Introducing The Whole Megillah Book Club

A New Year, A New Mission to Create a Community of Jewish Book Readers

Now that 2018 is here, I’m happy to announce the formation of The Whole Megillah Book Club. Membership is free. Every two months, I’ll announce the name of a book we’ll read. This could be fiction or nonfiction, adult or young reader–but always a book of Jewish content. I’ll be glad to consider your requests as well. I’d like to start with the YA Sydney Taylor Book Award winner, Antonio Iturbe’s The Librarian of Auschwitz.

We’ll meet on Facebook on The Whole Megillah community page to discuss. If you’re interested, please comment below or send me an email at barbarakrasner(at)att(dot)net.

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And the Award Goes to…|2018 National Jewish Book Awards and Sydney Taylor Book Awards

January is the month the Jewish Book Council and the Association of Jewish Libraries announce the results of months of reading and committee deliberations of the previous year’s publications. For 2018, click on the following links to learn who won for their 2017 books:

National Jewish Book Awards

Sydney Taylor Book Awards

Hearty congratulations to all the winners!

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Poet’s Notebook | Lesléa Newman, author of new collection, Lovely

Photo by Mary Vazquez

The Whole Megillah (TWM): How does the Lovely collection differ from your previous collections?
Lesléa Newman (LN): Each of my two most recent collections, I Carry My Mother and October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard  consists of a book-length series of poems with a narrative arc that tells a story. In fact, I Carry My Mother can be considered a memoir-in-verse and October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard can be considered a historical novel-in-verse. Lovely  is different in that the poems do not tell a single story; they tell many stories. There are poems about childhood, poems about family relationships, political poems, love poems, poems about loss and grief, you know the usual poetic topics.

TWM: The poems for Mary Grace Newman Vazquez are just, to borrow from the title of this collection, lovely. You dedicate the book to her. Has this collection then been a labor of love?
LN: All poetry is a labor of love. Poetry is my first love and my longest lasting love. I started writing it when I was about 8 years old and have never stopped.

TWM: The poems here represent a wide variety of forms, including ghazal and villanelle. Which comes first to you–the content or the form? Do you have any preferences for form? Do you experiment with form before deciding on a final version?
LN: The content definitely dictates the form. When I start a new poem, it is formless. Often I have no idea what I am going to write about. Eventually, if I am lucky, something interesting starts happening on the page. I absolutely love formal poetry. The forms are in my blood, as I have been reading them and writing in them for decades. It’s a pretty organic process. While I am exploring a particular subject, a particular form just makes sense. For example, in “My Mother Cups Her Hand,” I am writing about one of the last days of my mother’s life. The emotions are so enormous, they needed to be reeled in by the constraints of the villanelle. Otherwise they’d be too overwhelming. In “To Have And To Hold” I chose the triolet with its repeating lines because I kept coming back to the importance of the date, May 17, 2004, when same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts. I wanted to repeat that fact again and again and again because it is so important.

TWM: In her back cover blurb, poet Molly Peacock comments on your use of repetition. Can you comment on that? You not only use repetition as dictated by certain forms, but use it freely in other poems.
LN: I grew up on Dr. Seuss, a true master of repetition. I use repetition in both my children’s books and my poetry. Some things bear repeating! I pay particular attention to rhythm and meter in my poetry, which are both close relatives of repetition. Repetition is the perfect way to emphasize the important matters of a poem.

TWM: When did you start writing poetry? Who inspires you?
LN: I started writing when I was very young, about eight years old. I got serious when I was in high school (or as serious as a teenager can get). I started sending out my work very early, and when I was 19, I received my first acceptance from Seventeen Magazine. I have been greatly inspired by my mentors, Grace Paley and Allen Ginsberg, may they both rest in peace, as well as contemporary poets including Patricia Smith, Ellen Bass, Nikki Finney, Richard Wilbur, Stanley Kunitz, Billy Collins, Tim Seibles, and too many others to name.

TWM: Several poems in this collection demonstrate playfulness. How did you come up with the idea for “My Mother’s Stories,” using the names of soap operas? My mother called them her stories, too. I’m wondering, too, about “According to Bread.” How did that come to be?
LN: It’s funny that you should ask about those two poems. “My Mother’s Stories” was written at the request of a friend, Elizabeth Searle, who was editing an anthology about soap operas. I did a search of soap operas and the titles were so great, they begged to be included in a found poem. “According to Bread” was written because when I was serving as the poet laureate of Northampton, MA I was asked to read a poem at the annual “Bread Festival” which is put on by Hungry Ghost Bakery (who by the way bakes the best bread ever). I started playing around with puns, and the poem is the result. I do my best to honor all requests!

TWM: So many of your poems, while personal, speak to the universal experience. One of these for me is “Maidel.” I could just hear my own mother saying the exact same things. It’s a prose poem. In your drafts, was it always a prose poem?
LN: Yes, this particular piece, though considered by some to be a piece of flash fiction or a short-short story, is, to my mind, a prose poem. It came about on a day when I had just finished a piece of writing and had no idea what to write next (which happens to me more than one would think; my biggest writing challenge is coming up with ideas). I just started scribbling in a notebook and my mother’s voice appeared in my head. It was great fun to remember all the things she used to say. At the time (during my turbulent adolescence) I found her words annoying, and sometimes even enraging. Now I find them endearing and amusing. Oh, how I miss her!

TWM: What advice do you have for aspiring poets?
LN: Read as much as possible, as widely as possible. Study formal poetry, even if it’s not your thing. As I tell my students (and myself) “If it was good enough for Shakespeare, it’s good enough for you.” Write every day. Go to as many readings as possible. Become an active member of your literary community. Don’t submit your work; instead offer it. That way it can never be rejected; though it may be declined. Find or start a writer’s group and listen to what others have to say about your work. Revise, revise, revise. Fall in love with language and it will fall in love with you.

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Sign Up Now! New Online Workshops from The Whole Megillah

What better time to focus on your writing when the winds are blowing all those snowflakes to your front step? The Whole Megillah is proud to yet again 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: January 15, 2018

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: January 15, 2018

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: January 22, 2018

Multi-Genre Workshop

In this five-week online workshop, I’ll supply you with exclusively Jewish prompts and we’ll comment on each other’s work. With any prompt, choose to generate fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or some combination. The choice is yours.

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

Start Date: January 22, 2018

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, was published by Finishing Line Press in November 2017 and her new chapbook, Pounding Cobblestone, is forthcoming from Aldrich Press. 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 in New Jersey 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 and to register, contact Barbara at barbarakrasner(at)att(dot)net or reply to this post with a comment.

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2017 Year-End Assessment & 2018 Goals

goal-settingIt’s my usual activity around this time of year to take stock of what I accomplished during the year and formulate goals for the coming year.

Taking stock of the previous year

I ask myself the following questions:

  • What’s worked
  • What hasn’t worked
  • What do I wish I had done more of
  • What do I wish I had done less of
  • What gets in the way of my creative writing

What’s Working

  • Working one-on-one with mentor poet Matthew Lippman
    • I generate one new poem a week, read a broad array of poets, and Matthew’s helped me organize two chapbooks, both of which have found publication pretty easily
  • Writing short, whether that’s essays for adults or articles for young readers
  • Teaching at area colleges and universities
  • Reviewing Holocaustkidlit titles for AJL and JBC
  • Taking online courses to sharpen my writing practice and generate new work

What’s Not Working

  • Attending face-to-face workshops—While wonderful for craft and networking, they’re just too expensive for my meager budget

What I Wish I Had Done More of

  • Write more poetry
  • Send out more work more frequently
  • Find a supportive academic community
  • Offer more online workshops through The Whole Megillah
  • Pay attention to my intuition about people and projects

What I Wish I Had Done Less of

  • Putting my students ahead of my personal health

What Gets in the Way of My Creative Working

  • The need to keep a roof over my head

The Big 2017 Accomplishments

  • Launched
  • Applied for and was accepted into a PhD program in Holocaust & Genocide Studies
  • Started to teach History (The Holocaust) at a four-year university
  • Ended a toxic 45-year friendship
  • Placed two poetry chapbooks with publishers
  • Discovered my voice as a “poet of tragedy” (thank you, CPY!)
  • Participated in inaugural Tent Jewish Children’s Literature program
  • Published my first academic article (about one of Newark’s Jewish cemeteries)

2018 goals

  • Last year, I named 2017 as the Year of the Book. I’m keeping that theme for 2018, because certain teaching opportunities hinge on book publication.
  • Place my two novels in verse
  • Draft a new novel in verse
  • Complete revisions on my YA Holocaust novella and send it out into the world
  • Pursue a higher level of poetry and prose publication
  • Generate 52 new poems (aside from the novels in verse) and 6 new essays
  • Be nominated for a Pushcart Award
  • Pursue Carolee Bennett’s idea of poetry adventures. Just one for a start.
  • Begin the PhD program and find a way to pay for it

How did your 2017 work for you and what are your 2018 goals?

Let us hear from you. After the end of each quarter, I’ll give you all a status of how I’m doing with 2018 as another Year of the Book.


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Literary Offerings into the World | December & Year-End 2017 Report

As promised, once the fall semester ended, I was able to send out some work.

Poetry: I sent packets of poems to 11 journals (Whale Road Review, Rattle, The Common, Museum of Americana, Green Mountains Review, Lascaux Review, Foundry, Black Warrior Review, IDK Magazine, Diagram, Exit 13). I entered three poems in a contest and my chapbook, Pounding Cobblestone, in one contest and submitted to one publisher. The publisher offered me a contract. When I receive the countersigned document, I’ll reveal the details. 2 rejections (Lascaux Review and Potomac Review). 0 acceptances of individual poems. I continue to work on weekly poems with my poetry mentor.

Fiction: 4 submissions of one flash fiction story I wrote earlier this year (Flash Fiction Magazine, Typehouse, Rumble Fish Quarterly, Hobart). However, one of these publications in its online version wrote “Forward” instead of “Foreword.” That makes me antsy. 0 acceptances, 0 rejections. I was inspired to submit by a conversation with The Whole Megillah’s Online Fiction workshop about flash fiction.

Creative Nonfiction: 5 submissions of a revised essay (Yemassee, 1966, Souvenir, Southern Indiana Review, Persimmon Tree), 0 acceptances, 0 rejections. I have one essay in progress, now with my Food Memoir instructor for feedback. Starting January 8 I’m taking another online essay/memoir course at Creative Nonfiction Magazine and should generate another three essays.

Other December 2017 activities: I completed the Food Memoir class and that dredged up all kinds of memories. My agent submitted my Holocaust novel in verse to a publisher. I’ve revised an essay and (finally) revised my YA Holocaust novella. I gave a poetry reading in Red Bank, New Jersey to promote my chapbook, Chicken Fat. And, I completed another article for Cobblestone, the kids’ history magazine.

Coming up in January!

Finishing an educational title, continuing revisions on my novella, working on a couple of academic articles, preparing for the spring semester. I’d like to write for a couple more kids’ magazines. I’m still catching up on book reviews. If any of you is an expert at using Excel for statistical analysis, I’d love to hear from you!

2017 Year-End Statistics

I’m not very proud of these:

Poetry: 38 submissions, 5 acceptances, 33 rejections

Creative Nonfiction: 51 submissions, 4 acceptances, 32 rejections

Fiction: 8 submissions, 2 rejections

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Have You Applied for Tent Jewish Children’s Literature Retreat 2018?


















To learn more, click here. To read about the 2017 Tent program, click here. If you apply and are accepted, please drop a comment here to let us know!


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