Thanksgiving Blessings

As I sit here looking forward to the Thanksgiving holiday only as a block of time to catch up on grading student compositions and short stories, I take a break to jot down some of the things I’m thankful for.

Teaching is learning. The more I teach, the more I learn. I was thinking earlier today as I drove around on my errands about how I’ve blossomed intellectually and creatively since walking out the Corporate America door in June 2013. I’ve delved into literature, composition pedagogy, completed an MA in History (with tuition waiver as adjunct faculty), and explored Holocaust scholarly debates.

Going back to my roots. The Ancestry DNA kit sits on my dining room table and it’s on my docket this weekend to take the test. I want to believe that besides my Ashkenazic roots that I have Sephardic heritage in my background somewhere. But I’m also thankful for going back to my intellectual roots grounded in German and Russian languages and literature. I’m reading Kafka again. I’ve signed up for a poetry class that uses Rainer Marie Rilke’s poems as prompts. I’m grateful for programs like “Finding Your Roots” on PBS and “Who Do You Think You Are.”

Feedback from my readers. Now that my first poetry chapbook is out, readers are telling me how much they enjoy it. And, three of my college students have bought it. I appreciate the relationships I develop with readers, writers, and students.

Finding my own solutions. Whether it’s installing a new light bulb in the garage without standing on the hood of the car, re-installing my email on my Kindle, finding resources to back up my arguments for a scholarly journal article I’m working on, or happening on a low-point snack using my Weight Watchers app in the supermarket–I’m happy. Of course, I still need to practice parallel parking.

Having a roof over my head. To get Maslovian for a moment, I am grateful to have my house even though my accountant has been insisting for a few years now that I sell it and get an apartment. I am thankful for the ability to play contemporary jazz on the television while I write and grade.

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?


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Announcement from PJ Library – Deadlines Approaching!

It’s said that travel broadens the mind, and PJ Library has two exciting opportunities coming up for authors and illustrators in spring 2018 that fill the bill.

Travel to Israel with us March 18-25 for the Author Israel Adventure and get inspired to bring Jewish and Israeli content to your writing for children.

Closer to home (for most), spend April 29-May 4 with us in Amherst, MA, at the Yiddish Book Center where you’ll read, write, discuss, and learn at Tent: Children’s Literature. New this year is a track for author-illustrators and graphic novelists.

Both opportunities are FREE! Check out the links for full details – and please keep the application deadlines in mind.

We can’t wait to receive your applications!

Chris Barash
Chris Barash, Chair
PJ Library Book Selection Committee
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Literary Offerings into the World | October 2017 Report

Not much to report for October.

Poetry: 0 submissions, 0 acceptances, 1 rejection (Salt Hill Journal). But I have completed another chapbook, Pounding Cobblestone, and am in the process of figuring out where to submit. I am writing one new poem a week.

Creative Nonfiction: 0 submissions, 0 acceptances, 0 rejections.

Fiction: 1 submission (Press 53 Everywhere Stories anthology), 0 acceptances, 0 rejections.

Other October 2017 activities: My Holocaust novel in verse went to an editorial committee and I have some work to do to revise. My YA biography in verse underwent scrutiny by my poetry mentor and is now in vetting with one of the biography’s subject’s sons. I completed Escaping East Germany and did some preliminary work for another educational publisher on civilian casualties in war. I presented on remnants of Jewish Poland at my hometown shul. Cycle 7 of The Whole Megillah‘s online Fiction class ended and Cycle 8 begins in December.

Oh, yeah, and my son got married!

Coming up in November!

Revising my Holocaust novel in verse and possibly also revising my biography in verse. I will continue to work on weekly poems with my poetry mentor and I’m itching to write an essay about one of my paternal grandmother’s relatives—either her first cousin in Brooklyn who remembered when my grandmother came off the ship in 1913 when I interviewed her in 1993 (she was 90 then) or a distant cousin brought to America by Albert Einstein in the late 1930s as a boy from Vienna. I’m also starting a food memoir class at Iota Conference with Sarah Einstein. There’s another development possibly brewing, but I’ll have to wait until I have news to share, most likely in the new year.



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2017 Year of the Book | Third Quarter Progress Report

I pledged 2017 as the Year of the Book. my year to sell a book manuscript. Now that the third quarter of the year has closed, here is my progress report:

Poetry: My chapbook, Chicken Fat, is due out next month from Finishing Line Press. I’ve also completed a second chapbook, Pounding Cobblestone, about my time in the Czech Republic in 2011 with the Prague Summer Program (now an independently run program after an 11-year affiliation with Western Michigan University). My next step is to figure out where to send the chapbook manuscript.

Creative Nonfiction: In the winter or spring I may resume taking online courses with Creative Nonfiction magazine. These courses force butt in chair and I’m happy with the results. In November I’m taking a food memoir class online from Iota Conference.

Picture Books: Totally on the backburner for now.

Novels in Verse: My Holocaust novel in verse went to editorial committee last week. Sigh, still more work to do, but the committee believes the story is strong and wants to see a revision. Meanwhile my biography in verse is with my poetry mentor and I expect to get his notes this week. Lots of revision ahead!

Fiction: Also on the backburner for now. I had hoped to participate in Nanowrimo and draft two chapter books—one historical and one contemporary—but I want to keep my focus on the books in verse.

Other projects: I’m still writing education books for kids as work for hire. I just finished two books for a book packager and am starting a YA debate book for hire as compiling editor for another publisher. During winter break, I’ll be sending out more pitch packages to educational publishers.

Question 4U: How is your Year of the Book coming along? Please share!

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New Online Workshops from The Whole Megillah

The Whole Megillah is proud to announce a series of online workshops to sharpen your craft wherever you are in the writing process:

  • Fiction Workshop
  • Advanced Fiction Workshop
  • Memoir Workshop
  • Poetry Workshop

Each workshop includes a set of weekly prompts. Participants post their writing to a private Facebook page for feedback.


Experiment with elements of craft to write either short or long in this six-week workshop. We’ll explore and practice:

  • Imagery
  • Characterization
  • Setting
  • Plot
  • Point of view
  • Revision

For inspiration, I’ll supply you with a short story each week.

Cost: $300; add $50 for a 10-page manuscript critique

Start date: December 3, 2017


Advanced Fiction Workshop

This six-week online workshop allows to you work on a manuscript of your choice and bring it further along. Through a series of exercises you’ll practice more advanced techniques to:

  • Drive your protagonist’s emotional journey and transformation
  • Heighten conflict
  • Deepen characterization and sharpen dialogue

Cost: $300; add $50 for a 10-page manuscript critique

Start date: December 3, 2017

Your StoryMemoir Workshop

If you’re like me, perhaps there’s an event or a relationship in your life that’s haunting you. But how to explore that in writing? In this five-week class we’ll explore:

  • Imagery
  • Theme
  • Plot
  • Selectivity
  • Voice

We will also gain inspiration from published memoirs.

Cost: $250; add $50 for a 10-page manuscript critique

Start Date: December 10, 2017


Poetry Workshop

In this five-week online workshop, I’ll supply you with exclusively Jewish prompts and poetry to find your own poetic voice.

Cost: $250; add $50 for a four-poem critique

Start Date: December 10, 2017

About the instructor

Barbara Krasner is the award-winning author of several hundred articles, books, short fiction, and poetry. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Jewish Literary Journal, Lilith, Jewish Women’s Literary Annual,, Michigan Quarterly Review, Nimrod, Paterson Literary Review, and other journals. Her poetry chapbook, Chicken Fat, will be published by Finishing Line Press in November 2017. Her children’s book, Goldie Takes a Stand! Golda Meir’s First Crusade, was named a 2015 Sydney Taylor Honor Book. Barbara teaches creative writing at William Paterson University and works one-on-one with writers to shape their fiction and nonfiction manuscripts. She is a trained facilitator in the Amherst Writers & Artists method.

For more information, contact Barbara at barbarakrasner(at)att(dot)net or reply to this post with a comment.

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Literary Offerings into the World | September 2017 Report

Poetry: 0 submissions, 0 acceptances, 2 rejections (BOATT, The MacGuffin).

Creative Nonfiction: 4 submissions (Poor Yorick, The Smart Set, Ilanot, Tiferet), 1 acceptance (South 85), 2 rejections (Lunch Ticket, Capra Review). I’ve made three withdrawals because of the essay acceptance. Of the six essays I wrote earlier this year in the personal essay classes at Creative Nonfiction magazine, three have found good homes.

Fiction: 0 submissions, 0 acceptances, 0 rejections.

Other September 2017 activities: I completed the first draft of my YA biography in verse, and my agent has sent out my middle-grade historical novel in verse. I completed Escape from Hitler for a children’s book packager and am now working on Escape from East Berlin for the same packager. I also completed three articles for Cobblestone and five biographies for Paterson Lives. I took a day from my hectic schedule to learn how to deepen my poetry with Priscilla Orr at a workshop given by Tiferet Journal. I’ve reviewed proofs of my upcoming chapbook, Chicken Fat, which is now slated for November publication.

Cycle 7 of The Whole Megillah‘s online Fiction class began.

Coming up in October!

Most notably, my son’s wedding on October 8! I’ll be working with my poetry mentor on generating more poetry, wrapping up my chapbook about the Czech Republic, and finalizing my YA biography in verse. I’ll be also finishing up Escape from East Berlin and I will have another article assignment from Cobblestone and another compiling editor gig from Greenhaven Press. I am presenting “Jewish Remnants of Poland” at Congregation B’nai Israel in Kearny, New Jersey (my hometown) at the end of the month. I’m already looking forward to the long weekend at Thanksgiving.



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Poet’s Notebook | Joan Seliger Sidney

I first met Joan at the 2010 Jewish Children’s Writing workshop at the Highlights Foundation in Pennsylvania. I found her writing to be strong and lyrical. Turned out she’s been writing poetry for the adult market for some time. After seeing an article about her in the Hartford Courant, I thought it was high time you all met her.

The Whole Megillah (TWM): What inspired you to start writing poetry?
Joan Seliger Sidney (JSS): I wrote my first poem—long since lost—for an assignment in my high school English class senior year. It was about my mother’s younger brother, living in Israel so I didn’t know him, who had been killed by a jealous husband, my American uncle’s brother, a terrible tragedy. I remember that my teacher wrote, “Fascinating,” on my paper. But it wasn’t till twenty-two years later that I audited a poetry course at the University of Connecticut, started a writers’ group, and began writing poems.

TWM: What inspires your poetry? Do you find your topics or do they find you?
JSS: For many years my mother’s stories of growing up in Zurawno, then her three months of adventures escaping the Holocaust became my serious topics: she really was my muse as well as helping me bear witness. Living with MS, my chronic illness, has also been an important topic, my family—husband and four kids, too. These days my poems speak out against Trump and bigotry. I find these political poems online, they’re really “found poems.”

TWM: Who is your favorite poet? What is your favorite poem—and why?
JSS: This is a very difficult question because I like many poets for different reasons. If we’re talking contemporary poets, my favorites are Carolyn Forché, Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, major political poets, and Robert Cording, who transforms the everyday into exquisite poetry.

Ever since I heard Carolyn read “The Colonel,” I’ve been in awe of how she bears witness. The poem has an inescapable immediacy. The details bring me to the dinner table with the murderous Nicaraguan colonel as, after the elaborate meal, he spills the sack of human ears on the table.

“They were like dried peach halves. There is no other way to say this. He took one of them in his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a water glass. It came alive there. I am tired of fooling around he said. As for the rights of anyone, tell your people they can go fuck themselves. He swept the ears to the floor with his arm and held the last of his wine in the air. Something for your poetry, no? he said. Some of the ears on the floor caught this scrap of his voice. Some of the ears on the floor were pressed to the ground.”

TWM: Are you particularly proud of any one poem?
JSS: I like “Pantoum for My Grandparents,” the way it connects me to my maternal grandparents, also “On Turning Seventy,” which connects three generations.

Pantoum for My Grandparents

On Yom Kippur I wrote my first Holocaust poem
instead of returning to synagogue to pray.
The grandmother I never knew put her
hands on my shoulders and told me her story.

Instead of returning to synagogue to pray,
back to Zurawno I journeyed with Grandma.
Hands on my shoulders, she told me her story:
“Germans, so cultured, won’t hurt us old Jews.”

Back to Zurawno I journeyed with Grandma.
We watched the road darken with soldiers.
“Germans, so cultured, won’t hurt us old Jews.
From us, our Ukrainian neighbors rent.”

We watched the road darken with soldiers.
Grandpa wore his Silver Cross from World War I.
“From us, our Ukrainian neighbors rent.”
If, only instead of listening, I’d whisked them away.

Grandpa wore his Silver Cross from World War I.
Grandma braided challah and slid it in the oven.
If, only instead of listening, I’d whisked them away
before the betrayal by their Ukrainian neighbors.

Grandma braided challah and slid it in the oven.
She braised brisket and potatoes, my mouth watered
before the betrayal by her Ukrainian neighbors.
They beat and bloodied Grandma and Grandpa.

She braised brisket and potatoes, my mouth watered.
Granddaughter from the future, what could I do?
Neighbors beat and bloodied Grandma and Grandpa,
threw their still-breathing bodies into a pit for Jews.

On Approaching Seventy

Watching the hands of my son
kneading challah dough
on the maple cutting board
in my kitchen, a memory
rises of my mother
bending over our kitchen table
in Flatbush, pressing, stretching,
folding flour, water, eggs
into a living elastic.
Sometimes in my dreams, Mom
appears, whispers of her mother
in her kitchen in Zurawno
in the pre-dawn dark,
by the light of the kerosene
lamp, pulling and pushing
the yeasty challah dough
until my son covers it
with a clean white cloth
and leaves it in the warm
electric oven to rise.

TWM: How does writing poetry affect your writing in other genres?
JSS: It makes me more aware of word choice, image, rhythm, rhyme.

TWM: You received your MFA from what is now the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Would you recommend an MFA? Why/why not?
JSS: Absolutely! Working with outstanding writers and peers transformed my writing, reading, and teaching.

TWM: How important is it to write Jewish-themed poems? Holocaust-related poems?
JSS: I guess Jewish-themed poems are in my blood. As I’ve said, my mission to bear witness to injustice began with Holocaust-related poems.

TWM: Is there any craft book you’d recommend?
JSS: I’ve used and taught from several good ones. For anyone interested in writing in form, I recommend The Making of a Poem by Strand and Boland.

For more about Joan Seliger Sidney and her work, please visit her website.

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