Author’s Notebook | The Borscht Belt: Revisiting the Remains of America’s Jewish Vacationland by Marisa Scheinfeld

I came across mention of The Borscht Belt: Revisiting the Remains of America’s Jewish Vacationland (Cornell University Press, 2017) on the website of the American Historical Association. Since my family spent numerous summers at hotels there that included the Granit, the Concord, the Fallsview and Nevele, and the Homowack, I had to reach out to photographer and author Marisa Scheinfeld. Here is the result of our interview:

Guest room, Tamarack Lodge
Courtesy Marisa Scheinfeld

The Whole Megillah (TWM): What drew you to document the Borscht Belt visually?
Marisa Scheinfeld (MS): I received some advice from a mentor who told me to “shoot what I know.” Those four words lit the fire inside of me that caused me to consider my roots, my hometown, and its history. This led into the beginning of the project where I used a technique called Re-photography, essentially a “now” and “then” view of the hotels and bungalows made by using a found postcard and going back to the same location and re-making the image again, with a time lapse in between the two images. I did this many times over and the technique acted like a treasure map of sorts—leading me to a specific hotel or bungalow site, but as I journeyed to them, I began to see scenes that caused me to deviate from the re-photographic project and make alternate photographs. It was then that the series evolved—and I realized there was much more of a story than the one I originally set out to tell.

Coffee shop, Grossinger’s
Courtesy Marisa Scheinfeld

TWM: What was your greatest challenge in taking these photos and assembling the book?
MS: I worked on this for over 5 years and amassed many photographs in the process, all made on film. A huge challenge was editing. The book has 129 photographs and I had to let go of many on the “cutting room floor.” Other challenges arose during the process of making the images—and those were the tenuous nature of these hotels and bungalow colonies, essentially ruins, including their instability, what I might encounter, whom I might encounter, getting permission (which was always varied and depended on a lot of forged connections, new connections, strangers, locals, and friends/family to help me out. In addition, I learned quickly, and early in the project that I could not do this alone. While I made every single photograph alone, I always needed someone to accompany me on the shoots because of the various situations, people, etc, I might have come across.

Bowling alley, Homowack Lodge
Courtesy Marisa Scheinfeld

TWM: What was your greatest satisfaction?
MS: Accomplishing what I set out to do from the start—make and publish a book of these photographs.

TWM: Is there anything you wish you’d done differently?
MS: Not really, but there are about three images in particular that I wished I would have not cut from the book. If we ever do a reprint, they are going in.

TWM: Will these photos show in a gallery or exhibition?
MS: Curated by Yeshiva University Museum and myself, The Borscht Belt: Revisiting the Remains of America’s Jewish Vacationland is available as a traveling exhibition. The exhibition is ready to install and exists of thirty-two (25” x 35” in size) custom framed images including a selection of rephotographic (now and then) diptych pieces and a large selection of Borscht Belt ephemera for display in a case. Ephemera items consist of various 2-D and 3-D objects from my own collection and include items such as postcards, brochures, menus, original photographs, ashtrays, photo viewers, pens, clothing items, and even soap. The exhibition is accompanied by three main text panels, docent materials and programming options. Overall, the exhibition can be easily tailored to each venue’s vision, size constraints, along with the curator or director’s selection. The exhibition has been on view at the Center for Jewish History, the Yiddish Book Center, the Gershman Y, and I am currently amid exhibition plans with the New York State Museum. In addition, all photographs from the series are for sale and are available in multiple sizes.

 

 

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Author’s Notebook | Choices by J.E. Laufer

J.E. Laufer

Last year, I spent several months interviewing refugees from the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 on behalf of the American Hungarian Foundation. When I received news of J.E. Laufer’s account of her Jewish family’s escape, I was immediately intrigued. Following is The Whole Megillah interview with Choices author J.E. Laufer.

The Whole Megillah (TWM): Why did you write and publish this book now?
J.E. Laufer (JEL): Two things prompted me to write this book. As they say, timing is everything! First my mom was turning 87 and I wanted to complete her story as a gift for her 90th birthday. She is a very sharp women and I wanted to make sure I was able to capture the fine details while she was still well. At the same time, I reconnected with the women who had helped my family at this very desperate time. She was 16 then and now a grandmother in her 70’s. She was willing to give me her part of the story as well.

TWM: Did anything surprise you in your research?
JEL: Yes, several things surprised me. I knew many Hungarians had fled at that time but I did not realize it was 200,000! I always thought that my dad was the one who had instigated the idea to leave and discovered that it was my mom. This made perfect sense, when she explained that none of her family had survived, so she was leaving no one behind. My dad had a brother and mother who were still alive and chose to remained in Hungary.

TWM: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book? The most satisfying?
JEL: The most challenging aspect was the actual day-to-day writing and the constant re-write. The emotional attachment was sometimes difficult since it was my family not just any family. I would often feel the pain of what they had gone through and after certain chapters, felt drained and need to take a break.

The most satisfying was learning so many critical details to this amazing story and of course, completing the task and seeing it in print!

TWM: Do you have a critique group? Does anyone serve as a reader for you?
JEL: No, I don’t have a critique group. My husband and several close friends, helped with a lot of the critiquing and editing. I am fortunate to have a cadre of friends who are readers and many of them teachers.

TWM: What led you to self publish vs. seeking a traditional publisher?
JEL: I have already successfully published several children’s books and I like the ability to manage the project. I created my own publishing company several years ago. I am a publisher.

TWM: Are you promoting this as young adult, adult, or both? Why?
JEL: I am promoting it as both. It is what I would call a 13 and up book. I feel that young adults will relate to several characters in the story, especially the 16 year old girl and the young soldier. The book is written in style, language and vocabulary that crosses this age group. This book is the right length and I believe, has enough action to keep all readers engaged.

 

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2017 Year of the Book | First Quarter Progress Report

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

Poetry: I entered my chapbook manuscript, Chicken Fat, into a Finishing Line Press contest. While it didn’t win or place, the publishers offered me publication. I’ve signed the contract, but I haven’t yet heard back about publication date or anything.

Creative Nonfiction: By taking an online class from Creative Nonfiction magazine, I’ve drafted one more chapter of my genealogical memoir, We Are Rock Candy: The Crystallization of a Jewish Family. I’ve signed up for another course and now have the opportunity to draft three more chapters (unless I decide to write something else).

I have another narrative nonfiction project with my agent and she’s been shopping that around. It went to an editorial committee last week and the committee would like to see the whole manuscript. That’s what I’ll be working on for the next few months.

Picture Books: I am working one-on-one with an outside editor on three picture book manuscripts. She’s reviewed the first one and I need to revise. I should hear back on the second one soon. I have one editor/publisher who is asking me for picture book manuscripts and I aim to work with her. Another editor from another house is also asking me for manuscripts, but I don’t think I have the right voice for that house.

Novel in Verse: I have a novel-in-verse manuscript awaiting revision. I am currently signed up to attend a Highlights workshop to continue that work.

Fiction: I have a YA novella that awaits revision. And today I heard from a publisher who, while rejecting my picture book manuscript, now wants me to write a historical fiction chapter book on the same subject. This is totally on speculation, but I’m willing to give it a shot in the name of Year of the Book.

Other projects: There’s at least one YA historical novel and a middle-grade biography that need revision. I have a new idea for a fun chapter book. My challenge has been finding the time to write and revise. My day-job status is likely in flux and until that resolves, I don’t know what my schedule will be.

I’ve given up on an academic book based on last year’s master’s thesis—for the moment.

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

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Literary Offerings into the World | April 2017 Report

During the academic semester, there’s a trend: I don’t write or send out that much material. I hope to remedy that after mid-May.

Note: Since Poetry Has Value no longer offers the fabulous guest posts I looked forward to reading each month, I’ve changed the name of The Whole Megillah‘s blog post series to Literary Offerings into the World.

Poetry: 1 submission (Ilanot Review), 1 acceptance (Allen Ginsberg Poetry Contest Honorable Mention and publication in Paterson Literary Review), and 4 rejections to report (Bennington Review, Silver Birch Press, Passages North, Noctua).

I am currently teaching an adult school class in ekphrastic writing taking place at the Montclair Art Museum and wrote two new poems last week focusing on Native American artwork and American artists influenced by Matisse. I’m also writing new poems at the monthly poetry workshop at the Kearny Public Library.

Year of the Book: My poetry chapbook, Chicken Fat, has been accepted for publication by Finishing Line Press. It’s targeted for August-September pre-sales and October publication.

Fiction: No activity, although I am working on a new short story that includes magical realism in Prague. No, it does not involve a Golem.

Creative Nonfiction: I am particularly excited about the essay I’ve sent to Agni, n+1, Orion, Image, J Journal, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Salmagundi. I have another essay ready to offer and two in revision. I’ll be generating yet another in May for the online class I’m taking.

Picture Books: 1 rejection (Calkins Creek). I have four mss. now in revision.

Academic: No activity.

Question 4U: What has your activity been like?

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SCBWI and PJ Library Team Up for Jewish Stories Award

The following comes from the SCBWI website:

SCBWI PJ Library Jewish Stories Award

SCBWI in partnership with PJ Library has established the Jewish Stories Award to encourage the creation of more high quality Jewish children’s literature. PJ Library®, a program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, sends the gift of free Jewish children’s books to more than 170,000 North American participants each month.


Deadline: Submissions will be accepted from September 1st 2017 through October 31st 2017 only.

Award: $2,500 will be awarded to the author of the manuscript deemed most promising for publication and for distribution by PJ Library. PJ Library will make every effort to partner with a publisher to have the manuscript published and to carry the book in the PJ Library program. The award is separate from and in addition to any monies received by the author from a publisher. The author will also receive tuition to the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York, as well as a transportation and accommodations stipend of up to $500.

Eligibility: The manuscript must be an original work of fiction or nonfiction written in English and geared toward children between the ages of 6 months and 8 years. Whether the manuscript exemplifies a Jewish value, takes place during a Jewish holiday, or addresses Jewish history, it must contain Jewish content. Reference books, books about the Holocaust, and books about the death of a close family member will not be considered. Text only and text with illustrations submissions are welcome. Text with illustrations submissions should include one finished piece of art and 2-3 sketches. The author must be a member of SCBWI, and may submit more than one manuscript for consideration, however manuscripts under contract will not be accepted.

Guidelines: All submissions will be accepted only via email at pjlibrary@hgf.org as PDF or Word documents with the subject line “SCBWI PJ Library Jewish Stories Award Submission” and with complete contact information (name, address, email address, and telephone number) in the body of the email. The PJ Library Book Selection Committee will determine the finalists and a three-member panel of judges comprised of a representative from PJ Library, a librarian or other leader in the children’s book field, and an author, will make the final selection. The winner will be announced at the 2018 SCBWI Winter Conference in New York.

Book ideas for PJ Library for ages 6 months through 3 years

Book ideas for PJ LIbrary for ages 4 through 8

Questions?: pjlibrary@hgf.org

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Gauging Your Interest in Two New Online History and Literature Courses

The Whole Megillah wants to gauge your interest in two new courses. If you’re interested in one of the following, please contact barbarakrasner(at)att(dot)net or comment below.

The Holocaust – A six-week online course that covers anti-Semitism across Europe in the nineteenth century through the aftermath of the Holocaust. I will provide readings from leading scholars.

Method: Private Facebook page

Cost: $300

Holocaust Children’s Literature – A four-week survey course of historical narratives about the Holocaust written for children and young adults. Emphasis will be placed on books published since 2010, including picture books, novels, and nonfiction. We’ll cover a range of Holocaust-experience categories ranging from occupation and flight to recovery.

You will have to access the books on your own.

Method: Private Facebook page

Cost: $200

Barbara Krasner holds an MA in History and teaches the Holocaust at William Paterson University in New Jersey. She also holds an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and served for four years on the prestigious Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee of the Association of Jewish Libraries. She teaches children’s literature at William Paterson University and is building a website and database of Holocaust children’s literature.

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Poet’s Notebook | Yermiyahu Ahron Taub

Yermiyahu Ahron Taub
Photo courtesy Pearl Gluck

I had the pleasure of getting to know Yermiyahu Ahron Taub through his collaboration with Ellen Cassedy. I was thrilled to meet up with him at AWP this past February in Washington, DC. His new poetry collection, The Education of a Daffodil, was hot off the press.

The Whole Megillah (TWM): When did you start writing poetry?
Yermiyahu Ahron Taub (YAT): Poetry came to me as a life force while I was adrift in a graduate program in history.  Reading three or four monographs in addition to numerous scholarly articles every week was both satisfying and satisfying.  The satisfaction resulted from “mastering” the dense arguments of various historical texts and historiographical schools, a kind of determined slogging through the epochs and their loquacious interpreters.  And yet that satisfaction proved fleeing.  I invariably had the sense that there was just another text waiting for me—that to be an expert truly, I had to read yet another book or at least one more article.  Rather than sifting through mountains of photocopies and scholarly tomes, I encountered in poetry a means of reaching (for)—in a few pointed lines and images—a different kind of truth.  The anxiety I felt in preparation for my history seminars and papers fell away.  Instead of being a yoke, poetic writing provided solace and renewal.

And yet, that academic training in history has held me in good stead.  Prominent historical figures—Rosa Luxemburg, Emma Goldman, the poet Rahel—as well as imagined activists and various characters placed in history, appear in my poetry.  And more broadly stated, historical concerns such as the Yiddish culture movement, labor movements, and the Holocaust also figure in my work.

TWM: Who inspires you?
YAT: The sources of my inspiration are widespread.  I read widely in fiction and poetry and have been an avid library patron since childhood.  I read for pleasure, insight, vision.  Some of my favorite poets, to name but a small few, are Anna Akhmatova, Nina Cassian, Rosario Castellanos, C.P. Cavafy, Jane Kenyon, Irena Klepfisz, and Minnie Bruce Pratt.  There are a number of poets in the Yiddish literary tradition whose work speaks to me, including Rokhl Fishman, Rokhl Korn, Anna Margolin, and Kadya Molodowsky.  Some of my favorite fiction writers include Pat Barker, Anita Brookner, Michelle Cliff, Janet Hobhouse, Brian Moore, James Purdy, Jean Rhys, Marilynne Robinson, Sinclair Ross, Elizabeth Taylor, and Colm Tóibín.  I am drawn to the arts generally and find that engaging visual art, listening to live musical performances, and seeing films help free my creative process.

I am inspired by those who work to make the world a better place through their words, actions, and presence—who fight for social justice globally and locally, who seek bridges or initiate dialogue across culture and interpersonal and familial divides.  Similarly, I am inspired by those who fight to overcome adversity in their own life, who find dignity and meaning on a small scale, in the every day.

TWM: What poem do you wish you’d written?
YAT: I don’t know if I’d say I wish I’d written them, but there are certainly poems that shimmer brightly in my consciousness.  They’re ones I return to regularly.  To name but a few, they include:

  • “The Last Toast” by Anna Akhmatova; translated by Stanley Kunitz with Max Hayward
  • “Lady of Miracles” by Nina Cassian; translated by Laura Schiff
  • “Ajedrez/Chess” by Rosario Castellanos; translated by Magda Bogin
  • “The Afternoon Sun” by C.P. Cavafy; translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrand
  • “Frying Trout while Drunk” by Lynn Emanuel
  • “Yo No Quiero Más Luz Que Tu Cuerpo Ante El Mío/I Want No More Light Than Your Body Facing Mine” by Miguel Hernández; translated by Michael Smith
  • “In Time of Plague” by Thom Gunn
  • “Having It Out with Melancholy” by Jane Kenyon
  • “Bashert” by Irena Klepfisz
  • “Leyve/Crazy Levi” by Rokhl Korn; translated by Seymour Levitan
  • “Coal” by Audre Lorde
  • “Metai/My Dead” by Rahel; translated by Robert Friend
  • “Just Once” by Anne Sexton

TWM: That’s some list! Your latest collection, The Education of a Daffodil, was published by Hadassa Word Press. How did you find them and what inspired this collection? 
YAT: I received an invitation to submit work from Elena Djima, an acquisitions editor at Hadassa Word Press.  I submitted this collection, and it was accepted for publication.  Incorporating Yiddish text into a manuscript is never without challenges and some of these poems are quite long, but Ms. Djima was supportive and flexible throughout the publication process.

My work moves from jotted down ideas to individual poems to full collections.  The bulk of this book was written during a residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA).  During the initial writing phase of a new project, I allow myself the freedom to create individual poems on whatever comes to me, to allow the words to flow freely and without interruption. As the writing continues and certain themes predominate, the focus of the collection emerges and a manuscript begins to take shape.

This particular collection was the result of an examination of emotional trauma long buried and my own work to understand better the toll that trauma was having on my body and my being in the world.  It then moved from that personal experience outwardly to fictionalized form.  It was also inspired by English literature.  The title character engages with the William Wordsworth poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” and the rhythms of the book play with the rhythms and cadences of English from a different time.  Certain English-language slang words for homosexual male, including “daffodil,” were also crucial sources of inspiration.

TWM: You’ve been nominated for a Pushcart award four times. What has that meant to you?
YAT: I’m honored to have my work recognized by various editors and publishers by those nominations and to know that my work speaks to others, that what I have written has touched a reader in some way.  Isn’t that what all writers seek?  And I am especially gladdened when I receive letters to that effect, knowing that someone has taken the time to write such a letter.

TWM: Is there one poem among those you’ve written that stands out above all others?
YAT: This is where I respond along the lines of “Could a parent name a favorite child?”  This question is a difficult one, obviously.  All of my poems have to pass some kind of internal test.  Do they work?  Are they complete?  Do they say what I’d like them to?  That said, some of my current favorites from The Education of a Daffodil include “Clarissa’s Convocation of Muses,” “The Problem of Cacophony,” “Varieties of Light,” “Before Dusk in the Herb Garden,” “Portrait of a Predecessor,” and “Movement in Black and White.”

TWM: What advice would you give aspiring poets?
YAT:

  • Clear out the noise in your head, whether that’s self-doubt, or the doubts and naysaying of others, or simply the many endless distractions of modern life.
  • Find a way into quiet. Make time to write regularly. There are very few writers who have the means to write literary work full-time. Don’t let exhaustion deplete your spirit.  Let your creativity sustain and strengthen you.  Seek out activities that help bring your creativity to the surface.  Be open to the mus(e)ic when it comes, and foster the conditions so that it can flourish when it does arrive.
  • Read widely. There can be no effective writing without reading the work of others.
  • Never let rejection discourage or stop you. All artists have to face rejection. In fact, all human beings do.  As a poet, one has to be “sensitive” to the world, but one also needs to be steely and determined.  Remember you can’t expect your work to speak to every reader.  Allow yourself time to recover from the sting of rejection and then return to the rejected manuscript after a period of time.  Re-examine it with a fresh, critical eye.  Can it be improved?  Or does it stand up well?  You’ll know.
  • Don’t focus too much on the career paths of other writers. Yes, it can look like everyone else is giving many readings, receiving the awards and prizes and grants and residencies, and having their work accepted into the most “prestigious” journals. Know that they too have struggled and been rejected.  Every one’s path is their own.  Your work will find a home.
  • Hone your voice and your project. While it’s essential to read the works of others, it’s equally crucial to develop your own voice. What are your concerns?  What motivates you?  How do you see the world?  What is your urgency?  How can those concerns be developed in textual form?
  • Be involved in literary community. Organize and participate in panel discussions, readings, and, conferences. And, again, engage with the work of other writers.  Celebrate the recognition of writers whose work you believe in.  Do what you can to get your work out, “network” to the extent possible, but cut yourself some slack, too.  Work on that balance between the solitude needed for creativity and the connectivity needed to bring your work out to the world.
  • Find the joy in writing, maximize its pleasure. Writing is hard work, but it also brings immense personal fulfillment.

About Yermiyahu Ahron Taub

Yermiyahu Ahron Taub is the author of five books of poetry, including most recently The Education of a Daffodil/Di bildung fun a geln nartstis (2017).  Tsugreytndik zikh tsu tantsn: naye Yidishe lider/Preparing to Dance: New Yiddish songs, a CD of nine of his Yiddish poems set to music, was released in 2014.  He was honored by the Museum of Jewish Heritage as one of New York’s best emerging Jewish artists and has been nominated four times for a Pushcart Prize and twice for a Best of the Net award.  His short stories have appeared in Jewish Fiction .net, The Jewish Literary Journal, Jewrotica, and Second Hand Stories PodcastWith Ellen Cassedy, he was the winner of the 2012 Yiddish Book Center Translation Prize for Oedipus in Brooklyn and Other Stories by Blume Lempel (Mandel Vilar Press and Dryad Press, 2016). Please visit his website at www.yataub.net.

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