Ear­li­er this week, Let­ty Cot­tin Pogre­bin​shared three passage​s​that did­n’t make it into her just-pub­lished nov­el Sin­gle Jew­ish Male Seek­ing Soul Mate​. She also explained why she chose to excise each scene — one because of a chrono­log­i­cal error that affect­ed the action,​one involv­ing trop­i­cal fish​that ulti­mate­ly struck the author as implau­si­ble, and one because ​she ​felt it was morepolem­i­cal than lit­er­ary. T​oday,​she offers the fourth and final install­ment in her Jew­ish Book Coun­cil Vis­it­ing Scribe series​that pulls back the cur­tain on a writer’s self-edit­ing process.

In this final install­ment of Stuff Left Out of my nov­el, I’ll share a scene that was cut sim­ply to speed up the pace and tight­en the nar­ra­tive. Though ulti­mate­ly dropped, I liked what it revealed about the rela­tion­ship between Zach, the pro­tag­o­nist of Sin­gle Jew­ish Male Seek­ing Soul Mate, and Cleo, the African-Amer­i­can woman he loves. This action takes place in the Eight­ies at Zach’s Har­vard Law School reunion.

About half his class­mates had come back to Cam­bridge for the week­end and Cleo got along well with all of them until Sat­ur­day night when, at the alum­ni din­ner, she end­ed up at a long table seat­ed between Archie Minton and Matt Bradley, Zach’s for­mer school­mates but not men he’d con­sid­ered friends. He sat diag­o­nal­ly across from Cleo, close enough to hear Archie, obvi­ous­ly in his cups, pro­pose a toast to Nel­son Mandela.

Cleo gave the man a quizzi­cal look but raised her glass. Sure, Archie, I’ll drink to Madi­ba any­time,” she said, using Mandela’s clan name, a sign of respect.

They clinked glass­es. He’s your people’s last chance, wouldn’t you say?” Archie asked, slur­ring his consonants.

Cleo turned to stone. What peo­ple would you be refer­ring to?”

Africans. Can’t han­dle inde­pen­dence, any of em.”

Excuse me?” Cleo shot Zach a fierce frown.

He shrugged, as if to say, what a jerk, though his first impulse was to jump in and defend her. How­ev­er, remem­ber­ing how annoyed she was after he inter­vened on her behalf dur­ing a dust­up at a meet­ing of the Black-Jew­ish Coali­tion, he made him­self hold back and just kept his eyes on her glar­ing face while Archie jab­bered on about the abysmal fail­ure of African lead­ers, the cor­rup­tion and mass mur­ders in Ethiopia, Sudan, Ango­la, Rwan­da, and Burun­di, and how much bet­ter off black peo­ple were under white colo­nial rule.

When she final­ly spoke, Cleo, didn’t so much increase the vol­ume of her voice as whit­tle its round edges to a point. Are you sug­gest­ing that cor­rup­tion and geno­cide are African inven­tions? If so, I have two words for you: Hitler. Stalin.

Archie Minton, momen­tar­i­ly sti­fled, picked up his stir­rer and start­ed play­ing tic-tac-toe on the table­cloth. The oth­er man, Matt Bradley, was quick to dive into the breach. Yeah, but for every Hitler, we had a Roo­sevelt, for every Stal­in a Churchill, for every dic­ta­tor, a Lin­coln. Who’s your Lin­coln, Cleo?”

Lin­coln is my Lin­coln, you asshole!”

Don’t raise your voice at me, sis­ter.” Matt shot his cuffs out of his sleeves as if rar­ing for a fight. I’ll have you know my peo­ple fought the Civ­il War to free your peo­ple. I have ances­tors who gave their lives for the Union.”

Cleo threw her nap­kin at Matt. I won’t be spo­ken to as if I’m an ungrate­ful slave!” Grab­bing her purse, and with­out a back­wards glance, she stormed out of the ban­quet hall. Zach ran after her but she wouldn’t let him touch her and he couldn’t get a word out of her until they reached their hotel room where she imme­di­ate­ly began fling­ing her clothes into her suitcase.

I can’t believe you let those racist boors humil­i­ate me. How could you sit there like it wasn’t hap­pen­ing? Why didn’t you res­cue me?”

Wait a minute, Cleo. You were pissed when I inter­vened at the Black-Jew­ish Coali­tion. You’ve had far big­ger boors on your talk show and you dis­patched them like Won­der Woman. I thought you want­ed to han­dle them yourself.”

You have no idea what I want, Zach!”

She flew back to New York that night on the last shut­tle. Zach, hav­ing com­mit­ted to speak on a civ­il rights pan­el at lunch the next day, wasn’t able to leave until Sun­day after­noon. In the cab to the city from LaGuardia, he had the dri­ver make two stops on the East Side so he could buy a bunch of African daisies and a bot­tle of South African wine before con­tin­u­ing cross-town to Cleo’s place.

I’ve heard your con­ti­nent pro­duces lousy lead­ers, but great chardon­nay,” Zach teased, when she opened the door. He bowed deeply. You were right about last night, Sweet­heart. Please for­give me.” He ducked into her tiny kitchen and brought out a corkscrew and a cou­ple of wine glasses.

If I’d been the only Jew at a table full of black peo­ple and a cou­ple of jerks start­ed brow­beat­ing me about Israel, I’m sure you would have res­cued me.”

Cleo arranged the daisies in a vase, accept­ed the glass of wine, and eked out a grin. Real­ly? What makes you so sure?”

All this week, I’ve pulled back the cur­tain on one writer’s process of prun­ing a work of fic­tion into shape. I hope you’ve been suf­fi­cient­ly intrigued by the scenes I left out of the nov­el to want to read the fin­ished book and see what I left in. 

Let­ty Cot­tin Pogre­bin is a found­ing edi­tor of Ms. mag­a­zine and the author of eleven books. Read more about her here. Or meet her at the CUNY Grad­u­ate Cen­ter, Fifth Avenue & 34th Street, NYC, Mon­day June 1st from 6:30 – 8:30 when​she will be in con­ver­sa­tion with Mar­cia Gille­spie, the​leg­endary for­mer edi­tor-in-chief of Essence and Ms.​Let­ty & Mar­cia will be​talking​about the pow­er of lega­cy, race, gen­der, fem­i­nism, the impact of inher­it­ed trau­ma, and oth­er issues that play out among the char­ac­ters in Sin­gle Jew­ish Male Seek­ing Soul Mate. RSVP for the event here.

Relat­ed Content:

Co-founder of Ms. mag­a­zine, Let­ty Cot­tin Pogre­bin is a nation­al­ly acclaimed writer, activist, and pub­lic speak­er. The author of twelve books, her arti­cles and essays have appeared wide­ly. She is a co-founder of the Nation­al Women’s Polit­i­cal Cau­cus and the Ms. Foun­da­tion for Women; a past pres­i­dent of the Authors Guild and the recip­i­ent of numer­ous hon­ors and awards.