Angels in America

December 22, 2008

The discussion revolving around our last book in the Jewish Literature series, Angels in America by Tony Kushner, was incredibly rich and diverse.  We started our discussion by exploring the parallels between the Morman and Jewish faiths and trying to answer the question, “Why did the author chose to use the Morman faith to contrast with the authors own Jewish traditions?”

The answer that our group decided on is that the author chose them because both sets of believers have faced persecution and have moved repeatedly, wandering through the wilderness and deserts, until arriving at their respective “Promised Lands.”  His continued use of  mirror images in everything from his use of one actor to fill two roles to his choice of religion seemed to be a recurring theme throughout the play.

We also discussed if this was a “Jewish” play.  In this case, opinion was more divided.  On the one hand, we had an impressive depth of biblical, and in particular, Jewish mythology that was referenced in the play. On the other hand, some members of the group felt that it explored more political and multicultural themes.  However, by the end of the discussion, it was decided that Angels in America was indeed a Jewish theme, especially in its exploration of identity issues.

This was a particularly rich discussion and ended the book discussion series on a high note.  Based on the success of this program, be sure to watch for more themed discussion series at the Kansas City Public Library in the very near future.

Discussion questions for Angels in America by Tony Kushner

December 17, 2008

Discussion questions for Angels in America by Tony Kushner

1. Some critics have questioned the extent to which this play is a piece d’occasion, a play that draws its power from the topicality of its subject matter, particularly the AIDS crisis—they predict that the play will not last in the canon of drama over the long course of time.  What do you predict? Does the play seem “dated” even now, over 20 years after 1985?

2. How do you understand the meaning of the angel in this play? What is her role in the plays stream of conflicts? In addition to this literal angel, does the play contain any figurative angels or devils? If so, how do any of these angel or devil figures mediate good and evil?

3. The play opens with the funeral of Louis’s grandmother.  The rabbi tells her mourning family that she came from across the ocean, perhaps from a Litvak shtetl:  “You can never make that crossing she made, for such Great Voyages in this world do not anymore exist.  But every day of your lives the miles that voyage between that place and this one you cross.  Every day.  You understand me? In you that journey is” (16-17).  How does the play move that journey forward?

4. Kushner has structured a pattern of relationships very carefully in this play.  Among the significant parallels are those of Louis and Prior as a couple and Joe and Harper as a couple.  What do you think Kushner is saying about the nature of such familial ties? You will probably think of other patterns of relationships as well that compare and contrast with these.

5. Kushner calls for several roles to be cross cast in the stage version.  Among them are the roles of Hannah, Ethel Rosenberg, and Rabbi Chemelwitz.  Starting with this set of cross-cast characters (played in the HBO version by Meryl Streep), what do these cross-castings communicate (beyond Kushner’s awareness that theatre’s budgets require plays to be performed with as few actors as possible)?  Interestingly, these three characters cross boundaries of religion, gender and living and dead.

Contributed by Ben Furnish

Reading Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”

October 6, 2008

Reading Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” is a strange and unsettling experience in and of itself.  Reading some of the studies Kafka has inspired in also a wild and weird experience.

· Take a look at Kafka Goes to the Movies by Hans Zischler.  This film actor poured over Kafka’s diaries and letters to compile a list of the films that the author viewed in his lifetime.  Zischler tracked down the old prints of films from the beginning of the twentieth century, hunted for the movie theatres that Kafka frequented and turned the whole into a very odd book.

· If you like your Kafka graphic, the famous underground cartoonist/graphic novelist R. Crumb has illustrated the author’s life – R. Crumb’s Kafka with text by David Mairowitz

· For the militant Kafka lovers there is always Why you Should Read Kafka before You Waste your Life by James Hawes

· Kafka’s friend Max Brod wrote Franz Kafka, A Biography based on the author’s papers which he had been instructed to destroy upon Kafka’s death.  He obviously didn’t destroy them.

· Franz Kafka by Franz Baumer, part of the Unger Publishing Company’s monographs on modern literature, is a moody obscure explication of his works, more difficult by far than the author’s novels and short stories.

My advice, stick to the original.

by Andrea Kempf, Professor/Librarian, Billington Library 229 /Johnson County Community College

Dear Reader

September 17, 2008

Dear Reader,

Just a reminder that our next Let’s Talk About It: Jewish Literature program takes place this Thursday, September 18, at the Waldo branch beginning at 7 p.m. During this session, we’ll be discussing The Dybbuk and Other Writings by S. Ansky. If you have not already picked up your free copy of this book, please do so soon. If you have any questions, please call branch manager Alicia Ahlvers at 816.701.3586.

We look forward to seeing you.

Yours cordially,
Henry Fortunato
Director of Public Affairs

Demon possession in Jewish Literature

September 9, 2008
Although the play, The Dybbuk,  by S. An-Ski was written in the early twentieth century and set in seventeenth century Eastern Europe, Jewish demon possession continues to be a phenomenon until today.  In 1999 a Dybbuk exorcism was performed by a Rabbi in Dimona, Israel.  It was broadcast on radio and also videotaped.  Needless to say the religious establishment in Israel was perturbed.  Later the woman who had allegedly been possessed claimed it was a sham; however, the exorcism apparently enhanced the reputation of the Rabbi who performed the ritual.
For some modern takes on Dybbuks, read The Entertainer and the Dybbuk by Sid Fleischman or the Dyke and the Dybbuk by Ellen Galford
-Andrea Kempf

Book Group Leaders

August 28, 2008

Once again we have expanded program to fit the demand and have added two additional book group leaders:

Kaite Stover is Head of Reader’s Services for the Kansas City Public Library and also manages the circulation department at our Central Library. She is a respected reviewer for Booklist and is also a regular guest on the Walt Bodine show where she appears with her fellow “book doctors”.

Linda Rodriquez is past director of the UMKC Women’s Center and is the author of two forthcoming books, including a poetry collection Heart Migration. She has contributed to respected reference sources including Encyclopedia Judaica and Contemporary Jewish-American Poets and Dramatists.

Introducing our Scholar: Ben Furnish

August 22, 2008

Ben Furnish is managing editor for BkMk Press at UMKC, where he also teaches English. He is the author of Nostalgia in Jewish American Theater and Film, 1979-2004 and has been an expert contributor for many other scholarly publications including the Dictionary of Literary Biograpy’s volume on Yiddish writers, Holocaust Literature, Encyclopeida Judaica, Jews and Sex and Studies in Jewish Civilization. He holds a PhD from Kansas University and master’s degrees from the University of Missouri, Kansas City (UMKC) and Harvard. He is invited to give a paper at the first International Conference on Modern Yiddish Studies sponsored by Heidelberg and Oxford universities in December.

Andrea Kempf

August 18, 2008

The books have been handed out and, this Thursday our first book discussion will take place. Demand has been overwhelming. So overwhelming, in fact, that we have brought in additional discussion leader and librarian Andrea Kempf from the Johnson County Community College to assist. Andrea is a Professor and Librarian at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas. She earned a B.A. in Literature from Brandeis University, an M.A.T. in Literature from Johns Hopkins University, and an M.S.L.S. from Simmons College. She is an alumna of the Asian Studies Development Program at the East-West Center, and a regular reviewer of fiction for Library Journal. Her specialty is international fiction.

All sessions are currently filled but if you are still interested in participating, please fill out the form to get put on our waiting list.

CONTEMPORY NOVELS WITH THE GOLEM AS AN IMPORTANT CHARACTER

July 21, 2008

Chabon, Michael. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. New York: Random House, 2000. 659 p.

A young man, who has escaped from wartime Prague with the assistance of the Golem, joins his cousin in Brooklyn where together they create super heroes for the comic books who fight the Nazis. The novel is the story of the golden age of comic books as well as tale of these two creative young men.

Hamill, Pete. Snow in August. Boston: Little Brown, 1997. 336 p.

Michael Devlin, the Irish-Catholic son of a widow, befriends a Rabbi who is a survivor of the Holocaust living in his Brooklyn neighborhood. Michael becomes the Rabbi’s Shabbos Goy, performing tasks for the Rabbi that Jews are forbidden to perform on the Sabbath. When an anti-Semitic gang of hoodlums, terrorizes the Rabbi and the young boy and his mother, Michael strikes back, creating a Golem like the ones the Rabbi told him about, with predictable results.

Handler, Daniel. Watch Your Mouth. New York: St. Martin’s/Dunne, 2000. 240 p.

This is a wacky and bizarre family story in the form of an opera where a young man at a Jewish camp gets involved with a murderous family who may or may not be constructing a golem in the basement.

Isler, Alan. The Bacon Fancier. New York: Viking, 1997. 213 p.

This collection of four stories by the author of The Prince of West End Avenue, which begins with the story of “The Monster” a golem-like creature abandoned at birth in the ghetto of Venice, follows the lives of four Jewish men at various points in history. The stories are witty and literate with many references to Shakespeare, Francis Bacon, and Oscar Wilde.

Mulisch, Harry. The Procedure. New York: Penguin, 2002

Dutch microbiologist Viktor Werner created a living organism made from clay in his laboratory and also lost his unborn daughter. This novel is interwoven with the story of the Golem of Prague.

Piercy, Marge. He, She, and It. New York: Knopf, 1991. 446 p.

In an embattled Jewish community of a futuristic era, a scientist creates a cyborg named Yod – very much like the Golem of Prague. This is a science fiction novel that updates the Golem but the end of the Golem’s story is always the same.

Rosenbaum, Thane. The Golems of Gotham. New York: HarperCollins, 2002.

A blocked writer, whose parents, Holocaust survivors, committed suicide in a dramatic fashion in their synagogue, is haunted by their ghosts as well as the ghosts of writers who committed suicide after surviving the Holocaust after creative lives.

Sturm, James. The Golem’s Mighty Swing. Montréal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2001

In this graphic novel, Sturm depicts a Jewish team during the era of barnstorming baseball in the 1920’s and describes a Jewish ball team so eager to have a chance that they manufacture a golem from one of their players.

Andrea Kempf/July 2008  akempf@jccc.edu

KCMO Offers Jewish reading program

July 14, 2008

Henry Fortunato, Public Affairs director for the Kansas City Public Library, was interviewed in The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle this week about the upcoming Jewish Literature program at the Waldo Community Library.


KCMO library offers Jewish reading program
by Beth Lipoff, Staff Writer
If you’re looking for some in-depth discussion of Jewish literature, the Kansas City, Mo., Public Library’s “Let’s Talk About It” program might be just the thing.

The program, sponsored by the American Library Association, focuses on the identity and imagination of Jewish literature, kicks off in August with a discussion of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s novel, “Satan in Goray.”

“This is an active, participating event, where people who’ve read the book will be expected to talk about it. This is not for the Cliff’s Notes crowd,” said Henry Fortunato, director of public affairs for the Kansas City Public Library system.

Every participant will get a free copy of the book, paid for by the $2,500 ALA grant….more


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