Historical novelists to speak at Brandeis
On April 13, Brandeis will host noted authors Anita Diamant and Jennifer Gilmore '92 for readings of their books followed by a conversation about their writing. The event, titled "The Personal and the Political: Historical Fiction and the Jewish Experience," is sponsored by the Creative Writing department with support from the American Studies department and will be moderated by Prof. John Plotz (ENG).Both authors first achieved recognition for novels dealing with historical Jewish experiences. Diamant is a Boston-based writer whose 1997 debut The Red Tent, a reimagining of Genesis-era Jewish life, was named a New York Times bestseller. Gilmore's first novel, Golden Country, was released in 2006. The story of immigrants living in New York City during the first half of the 20th century, Golden Country was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.
Diamant's latest novel, Day After Night, tells the story of Holocaust survivors living in a British internment camp near Haifa after World War II. In an interview with the Justice, Diamant said that writing Day After Night posed new challenges due to the continuing emotional significance of the period.
She said her novel is "about survivors and resillience" and says that the extensive historical record from the period required her to balance these larger themes with the minute historical details she uncovered. "You sort of fall in love with those details, and you want to tell everyone everything you know," Diamant said. Her research materials included newspaper accounts of the camps, memoirs of the experience and even a series of in-person interviews she conducted with former inmates in the camp.
According to Gilmore, her forthcoming book, Something Red, deals with the decline of radicalism and the meaning of political protest. The book follows the Goldsteins, a family living amid the changing political atmosphere of 1979 Washington, D.C. "I am really interested in the way history affects families," she said.
Gilmore said that a fictionalized version of her alma mater was a natural choice as a setting for the novel. "Brandeis has this really rich history and it would be a really neat place to set the book," she explained.
After earning her degree in English and American Literature and Creative Writing from Brandeis, Gilmore continued on to Cornell University for her Master of Fine Arts degree and now serves as a professor at the The New School. She said that it was challenging to conjure Brandeis in the time period shortly before her own time here, a task requiring "the same kind of research as if it was a different place." Still, she was able to describe some professors and buildings from memory. "Getting back into being that age was really cool," she said.
Although the discussion on April 13 will focus primarily on historical novels, both writers emphasize that their interests extend beyond the confines of that genre. "In a way you're always writing about the past," notes Gilmore. Diamant says historical fiction is "not a category that I go looking for" when seeking books to read recreationally. Citing novels such as One Hundred Years of Solitude, she points out, "It's either good storytelling or it's not.