10 November 2007

Jewish influences on authors

A fascinating story on authors explaining Jewish influences on their works appeared in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal. There are several related stories in the issue leading up to the Festival of Books taking place Sunday, November 11.

The Jewish Journal invited writers who will be featured at Sunday's Festival of Books to answer the simple, essential question that every Jewish writer is often asked: "What Jewish sources -- ideas, writings, traditions -- inspire you, and how do they show up in your work?"

The following show that there is no easy answer to what defines a Jewish author, but there is no question that there's much to draw upon within the faith.

Each author explains their influences and followed by a short bio of their works. Many speak about the stories of their families having influenced their writing and their interests.

Some of the featured authors - with a snippet of their words - include

Daniel Handler: "The Jewish sources that have most affected my work are stories of my father's family leaving Germany in 1938 ... ."

Anita Diamant: "Having written six books about Jewish practice -- from weddings to birth, from conversion to mourning -- it's pretty clear that I have been inspired by the way Judaism gives expression and shape to the fluid and ineffable cycle of human life."

Kirk Douglas: "The history of the Jews fascinates me. We are only about 13 million in number, way out of proportion to what we have accomplished in life and what we have contributed to the welfare of people in so many areas. I am proud of that. And yet, anti-Semitism grows."

Gina Nahai: "The sources that inspire me are the men and women whose lives I try to render in my stories. They're the people I grew up with or that I grew up hearing about. I watch them now as I did then and describe what I see, hear them, and write what they say. I don't invent so much as reveal, don't comment so much as bear witness."

Sam Wolfson: "The crazy thing is, Bryan Fogel, my "Jewtopia" writing partner, was brought up practically Orthodox, while I was brought up Reform, and yet we still had all the same cultural experiences in our Jewish households growing up, which I think is why our stuff seems to appeal to Jews of all denominations."

Elisa Albert: "But if I've done my job, Jewish ritual and observance should simply serve as backdrop for the universal experience at the heart of any good story: love, loss, family, pain, happiness, sorrow, whatever."

Judith Viorst: "Jewish self-deprecating humor also allows me to write about my family without getting into big trouble."

Naomi Ragen: "This is not a white-washed history, a magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest people of them all. The painful truthfulness of the Bible led me to believe that a writer must view his or her own society with honesty and never be afraid or intimidated to write that truth, no matter how uncomfortable the consequences."

Ellen Feldman: "The deeper I dug into the source material, the more stories I heard of Jews who had come to this country in the wake of the war and never admitted that they were survivors of the camps - or even Jews."

Renny Shapiro: "I am Jewish, I live Jewish, my heritage is Jewish and it's my life. We [Shapiro and her husband] wanted to live our dream of flying around the world, and we used our wings to do so. The trip took two months and included 65 hours of flying time. We visited historically Jewish places in Poland, which is where my mother is from."

Read more here.

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