Book Trailer: Art Spiegelman’s Metamaus

Yesterday in the literary programming office we had a fascinating conversation on what it takes to be a literary genius. It it enough to be a master of your craft? Or do you have to do something completely groundbreaking?

We all agreed, however that whatever your definition, Art Spiegelman’s got the goods.

Legend has it that years ago when Art Spiegelman came here for Nextbook DC, he chain smoked throughout the entire lecture. This time around he’s promised to keep it smoke-free, so  I can only imagine that he’ll be covered in nicotine patches as he discusses his newest work, Metamaus: A Look Inside a Modern Classic, Maus on March 26 as part of Authors Out Loud.

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. 

Janice Erlbaum Goes Back to the Homeless Shelter

There will be less makeup involved, but that doesn’t mean you should skip Janice Erlbaum reading from Have You Found Her: A Memoir, Tuesday night at 7:30 pm. Her book trailer, below, is one of the better ones we’ve seen. Click here to register.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The Detail of a David Grossman Inscription

I sat enthralled today – listening to the “lecture” by the brilliantly human, jet-lagged David Grossman (a co-presentation of Nextbook at the Washington DCJCC and American University’s Center for Israel Studies program).  In my opinion, Grossman is the resonating moral center of the universe – the model of public introspection.  So he starts with a story about a short, elderly character in a novel of his and the “interiority” of a writer struggling to inhabit and be inhabited by characters who are totally different from his own experience and persona. David was sitting on a Tel Aviv-Jerusalem bus six years after he wrote about this character and suddenly heard a section he wrote about her read aloud on the radio news “culture corner” that the driver was playing.  A particular detail of an extra wooden pedal he’d given the character for her Singer sewing machine struck his creative memory – at just the moment that the driver changed the station to the delight of his fellow passengers.  Grossman absorbed the insult to his book and to himself – and then jumped back into looking at what he had written about this short woman’s need for the booster pedal, as the kind of detail that is a link in a chain of writer’s attentions to human needs that make up the human texture of a story.  He was then off onto a tour de force exploration of the interior journeys he experiences moving between small character detail and the enormities of parents and children, the Shoah, and the Israeli-Palestinian entanglement, among other topics and passions

There is joy and despair and disappointment in every life, in every world drama.  Grossman writes and talks brilliantly about the joy and despair – the human challenge of it all.  He is never a disappointment.  So I purchased his novel The Smile of the Lamb, to have it signed – and exchanged a few sentences with him about the kind of dialogues we do here at the 16th Street J.  He said, oh, I will sign it and write something. After he signed, I asked him a bit more about how the detail of characters and the world situations come to him and influence each other.  (It happens as it happens.  It’s not planned).  Then a quick L’hitraot and I snuck away to read this inscription:

“To Stephen: For every thing you are doing to bring the two people to listen to each other. Thank You! David Grossman”

Thanked by David Grossman for maybe a glint in my eyes – a quick expression of yearning and purpose!  I’ll read the novel, pay attention to character detail and the big picture – and cherish those words of encouragement always.

Stephen Stern is the Director of Dialogues and Public Affairs at the Washington DCJCC.

Peter Manseau’s “Songs for the Butcher’s Daughter” excerpt

Happy to read today that Peter Manseau’s debut novel Songs for the Butcher’s Daughter is excerpted on Peter, the co-founder of the religion website Killing the Buddha and author of the memoir Vows: The Story of a Priest, a Nun and Their Son, will be reading from his book along with poet Janet Kirchheimer at the Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival on Thursday, September 18 at 7:00 pm.

The excerpt from the book deals with the famous blood libel that helped spark the Kishinev pogrom, which serves as a central plot point in the novel’s narrative.

Of course! Who else, oh wise men of Dubossary? Who but the Jews would kill a boy and leave him on the roadside for a Christian peasant to piss on? Who but the Jews would be so stealthy in their motives yet so careless in their execution? Who but the Jews would build their own gallows, tie their own nooses, and hire the hangmen to stretch their necks? All these years later, it remains baffling to me that Jews know this same lie has been told for a thousand years, while Christians hear it each time as a revelation. That we should be judged and murdered by such imbeciles is sorely vexing. With a Cossack’s boot on his neck, a Moldovan dirt farmer would strain himself to ask who was the Jew that knocked him down.

But such is the world. And such was our corner of it in those days that provisions traveled with difficulty over our rattling roads, but words moved like fire. Through the next three months, as I grew in my mother’s womb, the lies of Dubossary impregnated our city and likewise grew, waiting for the day when they might burst forth wailing in blood.

Read the full excerpt here

This Week at the 16th Street J

A sampling of program highlights from the upcoming week at the 16th Street J:

Monday, May 19

About The Body7:30 pm–The Screening Room presents: About The Body. When a terrorist attack occurs, the dead are mourned, the calls for vengeance are issued and eventually, the news cycle churns on. But what of those whose lives, whose physical bodies have been forever changed by the trauma? How does a young woman regain a sense of comfort and joy in her damaged body? This extraordinary documentary follows 12 such young women, recovering from injuries sustained in attacks, participating in a movement workshop run by Israeli Prize winning dancer Ohad Naharin. Following the screening will be a discussion with Steve Shafarman, creator of FlexAware™ for movement and healing.

Tuesday, May 20

7:30 pm–Nextbook presents: Amy Bloom. The National Book Award finalist (for her premiere book of stories, Come To Me) and psychoanalyst reads from her most recent novel Away. The final Nextbook event of the season.

Wednesday, May 21

7:30 pm–Introduction to Judaism. One of our most popular classes begins a new 6-week session covering the basics of Jewish ethics, philosophy and observances. If Wednesdays don’t work for you consider the Thursday night session beginning June 5.

Thursday, May 22

6:00 pm–Step-N-Sculpt with Lynda. Memorial Day is around the corner. The beach beckons. Are you ready?

Sunday, May 25

7:30 pm–The Chaim Kempner Author Series Presents: Jewish Major Leaguers. Who have they been? What have they accomplished? And why do we care so much? Featuring: Mark Lerner, Principal Owner of the Washington Nationals, Stan Kasten, President of the Washington Nationals, Dr. Martin Abramowitz, President of Jewish Major Leaguers, Inc., and Aviva Kempner, director of the award-winning documentary The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg.

This Week at the 16th Street J

A flurry of activity just prior to the holiday of Passover which begins this Saturday…

Monday, April 14

A Hebrew LessonThe Screening Room Presents: A Hebrew Lesson with director David Ofek–Meet the director of the acclaimed Israeli documentary No. 17. While that film examined Israeli society through the prism of a terrorist attack and one of its unidentified victims, his latest film tackles a similar topic through the experiences of those trying to adjust to Israeli society in an ulpan–an intensive Hebrew-language school.

Tuesday-Friday, April 15-18

The Price by Arthur Miller – Final Performances Before Passover. The holiday means this is your last chance to catch the Prosky family in Theater J’s acclaimed production. In addition to evening performances Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; there are matinees both Wednesday and Sunday at noon.

Thursday, April 17

JewfaceNextbook Presents: Jody Rosen at Busboys & Poets–Rosen is the curator of the new CD Jewface, a remarkable collection of popular “ethnic” songs from the 1905-1922. The songs were often gross caricatures of Jewish stereotypes: big nosed, greedy businessmen, nebishy immigrants or romantic weaklings. There’s a catch though, the songs were mostly written, produced and performed by Jews for a largely Jewish audience. Among them were some of the Jewish legends of Tin Pan Alley including Irving Berlin, Eddie Cantor and Fanny Brice (one can even hear the opening bars of Berlin’s God Bless America in the cringe-inducingly titled When Mose With His Nose Leads the Band). These songs, recovered off of 78rpm discs and wax cylinders, are of course first-cousins to other “race” songs of the period, most notoriously, minstrel songs. Rosen, the author of White Christmas: The Story of an American Song unpacks the cultural history of the songs and interprets their modern significance.

Sunday, April 20

Annual Second Night Community Seder–Come celebrate the second night of Passover with new and old friends at the Washington DCJCC. Our welcoming seder will be lead again by Cantor Maurice Singer and is open (with pre-registration) to anyone who wishes to attend. Next year in Jerusalem, but this year at 16th and Q.

In Case You Missed It: Ori Z. Soltes on the Jewish Abstract Expressionists After the Holocaust

One of the highlights of last night’s Nextbook lecture by Ori Z. Soltes on his new book The Ashen Rainbow: Essays on the Arts and the Holocaust, was his discussion of the split that occured in the early 1950s between the Chromaticists (Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, Adolph Gottleib) and the Explosionists (Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning) of Abstract Expressionism. Focusing on the former group, Professor Soltes remarked on the preponderance of Jewish artists and expounded specifically on Newman’s “The Name II.”

Barnett Newman.

The eye is drawn into the glaring center of this all-white painting, trisected by two thin vertical lines into an apparent triptych. Those conversant with the Jewish tradition would be aware, moreover, that, as God’s ineffable Name is never uttered outside of prayer by Orthodox Jews, references to the Divinity are offered in Hebrew by the circumlocution “The Name.” Such a viewer would thus know that a work called “The Name” offers not only an instance of reunifying the world on the microcosm of the canvas in simple visual terms, but is intended to solve the implied generations’ old problem of the Jewish artist: where do I fit into western art which has been, for so many centuries Christian art? By appropriating that most Christological of formats, the triptych, but replacing the image of the Crucified Christ or of the Madonna and Christ Child, flanked by saints, with nothing but whiteness–the absence of color (the absence of that element so fundamental to painting in its traditional, pre-constructivist form) at the same time, by paradox, in being most akin of all pigments to light which is the totality of color–Newman has (symbolically) represented, without representing, the God that cannot be visually represented for Jews. We stare at the absolute absence of “thingness” that at the same time time is the source and therefore the totality of all things. In the post-Holocaust era , the work puns notonly on the matter of God’s presence or absence–the ultimate theological Holocaust question–but in particular the Christian God of Mercy.”

Excerpt from The Ashen Rainbow: Essays on the Arts and the Holocaust (Eshel Books) by Ori Z. Soltes.

This Week at the 16th Street J

A sampling of what’s available this week at the 16th Street J:

In Case You Missed It: James Kugel’s How To Read The Bible

James Kugelnextbook



Last night over 150 people braved the icy streets and sidewalks and made their way to the 16th Street J to hear James Kugel speak about his new book How To Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture as a part of our Nextbook program. From 1982-2003 Kugel was the Starr Professor of Hebrew Literature at Harvard University and one of his former students in attendance last night said that his lecture was a neat condensation of many of the major themes from his popular course on the Bible and its interpreters. Leavened by humor and amusing anecdotes, Professor Kugel outlined how our conception of the bible was shaped by early commentators to suit their own purposes and how elements that we consider part-and-parcel of certain biblical narratives are really the work of those early interpreters. He then outlines how much of modern scholarship has been about explicating the sources of these early interpretations and outlining how many parts of what we consider original to the bible have origins in earlier narratives. Taking this out of the realm of ivory tower academics and into the realm of people who engage with the bible as an essential text, Professor Kugel writes:

Modern readers of the Bible are thus caught between two opposite ways of reading. On the one hand, the ancient interpreters’ way is crucial for what most people still wish to believe about the Bible and its message. On the other hand, the way of modern scholars, which seems to make good, scientific sense, has undermined a great deal of what those ancient interpreters said. So what are we to do? If we adopt the modern scholars’ way of reading, in a very real sense the whole Bible will be undone — much of its ethical instruction, its basic commandments, prophetic visions, and heartfelt prayers will turn out to be something other than what they have always seemed; indeed, the divine inspiration of all of Scripture will be seen to be undermined. But surely we cannot simply hide our heads in the sand and pretend that modern scholarship does not exist. And so an enormous question now poses itself to both Jews and Christians: How to read the Bible? That is the subject of this book.

Don’t miss the upcoming Nextbook event with Ori Z. Soltes speaking about Art and the Holocaust on Monday, March 10. He will read from his book The Ashen Rainbow:Essays on the Arts and the Holocaust.

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