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November 21, 2003 - Image 89

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-11-21

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"write what you know ))
A better phrasing is attributed to
Grace Paley, who advised one writer to
write what you don't know about what
you know — in other words, begin
with a familiar situation and then
work to uncover the truth -of that situ-
ation that you never knew before.
How does this actually work? Say,
for instance, you want to write
about the first wedding you ever
attended. Let's assume you've got
some clear memories — the blue
chiffon dress you wore, which was a
hand-me-down from your cousin
Arlene; how you felt sick after the
cocktail hour because you'd unwit-
tingly eaten Gorgonzola cheese; and
how you heard that day that the
bride, your oldest cousin, had decid-
ed not to go to graduate school after
all because she was getting married,
and that your mother and all your
aunts thought that was probably the
right thing.
Now, 36 years later, you want to
write about it. Begin with that dress:
what it felt like to be buttoned up in
its stiff bodice because, really,
Arlene was probably a size smaller
than you. Come to think of it,
almost two sizes.
What was your family doing, stuff-
ing you into that too-small dress?
You felt awful that day, in fact, near-
ly unable to breathe, though you
desperately wanted to be graceful,
glamorous, like the beautiful bride
who, now that you think of it, gave
up her own future so that Lenny
could go to law school. A move of
which all the women approved.
And the cheese. You write about
the buffet during the cocktail hour
and suddenly remember it was exces-
sively lavish. But your aunt and
uncle were in debt that year, weren't
they, so what were they doing put-
ting on such a wedding?
Years later, you found out from
your mother that your uncle had to
sell his business the following year to
one of his creditors. But in 1967, at
that wedding, no-one knew any of
that was coming.
The band played "Sunrise,
Sunset," and your uncle danced with
his beaming daughter in her billow-
ing white gown, and everyone oohed
and aahed, even you.
Though back there at the preteen
table with your gross boy cousins
who were making mashed potatoes'.
out of the white wedding cake, you
made a private vow that you would
never give up your life for anyone,
especially a guy like Lenny, who's got


quite a story — now that you think
of it — of his own.
And so it goes. You write the story
because you want to discover what
you didn't know. You write to find
out what happens and why, to
uncover a little bit- of human nature
and its perilous truths.
And so you are — and must be —
continually surprised. Sure enough, a
week after that first run down the
stairs, I came running ,down again
and told my husband the news of
Henny: Not only was she pregnant,
it wasn't Nathan's baby. Ti

Jewish Book

ichael Oren's best-selling
MA Six Days of War; June
1967 and the Making of the
Modern Middle East is the win-
ner of the Jewish Book
Council's top honor, the Henry
Everett Jewish Book of the Year,
in its 53rd annual National
Jewish Book Awards.
Other winners among the
twelve categories includeArthur
Hertzberg in modern Jewish
thought for A Jew in America,
Gary Shteyngart in fiction for
The Russian Debutante's
Handbook and Irene Cooper in
children's literature for Jewish
Holidays All Year Round.
David Biale wins in the anthol-
ogy category for Cultures of the
Jews, Elliot Dorf in contemporary
Jewish life and practice for To Do
the Right and Good, George Sorin
in the history category for Irving
Howe: A Life of Passionate Dissent,
Nehama Tec in the Holocaust
category for Resilience and
Courage Martin Goodman in
scholarship for Oxford Handbook
ofiewish Studies and Tikvah
Frymer-Kensky in women's stud-
ies for Reading the Women of the
Dara Horn wins the first-time
author award for In the Image,
and Karen Levine wins the spe-
cial recognition award for Hands
The awards will be presented
at a ceremony on Dec. 11 at the
Center for Jewish History in
New York City.


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