Jewish Children’s Writer, Pnina Moed Kass
I first became acquainted with author Pnina Moed Kass when I read her novel, Real Time, which won the Sydney Taylor Book Award in 2004 and the National Jewish Book Award in 2005. Pnina was born in Belgium, educated in the United States, and has been living in Israel since 1968. She writes for both children and adults and has written picture books in English and Hebrew, including her popular series about a snail named Berele.
Pnina recently paid a visit to the U.S., and although our plans to meet face to face didn’t ultimately work out, she’s been gracious enough to field some questions from The Whole Megillah for the July 2010 Author’s Notebook.
TWM: How did you know when you were a writer?
PMK: Writing was something I did naturally, for as long as I can remember, like other kids were skaters, or dancers, or basketball players. Saying I’m a writer–now that’s another matter entirely! That utterance is a matter of self-confidence, pride, and not caring if the statement causes consternation, pity, or raised eyebrows. Even being published isn’t of much help. To be a writer and to declare oneself a writer is to hope that the statement is a provable fact and not a curse.
TWM: What did you read when growing up?
PMK: I read everything my two older brothers were reading–adventures–and everything I could physically reach in my local library. A wonderfully sympathetic librarian let me wander all the shelves. I read from Anna Karenina to Nancy Drew. I was too short to reach Austen. When I was a kid I read purely for the narrative. When I got older I realized what I had missed.
TWM: Have you been inspired by any writers?
PMK: I don’t know if “inspired” is the right word, probably “cowed” is a better description of my feelings. The seeming ease of the words on the page by the writers I loved left me feeling totally inadequate. To overcome that feeling is my daily battle. Some of them? Raymond Carver, William Steig, Kenneth Koch, William Styron, Robert Cormier.
TWM: What themes interest you the most and why?
PMK: Immorality, injustice, inequality–in other words, ethical issues. It even shows up (cleverly concealed!) in my eight Hebrew-language picture books.
TWM: What do you think are the three most important things for an author to know?
PMK: Revise, revise, revise.
TWM: What is your writing process?
PMK: Thoroughly robotic. A set time every day (after the gym and breakfast) and my mental calendar has a fixed date for completion. I allow myself very little leeway, though I do admit to relaxing this ridiculous regime every once in a while–like afternoon movies and meeting friends.
TWM: You recently attended the Association of Jewish Libraries convention
in Seattle. What was your biggest takeaway?
PMK: It reinforced my love of librarians as the most giving people in the world–of themselves and their knowledge.
TWM: Do you have a favorite book?
PMK: I have lots of books I love. Recently they have been: Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Best of It: New and Selected Poems by Kay Ryan, and Netherland by Joseph O’Neill.
Look for Pnina’s new book, The Five Story House.