My Father’s Coat and Hat
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My Father’s Coat and Hat

How the book became...

“Recording Jewish Lives,” an anthology just published by the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, grew out of a memoir-writing class there led from 2006 to 2009 by novelist, playwright, and biographer Susan Dworkin.

“People stayed in the class over time and worked very hard,” Dworkin said in a telephone interview last week. She said, for example, of Sarah Gottesman Lubin, who died in 2007 at 73 and to whom the book is dedicated, “she got closer and closer to the truth of her heart.” (Lubin lived in Englewood, and her family recently established a scholarship in her memory at Columbia University as well as the Sarah Gottesman Lubin Program for Arts & Crafts at the JCC.)

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Members of the first “Recording Jewish Lives” class are, back row from left, Dorothy Kershenblatt-Silverstein, Sarah Gottesman Lubin, Rochelle Lazarus, and teacher Susan Dworkin. Agnes Guttmann Dauerman, left, and Harriet Wallenstein are in the front row. Not pictured are Carol Carmel and Irene Ross, who joined the class in its second year.

Dworkin is the author, most recently, of “The Viking in the Wheat Field: A Scientist’s Struggle to Preserve the World’s Harvest” (Walker-Bloomsbury) and of a play to be performed at New York’s Fringe Festival in August. She said of the class that she “could see the way people developed their own voices as they got more confidence. It’s really great to see a writer develop.”

She had some suggestions for people who want to write memoirs.

First, “don’t work alone but join either a class or a writer’s group – the chevra is very important. You learn from listening to what other people do and you develop a trust in yourself from sharing what you’ve written and rewritten and having them share [their work] with you.”

Second, “read a lot of autobiographies” – and works with autobiographical elements – “by Proust, Gorky, Amos Oz, and Kate Simon. Proust is very important even though he’s hard,” she said, “because he really had his finger on the way to tell your story.”

Finally, “always read the best stuff.” That gives you “a real shot at illuminating your own work. If you’re going to read show-biz biographies that were ghosted by three different people, that’s not going to get you anywhere. But if you read one page of Proust or one chapter of Kate Simon’s ‘Bronx Primitive,’ it’s sustenance for a year.”

For more information about the anthology, e-mail rlazarus@jccotp.org.

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