Thursday, November 17, 2011

Myla Goldberg

Let me just say this: Myla Goldberg is unique. She's remarkable. In preparation for her visit, I had the good fortune to profile Goldberg for The Jewish Post & Opinion. We spoke on the phone, and she gave great interview -- was well-spoken and thoughtful. Despite her focused, articulate answers, she took a relaxed path from Point A to Point B, peppering her erudite explanations with almost whimsical twists. Goldberg clearly retained the wide-eyed curiosity and creativity that most of us lose as we passage into the adult world. As Myla answered my questions, this quality of uninhibited creativity shined. Goldberg made an appearance recently at the Jewish Community Center's book festival, and it was a delight to see how much more evident this Myla-ish-ness is in person.

Indy fans were treated to two Goldberg talks that night. The first was a discussion of "The False Friend," Goldberg's most recent novel. The second was a discussion of what it means to be a Jewish writer.

Today's post will focus on Goldberg's second talk. (See my blog post of July 17th, 2011, for a review of "The False Friend.") Goldberg admitted that she bristled when she first heard she was labeled a Jewish writer. She was uncomfortable thinking that this classification might turn off non-Jewish readers. Then she reflected that the memory that provided the seed for "The False Friend," a childhood incident of throwing a pair of scissors at her best friend, resurfaced on Yom Kippur. Also, she described her recent urge, as a mother to two young daughters, to reconnect to Judaism. In navigating modern day options in the Jewish world she found a home in Progressive, Humanistic Judaism. Her connection to this part of the Jewish community brought about a new openness to the idea of being a Jewish writer.

In considering her work and her Jewishness, Goldberg noted that the concept of tikkun olam (repairing the world) is threaded through each of her books. She gave the example of the character of Lydia in "Wickett's Remedy" who helps with the investigation of vaccines.

Goldberg concluded that she no longer bristles at the Jewish writer label; now she embraces it. She noted that Jewish literature is a broad category, and that the books labeled as such don't necessarily even concentrate on Jewish subject matter. Jewish literature must gaze through a lens that has been shaped through thousands of years of Jewish history, but as long as the prose is written from this perspective, the subject examined through that lens can look at anything.

Before leaving us for the evening, Goldberg answered her fans' question about the subject of her next novel. Kind of. Comparing the novel-writing process to gestation, she explained that she feels the need to protect her fetus-like subject matter. She left us with one word: ambition. It was a teaser, to be sure, but one made with Goldberg's characteristic openness and candor.

When authors give readings I look for this unguarded quality, a willingness to share of themselves. Hopefully Goldberg will find her way back to Indy again soon. If she does, grab a front row seat.

For more on Goldberg, here's the link to my profile:

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