Novelist Panels at the Washington, DC Jewish Literary Festival

Jessamyn Hope, Jami Attenberg and Mary Morris in conversation / photo taken by Rachel Mauro

I had a moment on Monday, Oct 26, when I realized I’d read a novel a piece from three of the four writers on stage. This whole whipping my reading life into shape has been good for me. As much as I enjoy finding new voices and books, there’s something exhilarating about feeling in with the literary “in” crowd.

The event in question, Intrepid Time Travelers held at the DCJCC, featured Michelle Brafman in conversation with Mary Morris, Jami Attenberg and Jessamyn Hope. Their three latest novels, The Jazz Place, Saint Mazie and Safekeeping span centuries and continents, from mid-20th-century Chicago, to New York City a few decades earlier, to an Israeli kibbutz in 1994 and the Holy Roman Empire in the 14th century. Much of their conversation centered on balancing research with compelling narrative, general inspiration, and an intriguingly common thread throughout the three novels involving music and sound.

The Monday previous, Oct 19, I headed to the Folger Shakespeare Library for a panel called Replacement Lives. Officially put on by PEN/Faulkner, this evening featured Jewish former-Soviet émigrés, David Bezmozgis, Boris Fishman and Lara Vapnyar in conversation with Olga Grushin. I’d previously read Vapnyar’s short story collection, There Are Jews In My House, which she referenced briefly, particularly the titular story where she explored the murky reality of a jealous 1940s woman hiding her Jewish neighbors from the Nazis. She also admitted to the anachronism of having someone do up a zipper before they were invented. 😛

The three authors read from their works either recently or soon-to-be published, and then they discussed everything from personal identity to the ways that people stand up for political ideologies in various parts of the world. At one point, Bezmozgis said that if he ever became a U.S. president he’d reinstate the draft so that everyone would have some “skin in the game;” Vapnyar countered that she wouldn’t vote for him. 😛

The truly amazing thing about fiction is how many realities it can emcompass—spanning issues and characters ranging across time, geography and ideology. I read fiction, in part, to see how people outside of myself view the world. If you’re interested in novelists at the DC Jewish Literary Festival, there’s still time to get tickets to see Shalom Auslander, also a recent Showtime showrunner, tomorrow at 7:30 for the closing night. Happy reading!

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