With his new book Fas­ci­nat­ing, a children’s biog­ra­phy of Leonard Nimoy, com­ing out this week, author Richard Michel­son is guest blog­ging for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil all week as part of the Vis­it­ing Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.

As a col­lege grad­u­ate, I was well versed in Russ­ian lit­er­a­ture and Amer­i­can his­to­ry; and I could name the dynas­ties of French and Eng­lish Kings. But I knew next to noth­ing about the life my grand­fa­ther had lived in his East­ern Euro­pean shtetl, or how he came to set­tle in Amer­i­ca. I nev­er asked. I do not recall that we ever had a sin­gle con­ver­sa­tion of sub­stance while he was alive. When my chil­dren were study­ing for their bar and bat mitz­vah, I decid­ed I need­ed to do some research, so I could pass down fam­i­ly his­to­ry. So I wrote a children’s book titled Too Young for Yid­dish, where a boy who looks and sounds a bit like me gets a chance to hear his Zayde’s sto­ry first­hand. He learns that his­to­ry is what hap­pens to real peo­ple,” and he forges a rela­tion­ship with his grand­fa­ther through the mir­a­cle of fic­tion that I wish I had expe­ri­enced in real life.” 

When I speak to chil­dren and they ask the dread­ed pre­pared ques­tion, Where do you get your ideas?” I invite them to go home that very day and ask their par­ents, grand­par­ents, best friend’s par­ents, and their best friends about their lives. Every­one has a sto­ry to tell,” I say. Just remem­ber to write it down.”

When I speak to aspir­ing authors at con­fer­ences, the advice is almost exact­ly the same. Be curi­ous about the lives that sur­round you, and lis­ten care­ful­ly. Write down what you hear. Do it now. Don’t wait.”

So how did I for­get my own advice in my long rela­tion­ship with Leonard Nimoy? 

When Leonard was asked to record Too Young for Yid­dish for the Nation­al Yid­dish Book Cen­ter, we start­ed a rela­tion­ship that last­ed twelve years, until his death. We emailed dai­ly, phoned reg­u­lar­ly, and often trav­eled togeth­er. He was a seri­ous pho­tog­ra­ph­er, hav­ing built his own dark­room as a 13 year old boy. When Star Trek was can­celled after three sea­sons, Leonard con­tem­plat­ed chang­ing careers and he went back to UCLA and stud­ied photography. 

I am an art deal­er and end­ed up han­dling his pho­to­graph­ic career. As we trav­eled togeth­er to exhi­bi­tions — and, lat­er, fam­i­ly events — we shared sto­ries of our child­hoods, our evolv­ing rela­tion­ships to Judaism, and our polit­i­cal beliefs. We bond­ed over a love of art and lit­er­a­ture. Most­ly we laughed togeth­er, often over the fact that we looked alike, and no one would believe that we were not father and son. 

Leonard was a first read­er as I wrote many oth­er pic­ture book biogra­phies, pro­fil­ing well known fig­ures like Rab­bi Abra­ham Joshua Hes­chel and Rev­erend Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. in As Good As Any­body and peo­ple who I thought had been unfair­ly left out of the his­tor­i­cal canon, like Lip­man Pike: America’s First Home Run King, who was also the first pro­fes­sion­al” base­ball play­er, and the first Jew­ish man­ag­er (I have start­ed a peti­tion to get Pike in the Base­ball Hall of Fame.)

Why did it nev­er occur to me to put Leonard Nimoy’s sto­ry down on paper? Over the years I facil­i­tat­ed count­less inter­views — every­one was inter­est­ed in his life — but it wasn’t until I’d watched a doc­u­men­tary, Leonard Nimoy’s Boston, that his son Adam had made (orig­i­nal­ly con­ceived as a fam­i­ly mem­oir for the Nimoy kids and grand­kids) — that I real­ized Leonard’s life sto­ry would be per­fect to inspire the next generation.” 

At the time, I had no idea that Leonard would pass away three months lat­er from chron­ic obstruc­tive pul­monary dis­ease, or COPD (his daugh­ter Julie is work­ing on a doc­u­men­tary to help raise mon­ey to fight the dis­ease: COPD: High­ly Illog­i­cal). In fact, my expec­ta­tion was that we would go on a book tour togeth­er. I give thanks that Leonard was able to read the fin­ished man­u­script before he passed on:

It’s won­der­ful and I’m flat­tered… It is an amaz­ing piece of work and I love that you decid­ed to do it, he emailed me the same evening I sent him my manuscript. 

I am glad I didn’t wait. 

Richard Michel­son is the author of many acclaimed books for adults and chil­dren. His work has earned a Syd­ney Tay­lor Gold Medal and Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award recog­ni­tion. Richard lives with his wife in Amherst, Mass­a­chu­setts, and is the pro­pri­etor of R. Michel­son Galleries.

Relat­ed Content:

Richard Michelson’s many books for chil­dren and adults have received many awards and acco­lades, includ­ing a Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award and the Syd­ney Tay­lor Book Award. Michel­son hosts Northamp­ton Poet­ry Radio and served as Poet Lau­re­ate of Northamp­ton, MA. In addi­tion to being an author Michel­son is a speak­er and rep­re­sent­ed the US at the Bratisla­va Bien­ni­al in Slovakia.