Arts and Culture

To honor Jewish book month, tips for writers

If the Great Jewish Novel is lurking inside you but you can’t get it out (or get it published), there are people who want to help. Now is the time to end the procrastination and excuses — and banish your Jewish writer’s block.

The first and best stop is Erika Dreifus’ website. Dreifus is both a published author — “Quiet Americans: Stories” (2011) — and a self-proclaimed “Resource Maven.” Her lists are great (and up to date):

• Jewish writing conferences and courses

• Where to read (and publish) writing on Jewish themes,

• Jewish organizations to know about, and

• “Six Ways to Publicize Your Jewish Book” (and more). [] You can follow her very active Twitter feed @erikadreifus.

Geared primarily toward women, the Jewish Writing Institute aims to “foster self-discovery and intensify one’s Jewish and spiritual identity.” There are articles on a variety of topics including jumpstarting your writing, publishing in Jewish newspapers and magazines, three views on using a pen name [ jwrite2] as well as a companion blog. []

Speaking of blogs, if you love to write and are looking for a community that shares your passion, check out The Jewish Writing Project. This blog welcomes “stories, poems, memoirs, interviews — even random thoughts — as long as you keep the focus on being Jewish and on what being Jewish means to you.” [ jwrite4]

And what are Jewish writers writing about? Anne Roiphe is seeing a huge shift since the days of Bellow, Roth and Malamud whose stories had “the voice of the American Jew moving into the mainstream [with] Yiddish jokes, sad stories, pressuring mothers, self-sacrificing mothers, beautiful blondes, pain of the soul, Jewish references everywhere, smart Jewish boys who always know the answers, and anti-Semitism.”

According to Roiphe, the younger generation of writers like Nathan Englander and Leon Wieseltier “was raised within the Jewish tradition, and although it has serious objections to how it was informed, it does not mumble out of a Jewish vacuum. … Their voices are not ethnic so much as traditional, source-filled, and full of their own identity. Religion and tradition may be challenged or attacked, but only the way the son or daughter in a family will and the way a writer must — not vaguely, but precisely.” Read more in Roiphe’s essay, From Jewish Writing to Writing Jewish. []

National Jewish Book Award winner Dara Horn writes that nowadays, if you’ve written something “about someone named Goldberg who once ate a bagel — poof, you have become a Jewish writer.” She argues that Jewish writers have a responsibility to go beyond the stereotypes and become familiar with traditional Jewish sources so genuine Jewish themes can be incorporated into their writing. “Writing that draws on such a legacy has the potential not only to inform but to enrich, to enliven, to nourish, to revive the dead.” []

Of course, good writing is its own reward. But an adoring public doesn’t hurt. Nor does acclaim and cash. Erika Dreifus has compiled a very helpful list of over 20 awards and prizes geared toward “published and unpublished fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction on Jewish themes.” []

There’s a huge range here: from’s Daniel Pearl Investigative Journalism Initiative “designed to encourage young journalists to write in-depth stories about a modern manifestation of anti-Semitism or another deeply ingrained prejudice” to Lilith Magazine’s Charlotte A. Newberger Poetry Prize [] to the venerable National Jewish BookAwards. []

Now stop dreaming and get back to your writing!

Mark Mietkiewicz can be reached at