I'm delighted to have Janice Weizman on my site. Not only is she a colleague here in Israel, but a fellow Canadian and someone whose work I admire. Recently, I was honored when Janice included a review of my new novel in stories White Zion in her book review site (more on that below). A warm welcome, Janice!
Janice Weizman is the author of the award winning historical novel, The Wayward Moon (Yotzeret, 2012). Her writing has appeared in World Literature Today, Ha'aretz, The Jerusalem Report, Lilith, and other places. A graduate of the Creative Writing program at Bar Ilan, she served for 10 years as a Fiction editor for The Ilanot Review, and now curates the book review website, Reading Jewish Fiction She has taught creative writing at David Yellin College, Write Space Jerusalem, The Writing Pad, Israel Writers Studio, and instructs and mentors creative writers in private classes and workshops.
Gila Green (GG): "Writing Jewish fiction is an exercise in re-envisioning the individual in the framework of a long historical perspective."
Could you please comment on this quote from your site. Does this mean Jewish fiction can only be written by Jews? What if a Jewish writer writes a novel in which the heroine is Jewish and it is stated in passing, but nothing more about her Jewishness is mentioned besides maybe a holiday or something similarly superficial, is this still Jewish fiction?
Janice Weizman (JW): I'm glad you've noted that particular sentence, because it's key to what interests me about Jewish fiction. What I'm implying here is that when a writer creates a Jewish character, that character, no matter what happens to them in the story, is by default standing on the shoulders of all the generations of Jewish men and women that preceded them (and this doubly true for converts, who have chosen to link their fate to that of the Jews). Jews, as a people, have a very long historical perspective, and lots of historical baggage. This may have no effect on the character, in fact, the character might not even be conscious of this fact, but there it is, hovering in their backstory, feeding into the way they see the world.
Regarding the question of who can write Jewish fiction, I don't agree with the notion that there are stories that can be written by some people but not others. As a guideline for the site, I consider "Jewish Fiction" to be fiction that has Jewishness or Jewish concerns as one of its central themes or traits.Eligibility for a review on the site doesn't depend on whether the protagonist of a book is Jewish, or on the identity of the writer.
GG: Can you tell us practically what is your vision for the site? One review a month? A week? Are you trying to aim it at all Jews (secular/religious/Zionist/ and so on) or a particular Jewish reader?
JW: The website is aimed at anyone who is interested in Jewish-related conversations, as they play out in current Jewish literature. I initiated this project because as an author, I know how difficult it is to have a book reviewed in a way that engages in a serious manner with its themes. Books are vital in their ability to give us fresh perspectives from which to consider the human condition – and yet it's not easy for them to compete with the million other things vying for our attention. With Reading Jewish Fiction, I want to provide a venue where books that are not on mainstream radar can be considered and discussed. Hopefully, the site will help to shine a light on this small, often overlooked corner of the literary universe.
GG: Do you have any bent toward reviewing Jewish women in particular or other subgroups such as Sephardic and so on? Or do you choose more by the book itself rather than the author? What is your process? Similarly, are you interested in reviewing all manner of genres by Jewish writers? Science fiction, fantasy and so on.
JW: The format of the site is that in each edition, I review one book, and invite at least one other published writer to review a Jewish-themed book of their choice. I make a point of having my guest reviewers write about books in the genre in which they themselves write – e.g. poets reviewing poets, memoirists reviewing memoir, etc. I try to direct the site's attention mostly (but not only) towards books that have come out with small presses, which rarely have the benefit of a marketing team or a publicity budget. The books that I chose to review are the ones that I personally find interesting, for one reason or another. The current edition is a good example: There is the poet and scholar Dara Barnat writing about Eva Eliav's debut poetry collection, and also novelist and literature instructor Miryam Sivan writing about your novel, White Zion. I chose to review Maxim Shrayer's novella trilogy, A Russian Immigrant, because I was interested in the way he gets inside the psyche of an immigrant, and also because I wanted to consider how the three-novella structure creates a whole that is larger than its parts.
GG: Do you feel you have to stay in the genre of historical fiction as a writer because of the Wayward Moon or are you ready to explore another genre?
JW: For me, fiction is a way of thinking about ideas/events that intrigue me. With The Wayward Moon, which tells the story of a woman living in the 9th century Middle East, I wanted to explore the fact that in most documents up until the modern era, women's lives and experiences are scarcely mentioned, as though they simply weren't worth writing about. Yet we know they were there, and that their lives must have been as full and interesting as anyone's. By envisioning the life of a woman who is compelled to live as a man, I wanted to explore the fact that until very recently, women seemed to exist outside, or alongside "human" history.
But in answer to your question, I don't feel compelled to stick to a single genre. I see imaginative writing as a place of freedom, and to limit oneself to one genre is very limiting.
GG: You instruct creative writing classes and seminars. Could you say a little about that?
JW: For several years now I've been running creative writing and feedback workshops. Writing is by nature solitary, but at some point writers need a critique of their work in order to get fresh perspective and recalibrate. I also love working with beginners, and walking them through the various aspects of creative writing, with the goal of helping them to work towards what they want do on the page.This is a good place to mention that I'll be holding a one-day writing workshop on the subject of Autofiction at the Israel Writer's Studio in Tel Aviv at the end of April.
I believe that writers should also be readers, and so I make a point of bringing in writing by established writers, which I use as models for ways to approach the use of voice, image, detail, etc. Writing is a complex but satisfying challenge, and my goal, with all of my workshops, is to offer the possibility of a creative experience that excites and energizes the participants.
Find out more at janiceweizman.com.
"Jews as a people have a very long historical perceptive, and lots of historical baggage."-- Janice Weizman