Jewish literature lives
by Ani Mamourian
For English professor Faye Moskowitz, putting students in contact with authors meant bridging the connection between reader and writer.
Moskowitz teaches Jewish Literature Live, a new course that brings contemporary Jewish American authors to campus.
Anya Ulinich will read from her novel “Petropolis” this Thursday, and later in the semester, contemporary writers Michael Chabon and Art Spiegelman will visit the course, as well as participate in public readings for the larger University community.
The author visits are made possible through a $30,000 grant from GW alumnus David Bruce Smith, who left the design of the course and the choice of speakers up to Moskowitz.
“I was concerned that when Professor Moskowitz decides to retire, there will be no one teaching Jewish literature, and I was fearful of that absence,” said Smith, characterizing his choice to fund the course this year.
Jewish Literature Live marks the second time an English department course continually brought in writers. According to Moskowitz, about seven years ago, a course titled Literature Live brought local writers in to speak to students. Moskowitz said because of the grant for this specific course, she was able to bring authors to the University from outside of the D.C. area.
Though Smith said he sees the class as an experiment, both he and Moskowitz expressed pleasure with its progress. Jeffrey Cohen, English department chair, stressed in an e-mail how important the study of Jewish literature is to the department.
Moskowitz has taught Jewish literature courses for the English department before, but Smith’s grant allows the inclusion of one extra word: live. After the students in the class read a book, they formulate questions for the author, who comes to the class to participate in a discussion of his or her work.
“The question of what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century is a question that undergirds the course, because we’re finding that the Jewish experience is so varied,” Moskowitz said. She stressed the importance of determining why a certain book is of specific Jewish interest, saying that being written by a Jewish author is not enough.
“They really want to talk about the major themes, what major idea or emotion or event did the author want to write about,” said Moskowitz of her students, characterizing these discussions as enforcing an intimate relationship between reader and writer.
“You can learn new things from reading what the author has to say about his process or talking with the author,” she said, highlighting the importance of allowing an author to offer their own interpretation of their work.
Though not all of the authors who speak to Jewish Literature Live will give public readings on campus, students look forward to this week’s visiting author, Anya Ulinich, who will read from her novel “Petropolis,” a satirical love story, as well as a selection of her other writing.
“I’ve never done readings to large groups of young people before, but I’m excited,” Ulinich said.
Ulinich will read in the Marvin Center Third Floor Amphitheater Thursday, March 5 at 8 p.m.