The Forverts’s Rukhl Schaechter once heard a Yiddish professor complain that his American students knew nothing about Stalin’s execution of 13 Soviet Jews, which took place in August 1952. Even more discouraging, he added, was their “complete lack of interest” in the Yiddish culture that once thrived in the Former Soviet Union.
Two days before the premiere of “The Twenty-Seventh Man,” Schaechter talked to author Nathan Englander about this phenomenon and what inspired him, a self-proclaimed Yankee from Long Island, to write about it.
Rukhl Schaechter: What inspired you to write about Stalin’s execution of Soviet Yiddish writers?
Nathan Englander: I guess it’s because I read a lot, and I believe in imagined worlds. I learned about that period when I was in Israel, in my junior year abroad at Hebrew University, and the Iron Curtain was about to fall. My teacher, Edith Frankel, who was a Russian studies expert, mentioned it as an aside. I thought it was strange that no one talked about it, and I felt that these writers deserved a story about them. So I waited a few years. It was shocking to me that this nefarious event occurred and because of it, a whole world was destroyed, and yet no one wrote about it. When I began working on the story myself, I discovered there was almost no information, just an entry here and there in the Encyclopedia Judaica.
Israeli writer Etgar Keret and American author Nathan Englander have both been shortlisted for the 2012 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the biggest prize in the world for a short story collection. Keret was nominated for “Suddenly a Knock on the Door,” and Englander received a nod for “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank.”
There are a total of six finalists for the award. The other four are Kevin Barry of Ireland, Fiona Kidman of New Zealand, Sarah Hall of the UK, and Lucia Perillo of the U.S. This is Keret’s second time being shortlisted, and Englander has two chances of winning the award, since he translated much of Keret’s collection — and if a translation wins, the author and the translator share the prize.
This is the eighth year that the €25,000 ($31,500) prize, for the best original short story collection published in English by a living author, is being awarded. It is a gift of the Munster Literature Centre and will presented at the Cork International Short Story Festival in September. The award will be announced this summer, as early as July 5.
The award is named for Frank O’Connor, an Irish author from Cork, who produced more than 150 works in his lifetime, before dying in Dublin at age 62 in 1966. Previous winners have been Haruki Murakami (2006), Jhumpa Lahiri (2008) and Edna O’Brien (2011).
Author Etgar Keret with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo by Tal Cohen.
It’s become a tradition since 2009 that in honor of Israel’s Hebrew Book Week, Haaretz publishes its “Writers Edition.” For this unique edition, all the paper’s reporters disappear and are replaced by well-known Israeli, Middle Eastern, Jewish and Jew-ish authors and poets. This year, 53 noted writers cover everything from breaking news to sports to the weather report.
The depressing main headline, “Netanyahu says there’s no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” is for a political interview author Etgar Keret did with the Prime Minister. The great Israeli poet Natan Zach writes an opinion piece on why he thinks Gilad Shalit will never return home. Nathan Englander gets an exclusive interview with Tony Kushner, the first time he has spoken publicly since the controversy over his receiving an honorary degree from CUNY. On the lighter side, Nicole Krauss reflects on her nostalgia for brick and mortar book stores, and Dorit Rabinyan tries her hand at sportswriting.
Durham, N.C. is not an easy place to be a non-conformist. It is the home of Duke University, notorious for its male lacrosse team’s behaving badly and its “Cameron Crazies,” obsessed basketball fans. Even in January 2011, when the Durham public schools need to make up a snow day, school is scheduled for Saturday, Jewish students notwithstanding.
Yet Durham was, for over 50 years, home to Reynolds Price, who died January 20 at age 77. A revered American writer, Price authored over 20 volumes of novels, poetry, memoirs and translations, as well as the lyrics for two songs with fellow North Carolinian James Taylor. As a teacher at Duke, Price was unafraid to publicly critique the school’s anti-intellectual ambiance in a 1992 lecture. He was also openly gay, though he preferred the term “queer,” and was openly what he called an “outlaw Christian.”