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A Life-Changing Course
January 25, 2012
Today’s reading by Aryeh Lev Stollman, author of “The Far Euphrates,” is the first of six from visiting artists in this spring’s Jewish Literature Live course.
At first glance, Jewish Literature Live looks like other English courses. Students read assigned texts and then share their opinions with each other and their teacher, Professor of English Faye Moskowitz.
But if there are questions the students want to ask the authors in person, they can.
This spring, students will be able to discuss the works of six Jewish American writers— including New York Times bestselling authors Nicole Krauss and Bel Kaufman—directly with the writers themselves. Jewish Literature Live is a course that brings authors into the classroom to discuss their works with students, followed by a free public reading in the evening. It is supported by GW trustee David Bruce Smith, B.A. ’79.
“I do not know where another course like this is being offered in the United States,” said Ms. Moskowitz. “To have a course where every book a student reads is then followed by an author’s visit is quite unusual.”
This semester’s visiting authors include Aryeh Lev Stollman, author of “The Far Euphrates”; Nadia Kalman, author of “The Cosmopolitans”; Nicole Krauss, author of “The History of Love”; Pearl Abraham, author of “The Romance Reader”; Erica Jong, author of “Fear of Flying”; and Bel Kaufman, author of “Up the Down Staircase.”
Click here for dates and times of readings.
Jewish Literature Live began in 2008 with a donation from Mr. Smith to George Washington’s English Department. Ms. Moskowitz said she thought having authors visit in conjunction with course reading would be “something unique and would be wonderful for those students who are able to take advantage of it.”
“Students can read a work and then very shortly after speak with the author about the writing process, what interested the writer in doing the work in the first place, who the writer’s influences are—all the sorts of questions that one asks when reading a book,” she said.
To prepare for the classroom visits, each student writes five questions for the authors, and writes a personal response about their experience meeting the author and having their questions answered.
When choosing the authors, Ms. Moskowitz said she aims to select a combination of “emerging and established” writers. For example, Ms. Moskowitz selected Ms. Kalman’s “The Cosmopolitans” because works about Jewish people emigrating from the Soviet Union is “a very new component of Jewish American literature,” while Ms. Jong’s frank discussion of female sexuality in “Fear of Flying” was considered “revolutionary” in the 1970s.
Ms. Moskowitz is especially looking forward to Ms. Kaufman’s reading. Ms. Kaufman is 101 years old and still teaches at Columbia University. In her visit to George Washington April 24, Ms. Kaufman will talk about “Up the Down Staircase”— which is based on her days teaching in New York City— and reminisce about her grandfather, author and playwright Sholem Aleichem.
To mark Ms. Kaufman’s visit to campus, George Washington’s Judaic Studies Program and the Department of English will host a two-day Sholem Aleichem Fest April 24-25. On the first night of the festival, Ms. Kaufman will be joined by Assistant Professor of Hebrew Max Ticktin and students from the Department of Theatre and Dance, who will perform a series of staged readings, in both Yiddish and English, of Sholem Aleichem’s short stories.
On the second night of the festival, director Joseph Dorman will be on hand to screen and discuss his new film “Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness.” Both nights of the festival are free and open to the public.
The feedback Ms. Moskowitz has received from students about Jewish Literature Live has been remarkable; in fact, many have told her the course was one of the most important experiences in their GW education.
“They say it’s life changing, the very notion of being able to sit in an intimate setting with an author whose work you’ve read and enjoyed,” she said.
“For me, it’s also been a remarkable,” she added. “I’m a writer myself, and I’ve met other writers, but it isn’t the same as having that person in a small setting with you where you’re totally familiar with the work and can ask the things that occur to you while you read their work. Believe me, I’m also having an experience of a lifetime.”