drink and lat­er laces all of their cup­cakes with acid.

DH: These vices func­tion as plot devices. Ulti­mate­ly, they fur­nish meth­ods by which char­ac­ters expe­ri­ence — or, at least, attempt to expe­ri­ence — oth­er realms, and in some sense, too, they pro­vide ways to track suf­fer­ing and change. Fla­grant eth­i­cal — and legal — vio­la­tions sig­nal dan­ger­ous behav­ior and moral dysfunction.

LB: I think there are a few dif­fer­ent ques­tions here because not all drugs are cre­at­ed equal and we’re also deal­ing with issues of con­sent. So are we talk­ing about mag­i­cal psilo­cy­bin that allows you to move through por­tals to oth­er worlds? Or the drops that Alex takes to make it through class when she’s exhaust­ed, which aren’t rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent from caf­feine? Dar­ling­ton is will­ing to take Hiram’s Elixir to see through the Veil; he knows the risks, and he’s will­ing to take them because he wants to see mag­ic so bad­ly. Hon­est­ly, I get it. I’d make the same choice, healthy or not.

But then there’s what hap­pens to Mer­cy. The trau­ma she expe­ri­ences is less about the drug than what that drug enables. The prob­lem is not drugs or mag­ic. It’s that drugs and mag­ic exist along­side preda­tors who are fre­quent­ly pro­tect­ed from consequences.

JBC: Per­haps some­what like Ari, Alex Stern feels like an impos­tor through­out the nov­el. There is Yale Alex” and then there’s reg­u­lar Alex, who is Jew­ish and mul­tira­cial, who didn’t fin­ish high school, who shops in the sale sec­tion, and who can see the super­nat­ur­al. Alex is spurred to action by being mar­gin­al­ized as well as by see­ing oth­er mar­gin­al­ized women suf­fer. Could you speak a bit about this?

LB: When I went to col­lege, I felt like every­one was speak­ing a lan­guage I did­n’t know. I was a smart kid. I’d gone to a good prep school. And yet, I remem­ber get­ting my first fresh­man Eng­lish paper back and my pro­fes­sor had torn it to shreds. I had to relearn how to write and how to talk, and I just remem­ber feel­ing incred­i­bly ashamed. Like I was sup­posed to know with­out ever hav­ing been taught. It was like that social­ly, too. I did­n’t quite under­stand how to behave, what was fun­ny or inter­est­ing or accept­able. I dat­ed a guy who had pro­fes­sors for par­ents and he knew so much about how to work the sys­tem — how to apply for grants, how to make con­nec­tions with lec­tur­ers. I felt like I was play­ing catch-up for a long time, and so I want­ed read­ers to have a sense of that through Alex.

Alex is fun­da­men­tal­ly a sur­vivor, and she knows what this oppor­tu­ni­ty could mean for her. She only has one chance and she’s sur­round­ed by peo­ple who burn through sec­ond chances. So her jour­ney is very much about embrac­ing the parts of her­self she thought she had to jet­ti­son, and ques­tion­ing whether she even wants a seat at this par­tic­u­lar table.

JBC: Many of the inequal­i­ties in Ari’s new com­mu­ni­ty in The Orchard also stem from wealth, and they also lead to (at least per­ceived) mis­car­riages of jus­tice. For exam­ple, the prin­ci­pal over­looks Evan’s father’s poor treat­ment of his moth­er because of the dona­tions Evan’s father makes to the school. David, is the myth (and real expe­ri­ence) of the orchard an anti­dote for this — a case, as one of the char­ac­ters says, of divine justice”?

DH: Divine jus­tice, as Ari and his friends debate, resists neat def­i­n­i­tion. Whether some cor­rec­tive force exists — and how best to con­cep­tu­al­ize its nature? — is a ques­tion that con­sumes these char­ac­ters. This ambi­gu­i­ty, espe­cial­ly with­in the orchard,” leaves room for the char­ac­ters to fash­ion their own the­o­ries. What is the best way to reck­on with duty and priv­i­lege? What com­fort does knowl­edge pro­vide, and how can it be employed to enhance the lives of those you love and those in need? Ulti­mate­ly, as Evan makes vivid through­out the nov­el, any attempt at dis­en­tan­gling these mys­ter­ies and giv­ing prop­er form to what we want to call jus­tice” neces­si­tates qui­et­ing a sober­ing thought: do we real­ly know what we deserve?

JBC: Through­out Ninth House, there is also an explo­ration of jus­tice on both macro and micro lev­els. Leigh, the role of Lethe is to ensure that the mag­ic of the Hous­es is used fair­ly in regards to the reg­u­lar world, but the real­i­ty of this reg­u­la­to­ry func­tion is vast­ly dif­fer­ent. Alex debates whether it is okay to take things into her own hands and when a line must be drawn. Your nov­el seems to ask if there is jus­tice at elite insti­tu­tions — in par­tic­u­lar, do priv­i­leged stu­dents expe­ri­ence fair reper­cus­sions for their misdemeanors?

LB: I mean, peo­ple ask that every day. The lan­guage around assault and harass­ment and racism has changed since I was an under­grad, but the issues haven’t. I thought it would be fun to write a book about dark mag­ic in the Ivy League, and there’s plen­ty of humor and hor­ror in the book, plen­ty of arcane texts and beau­ti­ful libraries and crisp fall days. But you can’t write about an insti­tu­tion like Yale with­out address­ing priv­i­lege and gen­der and race. It’s not a ques­tion of being polit­i­cal. It’s the oblig­a­tion of being an hon­est sto­ry­teller. And I’d be lying if I said this book was­n’t my own reck­on­ing with a past that isn’t always com­fort­able to look at close­ly. So yes, jus­tice plays a major role, and fre­quent­ly cross­es the line direct­ly into revenge.

JBC: Could you both tell us how death and loss pro­pel the char­ac­ters in your respec­tive novels?

LB: I always think of grief as a suck­er punch. You think you’ve put it in the past, and then it comes at you out of nowhere. It’s not beau­ti­ful or grace­ful. It’s sob­bing in a park­ing lot. It’s mak­ing ter­ri­ble choic­es because you don’t want to look sor­row in the eye. Hel­lie’s death is a big part of what dri­ves Alex to refuse to accept easy answers when Tara is killed. But she’s not just deal­ing with loss — she’s also try­ing to untan­gle her own com­plic­i­ty in that loss and to avoid repeat­ing it.

I always think of grief as a suck­er punch. You think you’ve put it in the past, and then it comes at you out of nowhere. It’s not beau­ti­ful or grace­ful. It’s sob­bing in a park­ing lot.

DH: Death, in The Orchard, occa­sions self-rede­f­i­n­i­tion. It gives wounds that are nev­er over­come. It lends urgency while also mak­ing things fall still. And it tears down what­ev­er sep­a­rates nor­mal­cy from the life that comes next. Ear­ly in the nov­el, on the first day of school, Ari and Sophia offer con­flict­ing visions of tragedy. Part of the expe­ri­ence of read­ing this book is decid­ing which def­i­n­i­tion, if either, rings true.

JBC: David, you also do a great job of cap­tur­ing how some­one, espe­cial­ly a teenag­er like Ari, can be drawn to peo­ple who are self-destruc­tive, self-absorbed (like his girl­friend, Sophia), or even open­ly antag­o­nis­tic (like Evan). Could you tell us about how you set up the dynam­ics of Ari’s friend group? Why is it impor­tant that the boys in par­tic­u­lar share the novel’s spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ence, and not, for exam­ple, Sophia?

DH: The group cer­tain­ly exhibits alarm­ing ten­den­cies. Yet those char­ac­ters also grap­ple with growth, loss, long­ing. And for much of the nov­el, the friends expe­ri­ence an authen­tic sense of com­mu­ni­ty. We see the real joys of friend­ship, the thrill of intel­lec­tu­al com­pan­ion­ship, the way the rela­tion­ships of youth prove dis­tinc­tive­ly foun­da­tion­al. That only this cohort embarks on that spe­cif­ic jour­ney aligns with the mechan­ics of plot: these are the seek­ers who have been build­ing steadi­ly toward this moment through­out the sto­ry. But it’s also true that a char­ac­ter of Sophia’s cal­iber might have a greater spir­i­tu­al dimen­sion than those who under­go this expe­ri­ence. Per­haps it’s fair to say that Sophia seeks moral clar­i­ty through oth­er pursuits.

JBC: Leigh, appear­ances play an impor­tant role in how peo­ple are per­ceived at Yale and in New Haven. Alex is intent on hid­ing her tat­toos, and is ulti­mate­ly able to use mag­ic to do so. Mean­while, Dar­ling­ton suc­ceeds in cre­at­ing a per­sona of gen­til­i­ty and wealth despite not hav­ing much mon­ey to his name, and Alex nev­er ques­tions it. Can you speak a bit about the illu­sion of appear­ances, and how mag­ic plays into it?

LB: We all dab­ble in this, don’t we? The right clothes, the right car, a per­fect­ly staged liv­ing room. Tell me there isn’t mag­ic — pos­si­bly dan­ger­ous mag­ic — in an Insta­gram fil­ter? It made per­fect sense to me that my char­ac­ters should be engaged in this kind manip­u­la­tion. Think about charis­ma — it can’t be quan­ti­fied or even accu­rate­ly described, but it is very real and we’ve all expe­ri­enced it. Think about the mys­tery of why some­thing goes viral or how pow­er­ful we feel in a well-cut suit. What if that could be bot­tled? It’s just as pow­er­ful as death mag­ic or for­tune telling. Maybe more so. And equal­ly mag­i­cal is the process of mov­ing beyond illu­sion, of get­ting to know some­one deeply. It’s the sur­prise of the lady sawn in half, then restored. It’s the grand­est reveal.

JBC: What are you both work­ing on next?

DH: At the moment: my final exam­i­na­tions for my first semes­ter of law school. More gen­er­al­ly, though, I’m at work on a new nov­el and some excit­ing future opportunities.

LB: An adap­ta­tion of Shad­ow and Bone and my oth­er Grisha­verse nov­els will be com­ing to Net­flix soon. In March, I’ll be releas­ing Rule of Wolves, the sequel to King of Scars. And hope­ful­ly the sequel to Ninth House will be in read­ers’ hands in 2022.

Simona is the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s man­ag­ing edi­tor of dig­i­tal con­tent and mar­ket­ing. She grad­u­at­ed from Sarah Lawrence Col­lege with a con­cen­tra­tion in Eng­lish and His­to­ry and stud­ied abroad in India and Eng­land. Pri­or to the JBC she worked at Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press. Her writ­ing has been fea­tured in LilithThe Nor­mal School, Dig­ging through the Fat, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. She holds an MFA in fic­tion from The New School. 

Bec­ca Kan­tor is the edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and its annu­al print lit­er­ary jour­nal, Paper Brigade. She received a BA in Eng­lish from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia and an MA in cre­ative writ­ing from the Uni­ver­si­ty of East Anglia. Bec­ca was award­ed a Ful­bright fel­low­ship to spend a year in Esto­nia writ­ing and study­ing the coun­try’s Jew­ish his­to­ry. She lives in Brooklyn.