This fall marks the pub­li­ca­tion of both Frankly Fem­i­nist: Short Sto­ries by Jew­ish Women from Lilith Mag­a­zine (edit­ed by Susan Wei­d­man Schnei­der and Yona Zeld­is McDo­nough) and the sixth issue of Paper Brigade, the annu­al lit­er­ary jour­nal of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil (edit­ed by Bec­ca Kan­tor and Car­ol Kauf­man). In cel­e­bra­tion of the two pub­li­ca­tions’ release, the four edi­tors come togeth­er to dis­cuss the process­es behind their work, what excites them about Jew­ish fic­tion today, and the books they can’t wait to read in the near future.

Yona and Susan, what was the impe­tus for cre­at­ing Frankly Fem­i­nist?

Yona Zeld­is McDo­nough: Susan and I share an enor­mous pride in the fic­tion that Lilith has and con­tin­ues to pub­lish. As fic­tion is whit­tled away from more and more pub­li­ca­tions, we have remained com­mit­ted to pub­lish­ing sto­ries of the high­est cal­iber from women of dif­fer­ent ages, back­grounds, and affil­i­a­tions. We both had a desire to cre­ate some­thing more per­ma­nent and also to show, in one place, the wide range of the magazine’s vision.

Susan Wei­d­man Schnei­der: There have been so many stun­ning orig­i­nal sto­ries we’ve pub­lished in Lilith over the years, and authors we have dis­cov­ered or nur­tured, that the time was ripe for gath­er­ing a selec­tion of them between the cov­ers of a col­lec­tion. This way, read­ers can enjoy them along­side one anoth­er, and enjoy the inter­play of eras and attitudes.

What was the impe­tus for cre­at­ing Paper Brigade?

Car­ol Kauf­man: Since its begin­nings, Jew­ish Book Coun­cil has pro­duced a print pub­li­ca­tion — start­ing with Jew­ish Book Annu­al, which was pub­lished in Eng­lish, Hebrew, and Yid­dish, from 1942 to 1999. At that time we were also pub­lish­ing a mag­a­zine, Jew­ish Book World—three, then four times a year — which con­sist­ed main­ly of reviews. It cov­ered a broad range of Jew­ish books and read­ers loved it. When we devel­oped our web­site, we put the book reviews online so they’d be time­ly. That’s when Paper Brigade was con­ceived.

With Paper Brigade, we want­ed to cap­ture, between two cov­ers, a sense of the remark­able array of Jew­ish-inter­est books with which we engage at JBC. We envi­sioned a beau­ti­ful­ly pro­duced annu­al print jour­nal, com­posed main­ly of orig­i­nal work — arti­cles, short fic­tion, poet­ry, visu­al art, and inter­views — along with excerpts from forth­com­ing books. We want­ed it to be both time­ly and time­less, a keepsake.

How do you go about com­pil­ing each issue of Paper Brigade?

Bec­ca Kan­tor: As Car­ol said, our aim with Paper Brigade is to cel­e­brate the breadth and diver­si­ty of Jew­ish books today, both in the US and abroad. We try to accom­plish this through a mix­ture of com­mis­sioned pieces and pieces sub­mit­ted to us.

When the two of us sit down to plan the forth­com­ing issue, we start by com­mis­sion­ing work that explores over­ar­ch­ing themes or trends that have emerged through­out the year. In this issue of the jour­nal, for exam­ple, there’s an essay by Melis­sa R. Klap­per, Moth­ers and Oth­ers,” which exam­ines three nov­els about infer­til­i­ty and the pres­sure on Jew­ish women to have children.

Inter­views are anoth­er way of jux­ta­pos­ing dif­fer­ent authors’ work on sim­i­lar top­ics. One inter­view in this issue is between Michael W. Twit­ty, the author of Kosher­soul, and Shaunna J. Edwards and Alyson Rich­man, the coau­thors of the nov­el The Thread Col­lec­tors. Although these books are in dif­fer­ent gen­res, they both address the ways that the home­made – food and quilts, respec­tive­ly – can be repos­i­to­ries of Black and Jew­ish history.

Through our Jew­ish lit­er­ary map – which high­lights a dif­fer­ent coun­try or region each year – and an excerpt of the work of our trans­la­tion prize win­ner, we touch on the geo­graph­i­cal diver­si­ty of Jew­ish lit­er­a­ture. And through excerpts of visu­al arts books, we show­case the illus­tra­tors and artists who are an essen­tial – and some­times over­looked – part of Jew­ish books as well.

The fic­tion and most of the poet­ry we pub­lish is sub­mit­ted to us dur­ing our open sub­mis­sion peri­od. For fic­tion, we have six excel­lent read­ers who help us make sure that each sto­ry is ini­tial­ly eval­u­at­ed by two dif­fer­ent read­ers, and then our fic­tion edi­tor, Josh Rol­nick, and Car­ol and I make the final deci­sion as to which ones to accept.

What drew you to the two short sto­ries pub­lished in this issue of Paper Brigade?

CK: The Vir­gin Grand­moth­er” appealed to us for many rea­sons: we admired Kate Schmier’s con­cise yet inci­sive way of describ­ing her set­tings and her char­ac­ters with a few well-cho­sen details. You feel you know these peo­ple, or peo­ple like them. But I think what real­ly drew us to the sto­ry was its poignan­cy. You felt for the char­ac­ters, and with them.

The main char­ac­ter is Frances, a proud, inde­pen­dent woman who has owned and oper­at­ed an upscale sta­tionery store since her divorce a num­ber of years ago. The sto­ry con­cerns Frances’s rela­tion­ship with Sol, with whom Frances and her ex-hus­band were friend­ly when they were mar­ried. Sol is now a wid­ow­er, and lone­ly. You’ll have to read the sto­ry to find out what happens!

Lau­ra Junger, a Parisian artist based in Berlin, has illus­trat­ed all of our orig­i­nal fic­tion in Paper Brigade, and, we think, nails it every time. The illus­tra­tion for this piece gets right to the heart of Frances. She tells her­self that she prefers being alone, and Laura’s paint­ing places her, alone, in her riotous­ly col­or­ful bed­room, star­ring her favorite col­or, Revlon Red. Frances’s bed­room is not actu­al­ly in the sto­ry itself but is Laura’s vision, and is in con­trast with Frances’s facial expres­sion, ren­dered in a few spare lines, that com­mu­ni­cates — what? Wist­ful­ness, lone­li­ness, sec­ond thoughts?

BK: Poland Itin­er­ary, Class 3b” by Lee­or Ohay­on is an inci­sive por­tray­al of the way Ashkenor­ma­tive retellings of his­to­ry can exclude Mizrahi Jews by plac­ing the Holo­caust at the cen­ter of Jew­ish iden­ti­ty. In the sto­ry, a group of Brtish Jew­ish high school stu­dents go on a Holo­caust remem­brance trip to Poland. The pro­tag­o­nist, Daniel Amar, is one of the few Mizrahi kids in his class. It’s clear that the teach­ers and most of the oth­er stu­dents feel that because his fam­i­ly didn’t direct­ly expe­ri­ence the Holo­caust, Daniel doesn’t real­ly belong – he’s some­how less of a Jew than they are.

The nar­ra­tive is struc­tured as an itin­er­ary, which rein­forces the fact that there are assump­tions and goals under­ly­ing the trip – whether that’s the teach­ers’ belief that the stu­dents will come to under­stand their grand­par­ents bet­ter, or the stu­dents’ bets on who will be the first among them to cry. Lee­or implic­it­ly asks the read­er to ques­tion those assump­tions. What hap­pens if your grand­par­ents didn’t expe­ri­ence the Holo­caust? What hap­pens if you des­per­ate­ly want to cry like every­one else but can’t?

We found this sto­ry deeply thought-pro­vok­ing in the way that it jux­ta­pos­es the Holo­caust with a por­tray­al of prej­u­dice with­in a con­tem­po­rary Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty. It also clev­er­ly aknowl­edges the chal­lenge of writ­ing fresh fic­tion about the Holo­caust – the plot hinges on the fact that we’ve all read so many Holo­caust sto­ries, and seen so many movies, that it’s hard to think beyond the expec­ta­tions we’ve formed from those icon­ic narratives.

Susan and Yona, how did you go about com­pil­ing Frankly Fem­i­nist from such a rich trove of pieces? 

SWS: First, of course, we went back and read through the hun­dreds of short sto­ries in Liliths back issues. And then we select­ed based on voic­es, sub­ject mat­ter, and – in the end – how the sto­ries relat­ed to one anoth­er. As the themes of the book start­ed to emerge, we found that some sto­ries coa­lesced, some felt like dif­fer­ent takes on relat­ed sub­jects. Each sec­tion fea­tures a brief intro­duc­tion that high­lights the intel­lec­tu­al con­tent of the group­ing to fol­low: Trans­gres­sions, Inti­ma­cies, Body and Soul, War, To Belong, and so on. It was actu­al­ly an organ­ic process as we paid close atten­tion to per­spec­tives, and voic­es. And we found that those voic­es rep­re­sent­ed wild­ly dif­fer­ent eras and atti­tudes even as they con­versed with one another.

YZM: We read through all the sto­ries we had ever pub­lished — forty-five years’ worth! From that, we came up with a pre­lim­i­nary list of about eighty sto­ries, which had to be win­nowed down still more. It was hard let­ting some of our favorites go; there is def­i­nite­ly enough work for a sec­ond volume!

Was there any­thing that you found sur­pris­ing or unex­pect­ed in cre­at­ing this anthology?

YZM: Not as much sur­pris­ing or unex­pect­ed as deeply val­i­dat­ing. I always knew that we pub­lished great work, but see­ing it alto­geth­er, as part of a larg­er pat­tern or tapes­try, was so satisfying.

SWS: I was aston­ished at how much plea­sure I took in read­ing and reread­ing the sto­ries we’ve com­piled – and of course we read each one many times. The book is (I say in all mod­esty, since I myself am not a writer of fic­tion) an absolute­ly won­der­ful read! The sto­ries by bold, cre­ative women are also about female char­ac­ters who often see their worlds in side­long, unex­pect­ed ways. Fem­i­nist for sure, and always surprising.

BK: I always learn new things as we put an issue of Paper Brigade togeth­er – it’s one of the things I find end­less­ly fas­ci­nat­ing about my job! This year, I learned a bit about the his­to­ry and cul­ture of Indi­an Jews while doing research for our Jew­ish lit­er­ary map of India. Gen­naRose Nethercott’s essay about the his­to­ry of Jew­ish pup­petry was fas­ci­nat­ing to me. And I’m con­tin­u­al­ly intrigued by the ways in which writ­ers are reimag­in­ing crea­tures from Jew­ish folk­lore through a mod­ern-day lens — whether that’s to explore sex­u­al­i­ty, dis­abil­i­ty, race, or con­tem­po­rary politics.

Have you noticed shifts or trends in Jew­ish fic­tion over the years? What, if any­thing, has remained constant?

SWS: The fine qual­i­ty of the sto­ries Lilith pub­lish­es remains con­stant, and has through­out the magazine’s robust forty-six-year his­to­ry. Some of the char­ac­ter­i­za­tions would have been fan­ta­sy in the past (female spir­i­tu­al lead­ers in all streams of Jew­ish life, for exam­ple. But oth­er themes are ripped from today’s head­lines: Abor­tion, auton­o­my over our own bod­ies. Dis­cor­dant mar­riages. Chal­leng­ing fam­i­ly rela­tion­ships. Dis­lo­ca­tions of war.

YZM: We used to get more sto­ries about bub­bies from the old world — the clas­sic Jew­ish grand­moth­er with her chick­en soup, her Shab­bos can­dles, her resilience and her grit. I’d say there are few­er of those sto­ries now. The new think­ing about and under­stand­ing of gen­der, as well as the will­ing­ness to under­stand gen­der in more than just bina­ry terms, is some­thing we are see­ing more of late­ly. What remains con­stant is the high qual­i­ty of the sub­mis­sions we receive — there are always sto­ries that man­age to sur­prise and delight me and those that fill me with rev­er­ence and even awe.

BK: Yona, I com­plete­ly agree about that shift. I’m per­son­al­ly most intrigued by sto­ries that explore the crossover of dif­fer­ent aspects of iden­ti­ty, and I think pub­lish­ers have become more will­ing to take on this type of sto­ry, too. When we con­sid­er books for review on Paper Brigades dig­i­tal arm, PB Dai­ly, we’re some­times brought back to the ques­tion What is a Jew­ish book?” In the past, this might have been eas­i­er to answer. Jews were less inte­grat­ed into main­stream soci­ety, so if a nov­el fea­tured Jew­ish char­ac­ters, Jew­ish iden­ti­ty would almost by default have to play an inte­gral role in the plot. Now things are dif­fer­ent. Take a nov­el like Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomor­row, and Tomor­row, and Tomor­row. Two of the char­ac­ters have Ashke­nazi her­itage and that does affect their lives, but so do race, priv­i­lege, ill­ness, and death. And the true focus of the book is the char­ac­ters’ rela­tion­ships and the video games they cre­ate. It’s impor­tant to embrace nov­els like this, which have a rel­a­tive­ly minor amount of Jew­ish con­tent, as Jew­ish books” because they are accu­rate rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the Jew­ish expe­ri­ence of many peo­ple today.

That hav­ing been said, the recent rise in anti­semitism in the US has cer­tain­ly inspired a num­ber of non­fic­tion books that address that issue head-on. I won­der if we’ll also be see­ing more authors return to writ­ing fic­tion that focus­es pri­mar­i­ly on Jew­ish iden­ti­ty or antisemitism.

What do you hope read­ers will take away from your publication?

YZM: I hope read­ers find sto­ries that res­onate for them, either by illu­mi­nat­ing lives very dif­fer­ent from their own, or by artic­u­lat­ing aspects of their own expe­ri­ence that they had not yet put into words.

SWS: The wide range of voic­es and expe­ri­ences in Frankly Fem­i­nist tes­ti­fies to the rich­ness in Jew­ish life and at the same time demon­strates the pow­er of what women share with­in those differences.

CK: Most­ly, I hope read­ers enjoy it and dis­cov­er authors that intrigue and engage them. I hope they’ll be moved to read some of the books they’ve read about in Paper Brigadeand to gift the jour­nal to book-lov­ing friends and family!

What are you read­ing now and what are you look­ing for­ward to reading?

BK: Wind­still, the debut nov­el of a dear friend of mine, Eluned Gramich, just came out in the UK, and I’m now read­ing it for the sec­ond time. In the book, a Welsh stu­dent goes to Ger­many to stay with her grand­moth­er, who tells and retells her expe­ri­ences of World War II in increas­ing­ly errat­ic ways. As the pro­tag­o­nist tries to untan­gle the truth about her fam­i­ly his­to­ry, she’s also forced to con­front a painful, and much more recent, mem­o­ry of her own. This nov­el is a bril­liant and nuanced med­i­ta­tion on how we’re often com­pelled to reshape our mem­o­ries – to for­get both our own trau­ma and the wrongs we’ve inflict­ed on others.

There are so many books I can’t wait to read next, but I’ll stick with the Ger­many theme and men­tion just one: De-Inte­grate! A Jew­ish Sur­vival Guide for the 21st Cen­tu­ry by Max Czollek. This book orig­i­nal­ly came out in Ger­many in 2018, and an Eng­lish trans­la­tion will be pub­lished by Rest­less Books in January.

CK: Late­ly I’ve been read­ing the Ital­ian Holo­caust-era writer Natalia Gins­burg; two books that stand out for me are her nov­el The Road to the City and the essay col­lec­tion The Lit­tle Virtues. I’m look­ing for­ward to read­ing Gabrielle Zev­in’s nov­el Bec­ca men­tioned: Tomor­row, and Tomor­row, and Tomor­row, which cen­ters on a group of smart young video game cre­ators. I’m also inter­est­ed in read­ing works by Miron C. Izak­son that have been trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish. An excerpt from his nov­el Fur­ther­more won this year’s Paper Brigade trans­la­tion award.

SWS: I read very wide­ly. Right now on my desk: the cat­a­log of an Anni Albers tex­tile exhi­bi­tion; Worn: A People’s His­to­ry of Cloth­ing by Sofi Thanhauser; Nine Quar­ters of Jerusalem: A New Biog­ra­phy of the Old City by Matthew Teller, and the lat­est nov­el from Kit­ty Zeld­is, The Dress­mak­ers of Prospect Heights. Fun­ny that three out of these four are about cloth­ing or fab­rics. So I should add that I have also been read­ing about the his­to­ry of tuber­cu­lo­sis and Yiddish.

YZM: I’m read­ing the new trans­la­tion of Colette’s Cheri and The Last of Cheri; I read all of her Clau­dine books when I was a young woman and now I’m find­ing it inter­est­ing to see how Colette por­trays an old­er woman. I also just fin­ished Maira Kalman’s Women Hold­ing Things. The easy charm of this book in no way dimin­ish­es its depth. As for what I’ll be read­ing next, I don’t know! I don’t make lists of books I plan to read; I’m more like a bee buzzing hap­pi­ly in a gar­den, drawn to what­ev­er appeals at the moment.