Author’s Notebook | Richard Michelson, Author of Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy

FASCINATING_w final art (2)Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy
Written by Richard Michelson and illustrated by Edel Rodriguez
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 40 pages, 2016

The Whole Megillah (TWM): Since you had a personal relationship with Leonard Nimoy, were there differences in writing this picture book biography vs. others you’ve written where no personal relationship existed?
Richard Michelson (RM): Every book has its own challenges and difficulties, so while writing about a close friend presented some potential pitfalls. I wasn’t particularly worried, as Leonard and I had discussed his poetry and photography and film/theater work in the past, and I knew he appreciated my honest appraisal—whether or not we disagreed (we rarely did); nor was I worried about “letting him down” or having him interfere with my own creative choices. That said, I was clearly relieved that he seemed so enthusiastic about the text.

When I wrote Tuttles Red Barn: the Story of the Oldest Family Farm in America or Twice As Good: The story of William Powell and Clearview, the only golf course designed, built, and owned by an African-American I had the added pressure of proving to the Tuttle and Powell families that a total stranger who they had never met or heard of, could be trusted with their family histories.  With Lipman Pike: America’s First Home Run King I had the opposite problem of trying to track down a descendant (I never did—still looking). Writing those biographies, I was hoping to shed light on a little known American story.
With As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom the issues were much more similar to Fascinating,  as I had to take lives that everyone thought they knew, and find a fresh angle to tell the tale.

TWM: In writing Fascinating, what were the challenges? The satisfactions?
RM: The challenge was overcoming expectations that this would be a “celebrity biography.” I needed to convince parents that there is a real reason to read this book with their young children who, frankly, are not likely to have heard of Nimoy or watched “Star Trek” yet  (though they might have seen the figurines).

The satisfaction has been hearing from librarians and other advance copy readers (the book is not yet published as I answer these questions) who say, “I was not a sci-fi fan, or a Trekker, but this is a moving heartfelt biography that imparts real values and will appeal to a wide spectrum of kids.”

I was heartened by Leonard’s continuing challenge to himself to defy expectations, to embrace his acclaim, and yet never allow it to infringe on his other artistic pursuits, both artistic (photography, live theater, poetry) and human (political engagement, advocate for young artists,  a deep love of  family and friends). He had an intellectual  curiosity about all things that inspired me, and that  I hope will inspire the readers of this book.

Richard Michelson and Leonard Nimoy at Nimoy's 80th birthday party. Photo: Sylvia Mautner Photography

Richard Michelson and Leonard Nimoy at Nimoy’s 80th birthday party. Photo: Sylvia Mautner Photography

TWM: Why did you decide to write Leonard’s story while he was alive? Why in that moment?
RM: We traveled together on and off for the last dozen years of Leonard’s life, and we had much time to sit over meals and trade stories of our childhoods, and aspirations. But because it was such a personal relationship, it truthfully never even occurred to me to write about Leonard—which shows that good ideas can be right under our noses, but too close for us to see them (embarrassing, since in my workshops I encourage all writers to mine their “family and friend” histories).  It was after I’d watched a documentary, Leonard Nimoy’s Boston  that his son Adam had made (his latest documentary film is For the Love of Spock), a project which was originally conceived as a family memoir for the Nimoy kids and grandkids—that I realized Leonard’s life story would be perfect to inspire the “next generation.”

At the time, I had no idea that Leonard would pass away the following year from COPD (his daughter Julie is working on a documentary to help raise money to fight the disease: COPD: Highly Illogical ).  In fact, my hope was that we would go on a book tour together—or that I would at least Skype him into venues  (we did that a couple of times when he recorded my earlier book Too Young for Yiddish).

TWM: Did you interview him for the book or base your narrative on conversations you had in the past?
RM: Conversations we’d had in the past—I did not want Leonard to know I was writing the book, until I was done. I didn’t want the extra pressure on myself to meet a deadline, or to explain why I abandoned the project if it was not working out.  As I mention in my afterword: I sent my draft to Leonard. It was Thanksgiving morning 2014, and I heard back immediately in an email… It’s wonderful and I’m flattered. . . . It is an amazing piece of work and I love that you decided to do it. That evening, after finishing the turkey, Leonard wrote again with some corrections—names, dates, and a very few edits.

TWM: As a participant in the art world, what has been your reaction to the book’s illustrations?
RM: I did not know of Edel’s work (by name) when my editor suggested I check out his site and I immediately thought it was a perfect fit. I didn’t even know at the time that Edel had taught himself English when he arrived in this country from Cuba, by listening to old “Star Trek” episodes! Edel was able to take a realistic historical text and give it a sci-fi graphic  look without losing any of the humanity.

TWM: How do you plan to promote the book?
RM: Your wonderful blog is a good place to start! And I will be speaking at some Star Trek conventions (including Mission 50 in NYC), schools, and I have been contacted by many JCCs and other Jewish organization (the famous Vulcan salute, as you may know, was based on an orthodox prayer) —I have a lecture I give titled: Jewish Literacy: Seeking Out New Frontiers.  Join Richard Michelson as he boldly explores the universe of “children’s” literature, and narrates his own journey from uninformed atheist to someone whose books are being used to advance Jewish literacy. Richard will focus on his latest book, Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy and discuss what Jewish Picture Books and Leonard Nimoy have in common. And how both are helping to spread Jewish values and raise the “next generation” of Jewish kids. I am available for hire!! I am also pleased to note that it is both a PJ Library and Junior Library Guild selection. I will be signing Fascinating at the Yiddish Book Center Sept 18th, at 4 after their screening of “For the Love of Spock.”

TWM: What are your favorite PB biographies and who are your favorite PB authors (other than yourself)?
RM: I read fairly widely but most of my reading is poetry. I am so busy keeping up with the almost 60 author/illustrators I represent at R. Michelson Galleries, that their books alone keep me way too busy. In the last couple of years I have exhibited illustrations from wonderful biographies (and autobiographies) by Emily Arnold McCully; Wendell Minor, EB Lewis, Brian Pinkney; Raul Colon Eric Velasquez, David Small, Uri Shulevitz, Kadir Nelson, Barry Moser, Mordicai Gerstein and others. And speaking of Mordicai, I  am pleased to be speaking on December 18th at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art with him and three other masters of biographical writing (and my good friends), Jane Yolen, Lesléa Newman, and Barbara Diamond Goldin.

TWM: Any advice for aspiring PB bio authors?
RM: This is boring advice but the old truths are the best: Read, read, read—and see what the best of your elders and contemporaries are doing. And more importantly, sit down and write. I mean right now. Still here? We all have a million reasons why we don’t have time “right now.” Since this is the last question and you are done with the interview, instead of scrolling back to Facebook, and checking your email: WRITE!!!

About Richard Michelson

Richard Michelson‘s many books for children, teens and adults have been listed among the Ten Best of the Year by The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and The New Yorker; and among the best Dozen of the Decade by Amazon. He is the only author in the 48-year history of The Association of Jewish Libraries to receive both its Sydney Taylor Gold and Silver Medals in a single year. Michelson is a three-time finalist for the National Jewish Book Award and the Massachusetts Book Award. Other honors include three Skipping Stones Multicultural Book Awards, a National Parenting Publication Gold Medal and an International Reading Association Teacher’s Choice Award.

Michelson is the owner of R. Michelson Galleries in Northampton MA, where he recently served two terms as Poet Laureate. He is the recipient of a 2016 Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowship in Poetry.

Michelson’s Jewish-themed books include As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom; Lipman Pike: America’s First Home Run King; A is for Abraham-A Jewish Family Alphabet; Too Young for Yiddish (recorded by Leonard Nimoy); and his just published Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy. The Language of Angels: A Story about the Reinvention of Hebrew is forthcoming in 2017.

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Author’s Notebook | Meryl G. Gordon, The Flower Girl Wore Celery

mery gordonDebut children’s book author Meryl G. Gordon speaks with The Whole Megillah about her picture book, The Flower Girl Wore Celery, published by Kar-Ben.

The Whole Megillah (TWM): What was your inspiration for this story?
Meryl G. Gordon (MG): When my son and son-in-law were getting married back in 2010, my cousin’s four-year-old daughter Emma (yes, that is her real name) was all excited to be their flower girl.  Then one day, my cousin called, laughing, and said “Emma said she’s afraid to come to the wedding because of the Ring BEAR!”  And I remembered my own daughter who, when she was going to a flower girl many years ago, told everyone, “I’m going to be a Flower and my brother is going to be a Ring Bear.”  So I thought, this is so universal, this has to be a story.  And then, combined with the fact that I couldn’t find a book to buy for Emma about a flower girl at a wedding with no bride like we were having, let alone a Jewish wedding, I decided to write one.  So originally it was two grooms and many versions later it became two brides.

TWM: What were the challenges in writing it? The satisfactions?
MGG: I knew I wanted to write about a little girl misunderstanding all these grown-up words, and I knew she’d misunderstand about the flower girl first but would get that cleared up right away, and then would be confused about the ring bearer.  Then I decided to give a gender-neutral name to the person her cousin was marrying, so she wouldn’t know there would be two grooms (later, two brides).  Then I wanted one more confusion and it took me months to come up with the last thing, which was that she wouldn’t understand that celery was the name of her dress color.  For my son’s real wedding, the dress color was lettuce, which gave me the idea, but “celery dress” is easier to pronounce than “lettuce dress,” and it looks funnier too.

And one of the satisfactions now is that a reader told me that her own daughter actually thought her dress would be real celery many years ago!  So it was nice to hear that the celery rang true too.  Another satisfaction was seeing the illustrations.  I laughed out loud when I saw the drawing of the big bear with rosy cheeks and kippah holding the rings.  He was much cuter than the bear I had imagined!

TWM: Do you have a critique group? Please tell us about it.
MGG: Formal critique group – no, or should I say “not yet?”  But I had originally taken this story and others to a Highlights Foundation Jewish children’s writers’ workshop (where I met you) and received some good feedback there, and then stayed in touch with some of the people from that group for a while.   More recently, I’ve been in contact with people I’ve met at the annual Jewish Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference in New York every November, who have given me valuable feedback.  And my husband, who is my partner in all of life, has been a helpful reader with constructive suggestions.

TWM: As a first-time author, how did you find publication?
MGG: Keshet, a national organization that works for inclusion of LGBTQ people in Jewish life, ran a contest in 2011 (in cooperation with Kar-Ben) for a Jewish picture book that included LGBTQ family members, since there were none at the time.  It just so happened that I had recently completed my manuscript when I became aware of the contest and I submitted my story.  The first-place winner was The Purim Superhero, which Kar-Ben published in 2013.  My manuscript apparently won second place, and after The Purim Superhero was so well received, Kar-Ben was ready to do another LGBTQ book, and offered me a contract in 2014. So, thank you, Keshet!

TWM: Do you have any favorite books of Jewish content? Who has inspired you?
MGG: I have so many favorites!  As a child, I loved the All-of-a-Kind Family books.  And there wasn’t much else in Jewish children’s books back then. The books I loved best to read to my children were Eric Kimmel’s Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins and The Chanukkah Guest, Margot Zemach’s retelling of a Yiddish folktale, It Could Always Be Worse, Marilyn Hirsh’s retelling of a Talmudic story, Joseph Who Loved the Sabbath, Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Why Noah Chose the Dove (illustrated by Eric Carle), and our beloved Chanukah baby book, Rainbow Candles.  Also, I loved Lights by Yehuda and Sara Wurtzel and my kids loved The Animated Menorah: Travels on a Space Dreidel by Rony Oren and Ephraim Sidon when they were a little older. More recent Jewish children’s books I love are Tilda Balsley’s Oh, No, Jonah, Jacqueline Jules’s Sarah Laughs, and Phoebe Gilman’s Something from Nothing.

All of these authors inspire me!

TWM: What’s next for you?
MGG: What’s next? I hope another book! I’m working on a few things.  One is a retelling of a less-well-known Bible story that inspires me.  Another is a holiday story.  And I’m also working on some non-fiction, computer-related “stuff,” since I have a master’s degree in computer science.

About Meryl G. Gordon

Meryl was born in Brooklyn, New York and raised on the south shore of Long Island near the beach, which is her favorite place in the world.  She graduated from Yale University with a B.A. in Mathematics and Philosophy, as well as certification to teach math.  She holds a master’s degree in Computer Science from Iona College and is a former computer programmer/analyst. Meryl’s passion is supporting, promoting and advocating for lifelong Jewish education.  Meryl and her husband, David, live in Connecticut, where they raised their three now-grown children and where Meryl has been active as a volunteer in the Jewish community, serving on numerous committees and boards, and as a tutor in the public schools.

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New Online Writing Classes from The Whole Megillah

MP900341496[1]The Fiction I class has been so successful that The Whole Megillah is excited to announce several new classes:

The Whole Megillah Writing Circle
Receive exclusively Jewish prompts weekly for six weeks and post your writing using these prompts to a private Facebook page for commentary.
Fee: $150
Start Date: October 30

Creative Nonfiction
Use fictional techniques to create compelling nonfiction narrative in this six-week class. We’ll explore memoir, humor, travel, food, nature essays and revision through a combination of weekly readings and writing exercises.
Fee: $300
Start Date: September 10

Picture Books
Through a series of writing exercises, draft a picture book kids will love in this six-week class. We’ll explore the different kinds of picture books, problem solving, language, text vs. illustration, and more.
Fee: $300
Start Date: November 6

One-on One Revision Lab
Work with me on revising your manuscript—picture book, middle grade, YA, and adult literary—using a technique I’ve perfected in the classroom: Revision Lab. We’ll work together on creating a storyboard of your work that helps you identify scenes to keep, enhance, or delete.
Fee: Depends on the length and complexity of the project
Start Date: Any time

How to Sign Up

Comment to this post if you’re interested in registering and I’ll contact you privately.

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Author’s Notebook | Nancy Davidoff Kelton, Finding Mr. Rightstein

nancy davidoff keltonThe Whole Megillah (TWM): What inspired you to write this book and this book now?
Nancy Davidoff Kelton (NDK): In 2005, I wrote an essay about my mother, her illness, and my relationship with her that  was published as a “Lives” column in The New York Times Magazine. I went somewhere in that piece I had not gone before in my work, had more to say on that and about my family of origins.  Other areas of my life I had not explored deeply before began finding their way into my writing: my being a mother, my relationships with men, my female friendships, and my struggles with myself.  It kept coming out of me.

finding mr rightsteinTWM: Did anything surprise you while writing?
NDK: What surprised me most and in the most wonderful ways was when what came out of me was close to how I wanted it to come out.  I felt so alive, so full.  The Finding Mr. Rightstein sections in which I felt that happening even in early drafts included: my drawing penises in my notebook in school and my teacher confronting me, the Florida scenes with my mother and with my daughter, my experiences with my female friends, Irene’s death, the southwest trip with Jonathan, and the scene with Geraldine, the cleaning lady who didn’t clean.

TWM: What is your writing process?
NDK: I write most days during the week and weekends.  Sometimes I get going right away. Sometimes it takes a while. It seems to flow best after a hour or so, although some days it doesn’t flow at all and I spend a lot of time going to the refrigerator.  I get to my desk consistently and try not to get upset if the muse is not on my shoulder. I am always writing, even when I am not at my desk.  Things comes to me when I’m walking, showering, teaching, eating, with other people, reading, everywhere.  If I can, I take notes.  If not and if whatever happens inside me is important enough, I remember it.

TWM: Who do you show your writing to? Did you share any of this with the folks mentioned in the book?
NDK: I don’t show my early drafts to anyone. That would not work. My writing is between me and me. When I’m getting close to sending it out, I show it to my husband, mainly for technical matters.  He’s a good editor.  He had no say on the content.  The only people in the book who did get to see pages were my daughter and son-in-law and only the sections in which they appeared.  They were fine with them.

TWM: In writing this book, you seem to have tackled complex relationships and emotions with your father, mother, and sister. What was the greatest challenge in writing this book? The greatest satisfaction?
NDK: I wanted to tell my story the best way I could, showing how I related to the members of my family, how they related to me, how our relationships affected me, and how I reacted/hurt/ grew/learned/adapted.  Families are so complicated.  In the wonderful fan mail I’ve been getting, people are thanking me for understanding and articulating what they went through in their lives with their families.  That touches me to no end.   My greatest challenge was getting out of my way to tell my story with honesty, which meant showing up fully with everything I had, and then revising and revising some more, and even taking out parts I liked but didn’t work or didn’t serve the narrative.  My greatest satisfaction: was the same thing.  Now it’s hearing from people, many strangers, that I struck a chord.

TWM: I love the title. How did you come up with it?
NDK: Finding Mr. Rightstein was always the title.  I was writing essays about my dates, relationships, and the men who ranged from reptilian to simply not quite right. Those pieces were tons of fun.  Somewhere while writing them that title must have sprung from me.  From my unconscious. When I partner with my unconscious, I get to my favorite things.

writing from personal experienceTWM: You teach and have written a book about writing from personal experience. What are the three most challenging aspects about writing from personal experience? Is there something that beginners often shy away from?
NDK: The challenges seem to be the very things beginners shy away from:

  1. Getting under one’s skin, revealing oneself in an artful way, not spilling things out with self-pity and self-absorption.
  2. Writing scenes that have immediacy, pull readers right in, and keep them there.
  3. Using fresh, telling details and dialogue that shows who the character is, moves the story along, and is not ho-hum.

TWM: Parts of Finding Mr. Rightstein appeared first as published essays. Do you recommend writing short essays first before tackling a book—or does it not matter?
NDK: My mother used to say that there are different ways to skin a cat.  I don’t think there is one way to write a memoir.  Whatever works.  What I tell my students who are tackling books: Generate manuscript, generate pages.  Do NOT keep writing and rewriting the beginning. Do NOT worry about what will make a good opening.  Just write. The opening of Finding Mr. Rightstein did not find itself until somewhere between a third and fourth draft.  And then I saw it, felt it.

About Nancy Davidoff Kelton

Nancy Davidoff Kelton is the author of the just-published memoir, Finding Mr. Rightstein.  She is currently scheduling book readings, talks, and writing workshops on the west coast, east coast, and in between. Her essays have appeared in The New York Times, Hadassah Magazine, The Boston Globe, and Redbook among numerous other publications. To learn more about Nancy, go to her





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In the Spirit of Poetry Has Value | July 2016 Report

July was pretty much a bust that has me wondering whether I should be writing at all. A friend says the summer’s lack of structure is not helping and that I’ll feel more like myself once the semester starts. We’ll see.

Here are my July statistics:

Poetry: Sent to six journals (Jewish Literary Journal, Rose Red Review, Rust + Moth, Whale Road Review, Springhouse, Foundry), no acceptances, seven rejections (Rust + Moth, Modern Poetry Quarterly Review, Arroyo Literary Review, Ploughshares, Foundry, Jewish Literary Journal, Hunger Mountain). 

Short fiction: Entered an unpublished story into a contest.

Creative nonfiction: I queried a publisher about my genealogical memoir, We Are Rock Candy: Crystallization of a Jewish Family. The piece published in May by Jewish Literary Journal, “The Hands That Bind Us,” is a chapter from the manuscript. The publisher asked for my proposal and sample chapter.

Academic journal articles: Based on my presentation at June’s Children’s Literature Association, the Journal of Literature & Art Studies has asked me to submit my paper, “Recovering Marginalized Voices of the Holocaust through Children’s Picture Books and Graphic Novels.” Because my paper, “No Stone Unturned: Newark’s Grove Street Cemetery,” has been accepted for a panel on Newark at November’s New Jersey Historical Commission Forum, I’m finessing that for submission to New Jersey Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal. My proposals to the Mid-Atlantic Pop Culture Association and the Northeast Pop Culture Association have been accepted, and I’ll be presenting on dance marathons of the 1920s and 1930s.

Other July activities: I wrote three picture book manuscripts, all of which are out in the market. One publisher suggested a topic and I hope to work on that in August.

Acceptances vs. Rejections

Now, following the conversation started by Kim Liao and a response by Laura Waylene Walter about rejections, I’m presenting my year-to-date rejection numbers:

Poetry: 29 journals, 118 individual poems

Short stories: 8

Creative nonfiction: 4

Hooray! I’ve beat the goal of 100 rejections and the year’s not over yet! My acceptance rate for prose is much, much higher than it is for poetry. I think I have to take my poetry to a different level. I just signed up for a one-on-one, 10-week poetry class with poet Matthew Lippman, author of Salami Jew. I have a chapbook in mind.


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Author’s Notebook Guest Post | Maggie Anton, Fifty Shades of Talmud

Maggie author pix 2014 (2)After penning six Jewish historical novels in ten years, I was outlining my seventh when I unexpectedly detoured into nonfiction last spring. Winding up an intense six-month (127 speaking gigs in 17 states) book tour promoting my latest tale, Enchantress, I was speaking to a New Jersey Hadassah chapter. As I like doing when no men are attending, I shared some racy pieces of Talmud I’d studied. The women were chuckling and enjoying my talk when one called out, “You should write Fifty Shades of Talmud.”

The room erupted in laughter, but I starting thinking I could really do this. And it would be fun. I imagined a short, witty book describing fifty sections of Talmud that dealt with various sexual matters, translated into modern English with a feminist bent. I knew it wouldn’t take long to research, not compared to the years my novels took.

That was because readers of the first volume of my Rashi’s Daughters trilogy bombarded me with emails demanding where I got my information. Unfortunately, I couldn’t recall exactly because it never occurred to me to keep detailed notes during my seven years of research. After that debacle I started a Word document describing every page of Talmud I studied. It now runs forty-five pages, single-spaced.

There are many references to sexual relations because I’d decided that, Rashi’s daughters being actual women, I wasn’t going to close doors on them, especially not the bedroom door. I also resolved that I’d never show them violating Jewish Law. Thus I needed to write halachic sex scenes, which necessitated studying what our Sages said about the subject. And they said a lot.

I had no trouble choosing fifty areas of discussion from over 100 I’d studied. A beta-reader judged an early draft too scholarly and suggested adding jokes and pithy quotes. Now the research really got fun, as I had to find those that best illustrated what the Talmud said about sex without being obscene. To make it even more entertaining, I put in some New Yorker style cartoons.

CoverFiftyHowever, Fifty Shades of Talmud is not all fun and games. I begin with a succinct introduction that defines Talmud while explaining its history and importance. And I end with a list of my Torah and Talmud sources so enquiring minds will know where to study them in more depth. My goal, like all my books, is to provide an engaging read along with Jewish learning.

Question 4U

I wrote all my books, and especially this most recent one, with the goal of encouraging and intriguing women and non-Orthodox Jews to study Talmud. Was I successful? If not, what would it take to get you to study Talmud?

About Maggie Anton

Maggie Anton is a Talmud scholar and the award-winning author of the historical fiction trilogy Rashi’s Daughters and new series Rav Hisda’s Daughter. The first volume, Apprentice, was a National Jewish Book Award finalist. A Los Angeles native, Maggie worked for 33 years as a clinical chemist for Kaiser Permanente before becoming an author. Her newest work is the nonfiction Fifty Shades of Talmud: What the First Rabbis Had to Say about You-Know-What.

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Poet’s Notebook | Hadara Bar-Nadav

I first became familiar with Hadara Bar-Nadav’s name when she co-authored a poetry textbook that I used in my advanced creative writing classes. I then had the privilege of meeting her (and taking her workshop) at the William Paterson University Writers Conference (I was teaching a workshop on writing for children).

Naturally, I wanted to ask Hadara a few questions for The Whole Megillah:

hadara bar-nadavThe Whole Megillah (TWM): When and how did you realize you were a poet?
Hadara Bar-Nadav (HBN): I started writing when I was 6 years old.  I always knew I was a writer and artist.  I had a chaotic and often difficult family life, and writing was the one thing no one could take away from me and where I felt most safe and most free.

TWM: What poets and authors inspire you?
HBN: Claudia Rankine, Paul Celan, Lucie Brock-Broido, Gwendolyn Brooks, Charles Simic, Cole Swensen—there are many. Visual artists inspire me, too: Louise Nevelson, Julie Mehretu, Kara Walker, Magritte, Cartier-Bresson, Mark Rothko, etc.

TWM: What do you think are the three most important considerations to writing poetry?
HBN: This question is fairly large for me, and the answers change all the time. What is most important right now to the writing of poetry: 1) time to work (I have a 2 year old); 2) space to work (we just moved); and 3) the opportunity to sit down with literature that inspires and challenges or troubles me (time to unpack my books and get a babysitter will help greatly J).

TWM: What challenges do you think beginning poets face?
HBN: Based on my interactions with students I would say beginning poets face the following three issues in no particular order: 1) being too hard on themselves or, conversely, not being hard enough; 2) refusing to really wrestle with their poetry, dive deep, and revise; and 3) maintaining a poetry practice beyond the classroom or workshop.

TWM: Please describe your literary journey as a poet.
HBN: I have always been drawn to the arts.  I started playing piano at age 3 and from there became interested in visual art and then poetry. As a teenager, I got into spoken word poetry and regularly read/performed in NY (this for me connected music and poetry).  Later, my interest shifted to poetry on the page (this connected music and the visual world via form to poetry).

hadara fountain and furnaceTWM: What challenges you the most as a poet? 
HBN: Time, time, time.  Did I mention my little boy? J  I should say he also inspires me and had a direct impact on my assembling the poetry collection Fountain and Furnace, which was awarded the Sunken Garden Poetry Prize (Tupelo Press, 2015).

TWM: What are your greatest satisfactions?
HBN: Family, friends, writing, reading, art, a sense of community.



hadara lullabyTWM: Among your own work, is there a particular poem or set of poems you hold most dear? Why/why not?
HBN: Usually I’m most interested in my recent work—what I’m actively grappling with.  But I do hold my book Lullaby (with Exit Sign) (Saturnalia Books, 2013) close to my heart.  It was inspired by my father who died in 2007, my mother, and my ancestors.  Writing that book taught me about the elasticity and musicality of language and form.  It also helped me believe in language again as I investigated the elegy (poems in honor of the dead) and collaborated with Emily Dickinson’s poetry (her work still dazzles me).  Through the writing of Lullaby (with Exit Sign), I was able to commune with the dead in poems that were also energetically charged and, in that way, very much alive.  It was marvelous and challenging and exhausting work, but it brought my family back to me.  I’m still grateful for that.

About Hadara Bar-Nadav

Hadara Bar-Nadav’s newest book of poetry, The New Nudity, is forthcoming from Saturnalia Books in 2017. She is the author of Lullaby (with Exit Sign) (Saturnalia Books, 2013), awarded the Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize; The Frame Called Ruin (New Issues, 2012), Runner Up for the Green Rose Prize; and A Glass of Milk to Kiss Goodnight (Margie/Intuit House, 2007), awarded the Margie Book Prize. She is also author of two chapbooks, Fountain and Furnace (Tupelo Press, 2015), awarded the Sunken Garden Poetry Prize, and Show Me Yours (Laurel Review/Green Tower Press 2010), awarded the Midwest Poets Series Prize. In addition, she is co-author of the textbook Writing Poems, 8th ed. (Pearson/Longman, 2011). Her poetry has recently appeared in American Poetry Review, Iowa Review, Ploughshares, Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. She is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

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