Monday Media: Gail Levin on Lee Krasner

As spring turns to summer, we bring you a final podcast from last fall’s Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival. In this talk, Professor Gail Levin discusses her fascinating book Lee Krasner: A Biography.

This first-ever biography of Lee Krasner brings her out of the shadow of her formidable husband, the renowned painter Jackson Pollack. Levin reveals that Krasner was an independent woman of uncompromising genius, as well as a significant artist in her own right. Levin, an art historian and personal friend of Krasner, examines the evolution of a woman whose life was as dramatic and intriguing as her art.

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Monday Media: Charles King’s Odessa

Last fall Professor Charles King came to the DCJCC to discuss Odessa: Genius and Death in a City of Dreams as part of the Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival. This free event was The Bernard Wexler Lecture on Jewish History for 2011.

The port city of Odessa has been a gathering place of geniuses, villains, aristocrats, artists and political insurgents of every nationality, religion and social class. King traces the history and myths that have made the city one of the world’s most important multicultural centers for nearly three centuries, unfolding a mesmerizing tale that dramatizes the conflict between cosmopolitanism and nationalism, acceptance and ethnic zeal.

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Telling It Like It Is: Jews, Sports and Writing

With baseball season in full swing, enjoy this podcast from the Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival, Telling It Like It Is: Jews, Sports and Writing.

Former New York Times columnist and Emmy-winning television host Robert Lipsyte, author of the memoir An Accidental Sportwriter; historian John Bloom, author of the biography There You Have It:  The Life, Legacy, and Legend of Howard Cosell; and moderator Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post’s “D.C. Sports Bog” discussed sports, culture and modern media.

This event was part of the The Chaim Kempner Author Series, which brings authors of recently published books to the 16th Street J for the learning and enjoyment of the entire community, and was presented in partnership with the 16th Street J’s Sports Leagues.

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Podcast: Israel, Loose Nukes and the End of the World

With all the discussion around Israel, Iran and “the bomb,” this seems like the perfect time to share this riveting panel discussion, Israel, Loose Nukes and the End of the World, from the 2011 Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival.

Professor Avner Cohen, author of The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain with the Bomb, and journalist Ron Rosenbaum, author of How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III, sat down with distinguished journalist and former network correspondent Marvin Kalb to discuss the history and risks of Israel’s nuclear ambiguity and worst-case-scenarios in an age of atomic anxiety.

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Media Monday: Alicia Oltuski’s Precious Objects

Today’s podcast from the Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival features Alicia Oltuski’s fascinating talk on Precious Objects: A Story of Diamonds, Family, and a Way of Life.

Alicia Oltuski, a 26-year-old journalist and daughter of a diamond dealer, takes readers behind-the-scenes to reveal the shrouded inner workings of the diamond industry and some of its most fascinating characters. Combining interviews with family, friends, dealers, craftsmen, gemologists, scientists, detectives and entrepreneurs with historical research, Oltuski lifts the curtain on the extraordinary world of diamonds.

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Monday Media: Ursula Hegi Podcast

We’re excited to begin offering a new batch of podcasts from our 2011 Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival. In this recording from Saturday, October 29th, 2011, author Ursula Hegi talks about her newest book Children and Fire. Like her bestseller Stones from the River, the book is set in the fictional town of Burgdorf, Germany in the early days of the Third Reich. Hegi illuminates the beginnings of the iron fist of Nazism over Germany and its people, examining how one joyful and gifted teacher can become seduced by propaganda and encourage her 10-year-old students to join Hitler Youth.

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Our Annual Post In Which We Ask Who We Have To Sleep With To Get Philip Roth The Nobel Prize In Literature


We’ve complained in this space before that the Nobel committee isn’t the greatest fan of American literature. We’ve bemoaned the fact that Philip Roth probably isn’t going to win a dearly deserved Nobel Prize for Literature. In being denied this honor, one of Roth’s characters would probably observe that he would have had a better shot if he had grown up to be a doctor. Or a chemist. Or a physicist. Or an economist. Or whatever. Or just not Philip Roth.

Whatever. He didn’t win.


In the end, perhaps it is better that he doesn’t win. It’s not like he’s lacking for awards. The short list: Pulitzer, National Book Award (twice), Pen/Faulkner (three times), Pen/Saul Bellow Prize, the Man Booker International Prize. It’s not like his legacy needs validation from a bunch of cold Swedish fish. And it’s not hard to imagine a Roth-esque character: smart, accomplished, libidinous, persistent, lauded and yet still carrying the chip on his shoulder he’s been lugging around since the day he took his first step in the Weequahic section of Newark, New Jersey; who relishes the annual rejection from Stockholm; who needs to not win the Nobel prize every year;  who needs to have at least that one door still closed to him in order to retain that sense of remaining on the outside. Sven and Gunnar aren’t impressed with the forging of identity in post-war America? Well screw them. Horace Engdahl and company don’t think a literary output producing compelling works more than fifty years apart warrants the Nobel? They can suck his StiegLarsson.

Nathan Zuckerman, Neil Klugman, Alexander Portnoy — those guys would have been bemused that the Nobel committee wants nothing to do with them.  (And yet. With the same breath that they dismissed ever needing, ever wanting, ever coveting a Nobel; they admit to themselves that it wouldn’t be undeserved, wouldn’t be grandiose to expect, wouldn’t be beyond the scope of reasonable aspirations to think that one morning when, slumbering in the pre-dawn the phone pierces his slumber, and in the moment he catapults his half-dead arm — some sort of cramp from sleeping funny — he wonders as it arcs toward the handset, could this be the call from Stockholm, and if it is, will it be rude to ask them to wait while he runs to the bathroom to pee, because, frankly it is normally the highlight of his morning and while Nobels are fine, certain rituals ought to be respected and observed.) Those guys would rebound from Nobel rejection by sleeping with someone inappropriate — and likely not Jewish.

So, it’s another year with no Nobel for the seminal American-Jewish author of the last century and it turns-out a decent chunk of the current century as-well. That’s fine.

He’s doing just fine without it.

We’re Number Two! We’re Number Two!

From the Washington City Paper’s Best of DC:

Staff Pick: Best Place for Readings

Best: Politics & Prose

Second-best: Washington D.C. Jewish Community Center

If you’re an author who wants to give a reading in the District, Politics & Prose is where you want to be. But if you’re an author who wants to give a reading in the District, it’s not where you’re gonna be—not unless you’re attached to a large publishing house or have achieved a kind of cult status you can never hope to attain. (Hell, Roberto Bolaño got an event there a few months back, and he’s dead.) That’s not to say that the DCJCC has a lousy lineup for readings: Its annual festival, Nextbook series, and other events attract top talents like Etgar Keret, Rivka Galchen, Bernard-Henri Levy, and Shalom Auslander. But its focus on Jewish culture and authors at least gives aspiring writers a more specific theme to aspire to. Still have to be brilliant, though. 

In retrospect, perhaps Philip Roth shouldn’t have called the protagonist in American Pastoral “The Swede”

Why Philip Roth won’t be winning the Nobel Prize for Literature anytime soon….

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) — Bad news for American writers hoping for a Nobel Prize next week: the top member of the award jury believes the United States is too insular and ignorant to compete with Europe when it comes to great writing.

Counters the head of the U.S. National Book Foundation: “Put him in touch with me, and I’ll send him a reading list.”

As the Swedish Academy enters final deliberations for this year’s award, permanent secretary Horace Engdahl said it’s no coincidence that most winners are European.

“Of course there is powerful literature in all big cultures, but you can’t get away from the fact that Europe still is the center of the literary world … not the United States,” he told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview Tuesday.

He said the 16-member award jury has not selected this year’s winner, and dropped no hints about who was on the short list. Americans Philip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates usually figure in speculation, but Engdahl wouldn’t comment on any names.

Speaking generally about American literature, however, he said U.S. writers are “too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture,” dragging down the quality of their work.

“The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature,” Engdahl said. “That ignorance is restraining.”

Darin Strauss Gets Late Late

He doesn’t do much reading in this interview, but you can appreciate the absurdity of the situation when Darin Strauss somehow ends up as a guest on Craig Ferguson’s Late Late Show. Expect a slightly more literary experience when Darin reads from More Than It Hurts You on Sunday, September 21 at the Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival.

Darin actually recounts the experience on a blog he wrote for the summer leg of his book tour.

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