(photo credit: JOSEPH M SINGER)
This cheery salutation in my email inbox meant that a new book review from Matt Nesvisky had arrived.
It also meant that I would be entertained, informed or moved (often all three would happen simultaneously) by another fine piece of writing.
Moreover, as the book editor for The Jerusalem Report
, it further meant I would have copy that demanded appreciation more than it required change.
Occasionally I would tinker with a comma or two. But his crisp and inventive prose and intelligent judgment, backed by a formidable hinterland of literary knowledge and sensibility, defied further interference.
One novel was summed up as “told in a salad spinner of fictional and factual fragments.” A Jewish poetry anthology was decried as ignoring Jewish experience in favor of writing on “such classic drafty garret topics as love, loss, alienation or nature.”
Matt’s life (perhaps “lives” would be better, so broad were his interests, skills and activities) defies easy summary. He early revealed his literary leanings, obtaining a doctorate in English.
But his heart was in journalism. That, and Zionism, brought him and his artist wife Linda from the US to Israel in the early 1970s. Immediately after his IDF basic training the Yom Kippur War broke out, and he served in an artillery unit on the Golan Heights for the duration.
The Jerusalem Post
then became his professional home for the next 16 years.
Matt provided remarkable cultural depth, as well as displaying editing skills of the highest order. Stints as chief copy editor and editor of the Post
magazine were leavened with delightful satirical pieces, insightfully conducted interviews with visiting cultural luminaries, and reviews ranging over the artistic scene.
He adopted two nom de plumes. Madeleine L. Kind was the persona he deployed for jazz reviews (apparently his copy was so convincing that he attracted offers of dates from music-loving males): Lev Bearfield was the other.
By the time Matt and Linda returned to the US in 1990, he had amassed a formidable portfolio: The New York Times
and The Economist
were among the outlets that had published his work. He then put it to use in academia, teaching journalism at Kutztown University near Philadelphia, while maintaining a steady flow of reviews and other articles for the Report
as a contributing editor.
His students found his classes demanding, but rewarding. One student summed up the Nesvisky experience thus: “Great professor. He is a tough grader but once you get past your ego and listen to what he is saying, you’ll find your articles turn out much better.”
He summarized his experience in a 2008 book he wrote for fledgling student journalists. Covering Your Campus
, not just a how-to manual, gave advice that reflected his sense of fairness and humanity. “Compliment reporters for something well done and they will remember it and you forever; stomp them, and they’ll eventually crawl off to find some other campus activity that doesn’t involve journalism.”
A brush with mortality two years ago provoked Matt to another fine article, for The Smart Set website, ending with words that serve as a fitting farewell:
“But I have embraced the crowning cliché: Be thankful every moment of your lowly, inconsequential existence. I know I am. Oh, you mean live every day as if it were your last? Absolutely, because one of these days... And if that sounds banal, well, let’s face it, so is death. So face it. The fact remains that existence is a limited-time offer. Take advantage, enjoy it, relish it — while it lasts.”
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