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Looking back; looking forward

These few weeks feel historic and hopeful, containing both joy and sorrow. I look back and forward, trying to balance on the moment.

Looking back: Forty-five years ago last month, Robby and I giggled our way into marriage at the Rockville County courthouse. One friend predicted, “They won’t last two weeks.” I’m so glad Nick was wrong.

Looking back: Sixty years ago next month, Ethel and Julius were executed, orphaning my sweet Robby at age six.

Looking forward: In a few days, my grandson has his first birthday. He is named for his great-grandfather Abel Meeropol, who wrote Strange Fruit and who, with his wife Anne, adopted Robby and his brother after the execution.

Looking forward: In three months, Robby will retire as Executive Director of the Rosenberg Fund for Children, the foundation he started to honor his birth parents and continue their work for social justice by supporting today’s targeted activists. In September, our daughter Jenn will take over leadership of the organization that embodies her father’s constructive revenge. It delights and tickles me that one daughter litigates to protect civil liberties and the other supports targeted activists.

Looking forward: One month from today, at Town Hall in Manhattan, the Rosenberg Fund community of friends, family, and supporters will gather for “Carry it Forward,” a dramatic program to commemorate the anniversary of the execution and the RFC leadership transition. I’ll also be thinking about the generations of activists that are gone, and the generations now joining our family and our world. Read More 
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Forty-five years ago today...

Forty-five years ago today, Robby and I went to the Rockville County courthouse, accompanied by our close friends Becky Bolling and Hernán Drobny, and giggled our way to marriage.

We were so young and so earnest – so young that Robby had to get his parents’ notarized permission. Our friends thought we were nuts. One friend predicted, “They won’t last two weeks.” I’m so glad he was wrong.

I’m grateful too that some of the friends from that time are still in our lives – like Hernán Drobny and Laura Dubester and Karen Shain and Christi Johnson and Susan Riecken and Mary White and David Rosner and Arnie & Patti.

Most of all, this one's for you, Robby. Read More 
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I never met my husband's biologic parents

I never met my husband’s biologic parents. They were executed twelve years before I met their son. But Ethel & Julius are a profound part of my family; their murder was a critical part of my political education.

I’ve worked alongside Robby as he sued the government under the Freedom of Information laws and as he fought to reopen his parents’ case. When he started the Rosenberg Fund for Children in 1990, I joined the RFC Board. It is now sixty years after Ethel and Julius were executed at Sing Sing. In September, Robby will retire as the RFC’s executive director, our older daughter Jenn will take over leadership of the organization, and I will resign from the Board.

But before these big changes, there’s one more thing, one more event, one more remembrance. On June 16th in New York City, Carry it Forward: Celebrate the Children of Resistance will commemorate the 60th anniversary of the execution and the legacy of resistance that Ethel and Julius left their sons, and all of us. I wrote the script for this program.

I’m primarily a novelist, but this isn’t fiction. Carry it Forward integrates the frightening past of McCarthyism and our family’s loss with current assaults on civil liberties in the name of freedom. It joins the struggles of targeted progressive activists today with our fears and dreams for the future. It fuses Ethel and Julius’ words with those of the activists who are part of the Rosenberg Fund for Children family, our beloved community of supporters and beneficiaries. Over the past 23 years, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know many of these individuals, either in person or through their writing. The challenge of creating the script for this program was to bring these people alive on stage for the audience, through reading and poems and dramatic vignettes.

Please consider joining us on Sunday, June 16 at Manhattan's Town Hall to commemorate the past, nurture the present, and dream together for the future at Carry it Forward.  Read More 
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Why I love AWP

I’ve been thinking about why I love AWP so much. I mean, it’s too big and too loud, with far too many choices and inevitable conflicts. Actually, I find it totally overwhelming. But I love being stuffed with 12,000 writers and editors and small press publishers into a conference center with recycled air and never enough bathrooms.  Read More 
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Recent reads on the faultlines of politics and people

Sometimes I feel like a divided woman, caring fiercely about both social justice activism and literature. On first glance, it might seem easily reconciled: write fiction about injustices and resistance, right? Only – of course – it’s not at all that simple. Sometimes the brain cells, the synapses and dendrites and neurons (all that anatomy I studied years ago and have mostly forgotten) that make connections necessary for activism seem not only very different from those that create good fiction, but also in direct contradiction.

And then, just when I despair that I can’t get it right, I read books that are so good, such exquisite combinations of bearing witness to the world and fine literary work, that I’m inspired to keep working. Three recent books made me feel this way.  Read More 
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The Next Big Thing

Thank you to my friend and writing buddy, best-selling author Jacqueline Sheehan (see Quick Link to the right). Jacqueline invited me to join this online community, “The Next Big Thing,” where authors share current projects by answering a set of questions, then tag writers they like and admire to do the same. So, here goes:

Hurricane Island.

One day, while I was waiting in the security line at JFK Airport, frustrated with all the shoes-off, liquids-in-the-plastic-bucket regulations, a main character simply appeared in my imagination. I immediately knew who she was and why she was in the airport. I “watched” as she was hooded, handcuffed, and taken away. When she did not return, I had to write the book to find out what happened to her.  Read More 
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Delicious new books in 2013

Reading advance copies of novels is one of the pleasures of my job at the Odyssey Bookshop. Here are some of my favorites, of the books coming out this winter and early spring. I know, I know: I promised this list a couple of weeks ago. But I got sidetracked, partly with reading a lot of IVY & BEAN (very literary stuff!) to my granddaughter Josie…

KIND OF KIN by Rilla Askew will be out in January. DON’T MISS THIS BOOK. Set in Oklahoma, it tells the story of a local man whose barn is used to shelter undocumented migrant workers. When Brown is sent to prison, his young grandson tries to set things right. Told through multiple points of view holding conflicting opinions about the events, Askew shows us a community at the explosive intersection of politics and loyalty.  Read More 
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My favorite reads of 2012

Choosing my favorite books of the year is both difficult and delicious. I read for so many different reasons: For language. For the love of story. For the opportunity to deconstruct how other writers structure plot and develop characters and keep my interest (or not). For the opportunity of having my neurons rearranged and my eyes exchanged for others’ so that I can experience the world anew. I read for comfort and discomfort. For pleasure and sorrow.

These are my (current) favorites of all the 2012 books I’ve learned from and lived inside, the books I curled up with, the books that goosed me. Some are written by friends and teachers, some are the latest offerings from beloved authors, and some written by strangers.

THE CUTTING SEASON by Attica Locke. I love novels in which history is a character, onstage and present. That’s what Attica Locke does in this half-mystery novel, half-literary exploration of how history – both personal and national – shapes us and our choices.  Read More 
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Taking a break, and sweet potatoes

I’ve been approaching this week with some trepidation: this is when I return to writing fiction after a hiatus.

I’ve been busy during this time-away: Reading and critiquing work for my manuscript group, and planning and teaching writing workshops. Writing the script for a dramatic program to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the execution of Ethel & Julius Rosenberg, to be held in New York City next June. Reading some amazing new and forthcoming fiction – THE OBITUARY WRITER by Ann Hood, and THE COMFORT OF LIES by Randy Susan Meyers and ALL THIS TALK OF LOVE by Christopher Castellani and KIND OF KIN by Rilla Askew. And most recently, I’ve had four delicious days with growing grandbabies and gatherings of my extended family.  Read More 
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Writing across boundaries and out of our safe zones

Although I’ve tackled this subject before, I keep returning to it, unsatisfied. It’s a hot-button issue and one that’s close to my writing heart. Because even after all the eloquent arguments around racial stereotyping in the novel THE HELP and recent discussion about Michael Chabon’s choice to write African American characters in TELEGRAPH AVENUE, readers and writers still ponder the politics and risks of writing POV characters whose skin color and experiences differ from the writer’s.

We’ve probably all participated in these conversations about cultural appropriation and trivializing stereotypes. What interests me most as a writer is the implicit criticism of the white author of THE HELP for even attempting to tell the story of the black maids – because how could she possibly know their hearts, how could she presume to speak their voice? I think one adjective used was “cringeworthy.”  Read More 
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