Monday, August 27, 2007

What I did on my summer holidays

My talk in Halifax is postponed. Not one of us planning the event noticed that we had scheduled it for the first night of Rosh Hashanah. My calendar noted the following day as the day, and I forgot that Jewish holidays always start the night before. We are going to reschedule and this time will check carefully. Stay tuned.

I've had an extreme restful August - I conveniently got pneumonia! It was terrific; I couldn't go to the Y or do any work, just lay around reading - it was just like being at a cottage without tedious commute or lake. I enjoyed reading novels, which I don't usually have time for with everything else I have to read, and watched a DVD or two. (Including "God Grew Tired of Us" - a very beautiful documentary, highly recommended.) Now I am regaining my lungs and will start to venture out into the world - my time at my own particular holiday camp drawing to a close, with the summer.

It's a pleasure to announce that as well as my on-going classes at Ryerson, I will start teaching at U of T in the fall. I had a highly enjoyable meeting with Lee Gowan, the writer who runs the Continuing Studies writing programs at U of T. Their calendar already includes Autobiography, Memoir, Finding your Voice and Creative Non-fiction, my areas of expertise, so Lee encouraged me to develop a new course. A former student of both mine and Lee's came up with the idea of a course in Telling the Family Story, aimed specifically at writers who want to do what I did in the book: track fascinating family figures and commit family stories to paper. Lee has put the course in the Spring 2008 Calendar, but in the meantime Autobiography needed a teacher this term, so I start September 24th.

For those of you in Toronto, don't forget the Cabbagetown Festival, coming up Sept. 8 and 9, a glorious community event. For all of you, I wish you many end-of-summer peaches.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

in the fall and on the shelf

Two confirmed book-related events in the fall:
- on Wednesday September 12 I will be speaking in Halifax, Nova Scotia, at the Halifax Grammar School, the school co-founded by my father. This will be a true homecoming in many ways, organised by two of my oldest friends, Donna and Ian Thompson, helped by Frog Hollow Books and HGS's Gay Silverman. I am now contacting old Halifax friends to let them know, most importantly the extraordinary Muriel Duckworth, who is 97. Muriel, however, is at her summer home in Quebec and won't return to Halifax till the end of September. We had a long talk, and I, forty years younger, felt rejuvenated by her openness and joie de vivre. Her husband Jack ran the YMCA in Halifax and dragooned the Kaplan family into joining a volleyball club in 1960 or so; I did not enjoy having to play volleyball with my family but I have stayed a member of the Y in every Canadian city I've lived in ever since, and the Y here is one of the cornerstones of my life. I told her I owe it all to Jack and his volleyballs. She had a good laugh. How I'd love to see her, but I will get to see lots of other old friends and the Atlantic Ocean, which feels like a great old friend too, much missed.

- on October 7, I will be speaking at the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusets. I had to look at a map with a magnifying glass to see where the town is, though I know so much about the Center itself, started by the aimiable and unstoppable Aaron Lansky. Aaron began rescuing Yiddish books one by one from dumpsters, which led eventually to the building of the vast Center and the cataloguing of millions of Yiddish books. I will be very proud to speak at a place that honours writers and their books in such a vital way.

I forgot to mention one moment from my July trip to New York. My second cousin Lola and I went to a free klezmer concert outside at Lincoln Centre, and on the way stopped at the Barnes and Noble nearby. We enquired about the book and were told it was in the Judaica section, but I really couldn't believe that it would actually be there. But it was - my book, at the Barnes and Noble near Lincoln Centre. Lola even offered to buy it, but she already has a copy, and anyway, then it wouldn't be there any more - there was only one. So I gave it a little squeeze and put it back on the shelf.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Rich with nuanced detail

A beautiful summer is drifting by. August is a month with no teaching income but also no pressure - an ideal time to embark on a new project. But first I had a superb couple of days on the deck with the latest "New Yorker", the new Harry Potter, and a few glasses of rose. A true summer vacation. And now to work, though I'm still figuring out what's next.

The third child is doing fine. I went to New York in July to visit family but also to talk up the book. While I was visiting my scholarly friends at the YIVO, the centre for Yiddish research, a woman I'd never met, who is now in charge of YIVO theater research, sought me out and gave the book an enthusiastic endorsement. I also had a great meeting with the helpful and lively Canadian cultural attachee Anna Velasco about a possible launch or reading in NYC. And among copies of the book sent out recently to possibly interested parties was one to Steven Spielberg, who used to sponsor a Yiddish theater website. I have always thought the story of the Jewish Shakespeare would make a great movie, starring, say, Kevin Kline as Gordin. No?

Some very nice, intelligent person just posted a review at saying that the book is "rich with nuanced detail." Love it. Perhaps I'll ask for that to be put on my tombstone. "Beth Kaplan, 1950-2050. Rich with nuanced detail."

Happy reading to you all.