Blogging Mary Bowser

November 11, 2011

Civil War and Moo Shu

Although my pub date is still a few months away, last week I did the first public reading for The Secrets of Mary Bowser. Normally, stuffed sinuses are not what you want when you do a reading. But when the reading is part of an event called Oregon Jewish Voices, a little nasal tonality can be right on target.

I wasn't exactly sure how my novel--in which the main character is so not Jewish that her mother is known to break into an occasional chat with Jesus--would fit into an evening of Jewish authors. So I figured I'd let the audience decide.

I started by reading a poem I wrote about visiting a friend in Germany. The poem explores how the war (not the Civil War, that other war, the one that can be hard to talk about with Germans, but even harder to avoid talking about) shadows our interactions, even in another century. As I noted to the audience, it's pretty clearly a work of "Jewish literature." Jewish person (me!) has an experience that is shaped by, and shapes, her Jewish identity, and then she reflects on it in her writing.

Then I read the prologue and the end of the first chapter of The Secrets of Mary Bowser. Although I've done readings for other things I've published, this was the first time I'd read to an audience from the novel, and it was incredibly moving to hear their real-time responses to the characters and scenes. Almost instantly, I could feel a whole auditorium full of people being caught up emotionally by this story, which has already had me caught for so long. It was about the greatest feeling an author can experience.

My friend and writing teacher, Oregon Poet Laureate Paulann Petersen, was sweet enough to come to the event AND to promise me the next few years will be full of similar readings.
Lois Leveen and Paulann Petersen
Poet Laureates do have the power to predict the future, don't they?

During the Q&A session, we got to talk about what we mean by "Jewish literature" and why stories about people who are quite different from ourselves (in my case, an African American spy, or in the case of the poet Willa Schneberg, who also read at the event, Cambodians struggling to overcome the horrors of the Killing Fields) capture our imagination.

And then, to ensure it was truly an evening of Jewish writers, we all went out for Chinese food.
Oregon authors eating Chinese food

Thanks to Oregon Jewish Museum for putting on this great annual event, and for making me feel so welcome for this first reading.

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