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In honor of Tel Aviv's centenary in 2009, Ang-Lit. Press, a Tel Aviv-based publishing cooperative specializing in contemporary Israeli fiction written in English, has just launched the book Tel Aviv Stories, a collection of stories set in - where else? - Tel Aviv.
The anthology, containing 53 stories by 37 English-speaking writers, was celebrated on December 19 with a launching party in the Gilman Building of Tel Aviv University with about 70 writers, editors and admirers in attendance.
"The anthology focuses on universal human issues set against the backdrop of Tel Aviv," says Shelley Goldman, Ang-Lit. Press CEO and co-editor (along with Joanna Yehiel) of the anthology. Both editors also have stories that appear in the book. Goldman adds, "The English-speaking Israelis' literary voice is a fresh perspective on many aspects of life in this 100-year-young city."
As soon as word was out that Ang-Lit. Press (a play on the Hebrew word "Anglit," which means "English") planned to publish this anthology, more than 200 story submissions flooded in from all around Israel and from as far away as India and Cyprus. The only requirement was that the story be set in Tel Aviv. A panel of 18 readers (scattered in Israel, England and the United States) had to whittle the entries down to 53, comprising a book of 500 pages. Tel Aviv Stories will be available next month in Israeli bookstores as well as on Amazon.com. Ang-Lit. Press will also be represented at the Jewish Book Week Fair in London beginning February 21 and the Jerusalem International Book Fair during the week of February 15-20.
Aliyana Traison, an editor at Haaretz.com, said that her story, "Have You Eaten Today?" about a religious man's attempt to cope with the grief over his deceased son, was her first published fiction.
"I've lived in Tel Aviv for four years," said the Michigan native who studied at McGill University as well as at the Creative Writing Program of Bar-Ilan University.
"It's exciting to be a part of the English intellectual history of this city," Traison says.
The anthology is divided into seven themes: Chance Encounters; Beginnings and Endings; Dating, Love and Marriage; Family; Friendship; and Urban Legends, such as "The Giant Falafel Ball," a humorous story by Tim Bugansky about a giant falafel ball and "Fefferman," Larry Lefkowitz's story of a soccer player who, during half time, simply disappears. But how?
"Opinions," Lefkowitz writes, "as it so often happens in our little country, are divided."
In keeping with Ang-Lit. Press's credo that the short story anthology is the perfect genre for the Internet-surfing, hyper-impatient readers of today, Tel Aviv Stories, says Goldman, are "an instant literary fix for commuters, bedtime or occasional readers - the stories can be read in any order."
And the stories appeal to literary tastes across the board. "You'll read all the stories and you'll love some of them and you'll hate some of them," Goldman said at the launch, "But in all of them you'll find something cosmopolitan and edgy and really good fiction."
The wide range of themes that take place in Tel Aviv reflect the city's richness, explains Goldman, who was born in England and worked at The Jerusalem Post for many years.
There is a story about a young American's vain quest for the mythical Tel Aviv of his childhood. Another about a journalist who accidentally meets her husband's former wife. And a kibbutznik's search for a roommate with benefits on a gay Internet site. In fact, Goldman says, some of the stories are so offbeat that a Jewish publisher overseas turned down the offer to publish it.
"But we didn't want to censor the stories," Goldman says. She feels that the fiction represents real life in the city. Which is why she has taken it upon herself to support its publication, even if it makes no money. That is why she calls Ang-Lit. Press a cooperative - she doubts that her business endeavors will earn her much.
"Let's just say this is my birthday gift to Tel Aviv," she says. "I do it for love, not money."
The idea of publishing fiction in English is an important one to her. Too often, she says, "'Contemporary Israeli fiction' is erroneously understood in the international publishing world as 'written in Hebrew and translated into English.'" She believes that English-speaking writers in Israel offer a distinctive narrative because they are immigrants by choice. And the "narrow definition of contemporary Israeli fiction does not reflect the facts on the ground."
To counter this lack of a venue for English-speaking writers, Goldman founded Ang-Lit. with Wendy and Jeffrey Geri, from South Africa. Ang-Lit. Press's first publishing venture was in 2007 with its short story anthology Jane Doe Buys A Challah and Other Stories. (The book is available from Amazon.com.) Future Ang-Lit. Press projects include an online magazine for Israeli fiction written in English.
"As immigrants to Israel we lost our language," writer Ruth Abraham, whose story, "Short Term Memory," appears in the anthology. "In a way, this renders us mute. Our linguistic skills are diminished." She emigrated from South Africa to Israel 35 years ago yet she still feels she expresses herself best in her mother tongue. In fact, she has written a book aimed at professionals on Alzheimer's, When Words Have Lost Their Meaning: Alzheimer's Patients Communicate through Art, which has been translated into several languages.
At the party, she received a loud round of applause when she told the Ang-Lit. Press founders that she, along with everyone else, was appreciative of the cooperative's efforts on their behalf.
"If we write fiction, we have little chance of having our stories published," she says. "And for that, we're terribly grateful to Ang-Lit. Press."
Bugansky, who travels often between Ohio and Herzliya, where his girlfriend lives, said that fiction is the "big dream." He said he feels great that his story was published in an international journal and happy that he was able to capture something about Israel.
"It's like I was able to channel the city," he said.