DIY anthology

A collection of short stories challenges readers to become writers.

By CAROL UNGAR
August 14, 2008 12:16
3 minute read.

Everyone's Got a Story Edited by Ruchama K. Feuerman The Judaica Press 416 pages; $24.95 Author and writing teacher Ruchama K. Feuerman fervently believes that writing and storytelling belong to the people - all people, not just the tiny elite who have earned their MFAs. In recent years, Feuerman, a former Jerusalemite who now lives in northern New Jersey, has become the pied piper of Jewish women's writing, leading workshops in real time and via teleconference. Now she has reaped the fruits of her labors, compiled in a vibrant, 416-page anthology of her students' work, entitled Everyone's Got a Story. "Every human being has a story worth telling," Feuerman writes in the introduction. The author of the acclaimed 2003 novel Seven Blessings, she has a knack for getting her students to reveal the stories they would have otherwise kept hidden within themselves. And what stories they are. Unlike other anthologies which restrict themselves to one theme only, Everyone's Got a Story has a little bit of everything - fiction, creative nonfiction, journalism, even humor. In this book you'll find everything from the tale of a Jerusalem housewife coping with terrorism to a wine grower's memoir to the story of a burial society volunteer. The settings are as varied as the content, locations and historical eras as diverse as Brooklyn of the 1950s, contemporary Miami Beach and Holocaust-era Siberia. Since both Feuerman and her students are Orthodox, it is no surprise that Jewish awakening is a popular theme, but in this book awakenings can occur anywhere at anytime. In this book awakenings happen in a Chicago emergency room, a Greenwich Village café or the back alley of a Brooklyn tenement. Though her students insist that she was born to this calling, Feuerman didn't actually set out to be a writing teacher. In her late teens she moved to Jerusalem and spent a decade here, studying and teaching Torah. Then in the early '90s she relocated to New York and became one of the few strictly Orthodox women to earn an MFA in literary fiction. Almost as soon as she had her degree, Feuerman started teaching, mostly in Orthodox circles, where creative writing instruction is scarce. From that time on, students have been flocking to her from the New York area and now, with her use of teleconferencing, from all over the globe. Workshop participants range in age from 19 to 80 and include journalists and playwrights, psychotherapists, teachers and housewives, some experienced writers and some who are putting pen to paper for the very first time. More than a few of Feuerman's students have gone on to publish their work, start magazines and write best-sellers including Judith Leventhal, co-author of the best-selling Small Miracles series, who counts Feuerman as a mentor. In a way, reading Everyone's Got a Story is like being a fly on the wall at one of these workshops, because interspersed with her students voices is Feuerman's own voice, expressed in a series of short essays that preface each chapter. An accomplished essayist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Feuerman's lively essays on the craft of writing have much to say to nonwriters as well as writers. In another original twist, Feuerman concludes each essay with a writing exercise culled from her workshops. More than just prompts to stream of consciousness writing, these exercises effectively illustrate the elements of craft she explores in her essays. All of this makes Everyone's Got a Story a one-of-a-kind book with appeal to readers of all religious convictions or none. It is a hybrid, a marriage of two genres, the how-to-write book and the anthology, a DIY anthology which challenges readers to become writers. Reading this anthology makes us all Feuerman's students. As she explains, "My goal is to provide the skills to the point where my students can take off, on their own." In her preface, Feuerman quotes a beautiful hassidic teaching: "If I tell you my story you will listen for a while, and then you will fall asleep. But, if, as I tell you my story, you begin to hear your own story, you will wake up." Reading these stories will wake you up. You will find yourself among these varied voices and maybe, like the authors of this book, you may decide to write your own story too.


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