The Door To The Neighborhood – Bab El Hara

It was not just another Monday.  This Monday was special.  I volunteered for an organization called Behind The Book to translate from Arabic to English for an eight year old  boy from Syria. Disclaimer, I’m a busy mom and comedian so I rarely volunteer. In fact I always complain that I don’t get paid for housework, childcare, or comedy and I refuse to take on one more thing that does NOT pay. I only volunteered because I am obsessed with getting my kid to speak Arabic. As my friend Mariam says, I am held emotionally hostage to the task of transferring my language, and I’m failing. I wake up every day and tell myself that I will only speak to him in Arabic.  I think about this all the time but all my thinking is in English!

So when I heard about this opportunity to use my native language with a kid my son’s age, I jumped on it.  I took the subway from the Upper West Side to Harlem, about fifty blocks, and entered a different world.  At the entrance of the public elementary school, I met Myra, a beautiful woman of Mexican origin who works for Behind the Book. She took me along with the author Jake Perez to the second grade classroom. She introduced us to our boy, Tarek, a skinny little man with brown hair and eyes the color of good olive oil. As soon as I met him, I understood why Myra launched a social media campaign to find him a translator. Before he uttered a word, I could tell he was curious and hungry to learn. I sat next to him on the floor, and we got to know each other.  I was so happy to hear a kid answer me back in Arabic.  As Jake read, I translated every word.

Jake’s book is about a little girl named Coco who learns how to make a treasured family recipe, flan. In the process, Coco also learns about her Cuban heritage. When I explained to Tarek that the reason Jake decided to write this book is because he wanted to learn more about his culture, he asked the simplest of questions and I didn’t have an answer.  “Well, if he misses his culture, and there is NO war there, why doesn’t he just go back to his home in Cuba?” Then when Jake showed us on the map where Cuba is, Tarek noticed the proximity to the United States and he asked me: “Why doesn’t he establish a home there and go back and forth?” Such a grown up question from a kid.  My own eight year old  would never ask that.

I visited Tarek in his classroom four or five times. After every visit, he remained in my thoughts.  I got to know some of the other kids.  Out of twenty four kids, seven are refugees from Yemen, about a third.  As a mom, I could not help but compare this school which is supposed to be an “underprivileged school” to my son’s school which is a “private public school”.  Other than the fact that all the kids in Tarek’s classroom are brown and all the kids in my son’s school are white, there is no difference.  This school might have lower test scores but in my opinion, it scores higher on love, immigrant hunger, and other things you can’t quantify.  I immediately wanted to put my son with Tarek.  I was envious that my own kid was not that curious and didn’t have the empathy and maturity that Tarek had. I insisted on meeting his mother. I gave him my number. She called the same day. She invited us to lunch.

Zidane and I went to Tarek’s house in Harlem one Sunday afternoon. They had a huge spread. A biryani type dish, a salad, and a specific roux type regional dish S-houq which I had never had before, followed by two types of dessert. I brought them some donuts from Dough and as soon as I saw her spread I felt silly and pretentious.  I immediately remembered my childhood, how my mom’s distant cousins would come to visit from America.  We would go all out and slaughter a lamb and they would bring us something silly like a tiny box of cookies from Trader Joe’s.  The lamb would side eye the cookies on the dining table.

As soon as I met his mom and sister, I noticed their accents were unlike Tarek’s, they sounded like they were from Yemen.  I asked:  it may be that you guys are not from Syria?  The sister moved Tarek in front of her, put her arms on his shoulders and asked him:  “did you tell them we are Syrian?”.  The cutest most mischievous smile gave his lie away.  Apparently, while they were waiting in Yemen to get their entry documents to America, he had spent an entire school year watching a very popular Syrian show Bab El Hara. He perfected the accent.  He was immediately worried that I would stop working with him.  I reassured him by letting him know how amused I was.  I thought to myself:  this kid is really smart, at such an early age, he learned to take advantage of the oppression olympics.  He realized that being Syrian got you way more attention than being Yemeni.  

While we were there, an accident happened. Tarek was so excited that he fell and hurt his eye lid. Blood was gushing. It left a deep wound. I could see the bone. I knew the mother and sister did not speak any English. I quickly looked up an Urgent Care nearby. I naively thought they would take their insurance. That’s where I took my son when he hurt his eye in the same place last summer, so I figured it would be ok. I was wrong. When we got there and they saw their insurance, they promptly sent us to to the ER. It was such a long ordeal. I stayed as long as possible. Luckily, we found a nurse who spoke Arabic and so after that, I left her in charge.

Zidane and I got on the subway home from Harlem. He started complaining that it was the worst playdate ever. I patiently tried to explain to him that everything would have gone smoothly if the Urgent Care had accepted their insurance. Try explaining America’s healthcare system to an eight year old. My husband is an artist and Creative Director in advertising and so we are blessed to have great insurance.  Tarek’s dad works for a grocery store seven days a week. Not only does Tarek barely see his dad, he has to go the Emergency room if he needs a doctor at odd hours. How do you teach kids that with their advantage comes a responsibility? There is no system in America to teach that. Community service here is something you have to do when you get in trouble with the law.

I got an idea to create an afterschool peer to peer homework and play space for new immigrants and first generation kids to integrate and learn from each other. Tarek and Zidane would not just learn languages from each other, they would get different perspectives.

This volunteer experience was not only extremely gratifying but it taught me a lot.  I went back recently for Tarek’s publishing party and met some of the moms.  One mom said to me:  “I want to write my story”.  I encouraged her to take a workshop, gave her my number and promised to take her to a Moth story slam.  Behind The Book inspired not only the kids but the moms as well.  As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi , author of Americanah says “there is danger of the single story”.  Behind The Book is inspiring kids to write their own multiple stories.

We consider ourselves extremely lucky to have Suzie Afridi as a volunteer in our classroom workshops, and are honored to have her guest blog about her experience! 

May Reading at KGB

The different faces of war, loss, love, and art across geographies and generations: join us to hear the masterful works of Elliot Ackerman, Alia Malek, and Ellen Umansky. We’ll be at KGB Bar in the East Village on Thursday, May 11.

Elliot Ackerman’s highly anticipated second novel, Dark at the Crossing, is a timely story of stunning humanity and tension: a contemporary love story set on the Turkish border with Syria.  The novel follows the crossed paths of an Iraqi-born interpreter for a Special Forces unit who travels to the Turkish border with Syria in hopes of joining the fight against President Bashar al-Assad’s repressive regime and two Syrian refugees who fled their homeland, but with hope their daughter remains alive in Syria.  Both a former White House Fellow and Marine, Elliot is the also the author of the critically acclaimed novel Green on Blue.  He is based out of Istanbul, where he has covered the Syrian Civil War since 2013.  His writings have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, and The New York Times Magazine, among other publications, and his stories have been included in The Best American Short Stories.  He served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan where he received the Silver Star, the Bronze Star for Valor, and the Purple Heart.

Dark at the Crossing is every bit as taut and harrowing as the place it depicts, a region where fifteen years of relentless war play out in filthy refugee camps and upscale shopping malls.  Elliot Ackerman has written a brilliant, admirably merciless novel of broken lives, broken places, and good intentions gone awry.” – Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk & Brief Encounters with Che Guevara

Alia Malek’s acclaimed narrative nonfiction book, The Home That Was Our Country: A Memoir of Syria, is a profound personal journey from when the author returns to her family home to Damascus at the Arab Spring’s hopeful start.  Restoring her family’s home as the country comes apart, she learns how to speak the coded language of oppression that exists in a dictatorship, while privately confronting her own fears about Syria’s future and ultimately delivering an unforgettable portrait of the Syria that is being erased.  A journalist and civil rights lawyer, she is the author of A Country Called Amreeka: US History Re-Told Through Arab American Lives and editor of Patriot Acts: Narratives of Post 9/11 Injustices and EUROPA: An Illustrated Introduction to Europe for Migrants and Refugees.  Her reportage has appeared in The New York Times, Foreign Policy, The New Yorker, The Nation, McSweeney’s, Guernica, and other publications.  Her reporting from Syria earned her the Marie Colvin Award in November 2013.  She was a Senior Writer at Al Jazeera America, a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute, and in residence at the MacDowell Colony.  In November 2016, she was honored with the 12th annual Hiett Prize in the Humanities.

“In THE HOME THAT WAS OUR COUNTRY, Alia Malek masterfully weaves together the personal and the political, and in so doing creates an unforgettable portrait of modern Syria in all its complexities and tragedies. Malek renders multiple generations of family, friends and neighbors vividly but unsentimentally, and what emerges is a portrait of a great people held back by tyranny. As Syria suffers through its darkest days, she reminds us of the humans behind the statistics. Completely engrossing and lucid, the book explains Syria’s devolution better than anything I’ve read.” — Dave Eggers

Ellen Umansky’s deeply humane and engrossing debut novel, The Fortunate Ones, travels from World War II Vienna to contemporary Los Angeles.  Tracing the fate of a missing painting by famed expressionist Chaim Soutine, the novel connects the lives of Rose, a refugee who escaped the Holocaust as a young girl on the Kindertransport to England, and Lizzie, a lawyer whose father just died, and their mutual search for meaning in tragedy.  Ellen has published fiction and nonfiction in a variety of venues, including The New York Times, Salon, Playboy, and the short story anthologies Lost Tribe: Jewish Fiction from the Edge and Sleepaway: Writings on Summer Camp.  She has worked in the editorial departments of The New Yorker, The Forward, and Tablet.  She grew up in Los Angeles, and now lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two daughters.

“Umansky’s richly textured and peopled novel tells an emotionally and historically complicated story with so much skill and confidence it’s hard to believe it’s her first.” – Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Adversity Meets Diversity

How Yangsook Choi’s The Name Jar helped students write about conflict and become their own hero.

Introductions
When I first met the 5th grade students at PS 98, they were eagerly engaged in a conversation with the visiting author, Yangsook Choi. The writer asked the students why their favorite book was their favorite. Their answers were not too different than my own would have been: themes of friendship, family, mystery and humor were among the most popular choices. The author then asked for student volunteers to read their own original stories aloud to the class. The children were very excited to share their works and when they had finished, they accepted feedback from their classmates as well as Choi. Some students were told to add more detail, while others were asked to hold back some. The author encouraged the students to make sure their conflicts were pronounced enough so that it would make the story more exciting and relatable.

Choi herself is no newcomer to storytelling, as she has written and published over 10 children’s books. One of the most influential, The Name Jar, features a girl named Unhei who is leaving her home in Korea to come to America for the first time. She is anxious about starting school. Unhei wants the children to like and accept her so she decides not to tell them her name, thinking that they won’t be able to pronounce it. Throughout the week she tries out more “Americanized” names such as Suzy or Amanda, suggested by the other students. However, by the end of the story Unhei realizes that although different, her name is special and unique to her and her culture. She tells her class her real name and helps them to pronounce it.

Working it Out
Choi also talked about her own process of writing and how it took her many, many times to rewrite and publish The Name Jar. She discussed the importance of story boards and how to use them to organize their stories and future works. Choi emphasized the need to create a conflict with many levels so that it is not easily solved. When the problem reaches a peak, the character must decide to solve the problem and then come up with the solution.

After reading The Name Jar, students created their own short story about a character who goes through their own adversity, as Unhei did. Many children decided to draw on their own life experiences as inspiration for their stories. Others created works dreamed up by their imaginations. While one student’s story was about a surgery that she had undergone, another’s was about a group of friends that get sucked into a video game.

Putting it All Together
Once they completed the first draft of their stories, the students participated in an art workshop. Each student received three blank puzzle pieces to use to illustrate their work. On the first puzzle piece, they drew a portrait of their main character and were therefore forced to think about what their protagonist is like: their looks, attitude, mood and hobbies. For example, one student drew her character sleeping because as she said, it’s their favorite activity to do (can’t argue with that). Another student informed me, “My character isn’t smiling because she’s happy. She’s being sarcastic.” On the second puzzle piece, the students were to draw a symbol of the conflict in their story.

The students picked up on the idea of symbols quite quickly. Soon they were drawing pictures of bad report cards, hospital signs, and pregnant bellies to signify the conflict in their stories. For their final puzzle piece, the children drew the resolution to their works. One girl’s story was about someone being bullied by another student. She ended the story with (and drew a picture of) the student tutoring the bully and the two of them becoming friends. When the students were finished with their puzzle pieces, they were put together with everyone else’s in the class to form one giant mural that was hung up outside their classroom. The buzz amongst the children who were so excited to see their completed mural hung up was contagious.

Importance of Diversity
I was very happy to see that The Name Jar was chosen for the 5th grade class to read because I believe that it is extremely important for students to read diverse books. Even more important for children this young is for them to understand that they can be the heroes of their own stories.

One small moment that really struck me: when the students were coloring in their puzzle pieces, several kids told me that they couldn’t find a marker that matched their skin color exactly. It doesn’t seem like a very important moment but it stuck with me long after I left the classroom for a few reasons. For one, I was very excited to see that the children were featuring themselves as the protagonists of their own stories. However, the moment as a whole seemed symbolic of the world around us. As I looked across the room for different colors and found only a pale whitish pink colored marker, I, maybe dramatically, felt the weight of the under-representation of minorities in the world – in media like books and movies, as well in government and executive positions.

The work that Behind the Book does goes way beyond improving literacy skills in low-income school districts. They allow children to see themselves in the world that they are so frequently erased from. When Behind the Book brings diverse authors and books to schools that discuss different cultures, languages, and ways of life, it allows students to feel that their own identification is valid – just as Unhei does at the end of The Name Jar. In addition, it creates an open discussion for topics that students are not familiar with but grow to learn about and appreciate. When students, especially at a young age, are taught to accept rather than reject people who are different them, the world becomes a much more peaceful place.

This guest blog was written by Kelly Schmaeling, a rising junior at Hunter College majoring in Media Studies. Kelly visited a number of workshops to get a truly substantial understanding of this Behind the Book program. 

Cheer for a Volunteer—It’s National Volunteer Week

National Volunteer Week, established in 1974 by President Richard Nixon, is a time to acknowledge and celebrate people who donate their time, skills, and energy in service to their communities. From April 23rd through 29th, you can share why you volunteer and what it means to you, while encouraging your friends, co-workers, and family to find a cause they want to give their time and talents to.

Behind the Book is giving a spirited shout-out to its own incredible volunteers, as well as everyone else who lends a hand all over the country. Our team of more than 1,000 people—three times the number from just a few years ago—play an active, vital role in our classroom literacy workshops.  We count on each of them to make each program a success.

As research, writing, and art coaches, our volunteers provide Pre-K to 12th grade students with individualized support, encouragement, and guidance that makes a huge difference in the outcome of their projects. In fact, we’re able to design more complex projects because we can count on volunteer support.

The impact they have was described perfectly by one of our Brooklyn third-graders: “I knew I was talented, but now I know how much!” She’s not alone. Students of all ages love working with their adult mentors, often asking them to come back another day, and distributing  generous hugs of happiness. As a result, we’ve yet to see a volunteer leave a classroom without a wide smile.

Working with volunteers is also an opportunity for students to get to know new people. Journalists, attorneys, finance professionals, tech experts, and people who work in fashion, theater, and the visual arts have all participated in our classroom workshops.

That’s not all they do to help make Behind the Book flourish. Volunteers regularly lend us their professional skills and experience by designing student books, photographing and videotaping workshops and events, copyediting, and helping to plan events. Their enthusiasm for our mission shows in the tremendous quality of work they do.

Want to share your love of serving your community? During National Volunteer Week, join the #ivolunteer campaign mounted by Points of Light, an organization that helps millions of volunteers make a difference. Simply download their signboard (or design your own!), and write in why you love being a volunteer.  Take a photo of yourself with your sign to share on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter with the hashtags #ivolunteer, #NVW, and #behindthebook. We’ll be looking for you!

On any week, you can find current dates to be a coach on our volunteer opportunities page. To join our team and receive notice of new dates as they’re posted, please complete our brief questionnaire.

Happy National Volunteer Week!

This guest blog was written by our Volunteer Coordinator Emily Rosenberg, who loves working with all of you amazing volunteers!

Meet the Supporter: Pat Levenson

We thought you’d all like to learn about a supporter who has been with us from the start – not only as a donor, but initially as a teacher at one of our partner schools. Claire Strickland, an English major at NYU, profiles our long-time friend Pat Levenson:

The gift of inspired readers comes from experiencing the difference between simply getting through books, and allowing books to get through to the reader. Behind the Book donor Pat Levenson has seen the power of this gift for herself.

For more than 30 years, Levenson worked in a “high-poverty, funding-strangled” NYC public school where she witnessed the daily hardships wrought by under-resourced reading programs. Struggling with writing and reading comprehension, students would often grow discouraged by books and set them down before getting halfway through.

When Behind the Book launched a partnership with her school, Levenson was overjoyed by the transformation under Behind the Book’s “vision, creativity, and resources. The partnership with authors and illustrators was unexpectedly and wonderfully inspiring to the entire staff and empowering to all the students.”

“Reading is vital to our ability as human beings to understand other places and people,” Levenson said. “It gives us insight into our own nature as we silence all the outside noise and let another’s language become our own.”

Now retired, Levenson continues to nurture her passions for social reform and education as an active member of her local Democratic club and a part-time course instructor at an adult education program. In her free time, she volunteers in her residential development’s tenant organization. She loves to travel whenever possible.

If Levenson were to write a book about herself, she jokes that with her packed agenda, she would title it, “So, Do You Think She’ll Ever Learn the Meaning of the Word ‘No’?” Despite having a full schedule, Levenson enjoys keeping herself busy and finds it rewarding to further causes for which she feels strongly.

Her favorite book is Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities,” which a “brilliant JHS teacher” guided her through one semester. She discovered how to “reflect on the setting and development as sign-posts of relationships and plot, and not be seduced or misdirected by the words characters are speaking. And it has one of the greatest opening lines ever!”

Meet the Teacher: Brenda Changkit

Literacy is an important part of any child’s education. Brenda Changkit, a kindergarten teacher who has worked with Behind the Book for five years, believes “the earlier, the better” when it comes to exposing kids to books.

“I believe even in the womb kids are able to hear,” she said. “So even with my own children I read to them before they were born. More so with my second son – he has such a love for reading and books now.”

While all parents may agree that reading is essential for their children, not all parents are able to provide the resources that a young mind requires. Changkit sees the effect of this first hand in some of her own students.

“I notice that students who aren’t exposed to a wide variety of reading early on have a challenge with comprehension,” she said.

Changkit suggests parents find websites that provide free reading material, and if access to the internet is an issue then going to the library is also helpful. Our Executive Director agrees, underlining the point that variety in materials is the best way to keep young children engaged in reading.

“I also tell parents to have as many outdoor experiences as they can.” Changkit said. Take them to the Botanical Gardens or even a park.”

Early Literacy is a city-wide focus – one of Mayor DeBlasio’s most successful initiatives was establishing Universal Free Pre-K in New York. And elementary schools are getting more resources. Changkit’s school, for example, provides an online reading program called Raz-Kids for their students.  The program allows students access to reading material that corresponds with each student’s reading level.

Behind the Book is growing our programs that promote early literacy. In addition to early elementary school programs like Ms. Changkit’s class, we’re developing more partnerships with Head Start programs in the city. Because we get to work with faces like these:

April Reading at KGB

Spring is finally here! And so is Behind the Book’s April reading at KGB Bar. Join us on Thursday, April 13th at 7pm to hear these two talented ladies, Min Jin Lee and Cara Hoffman, read from their latest works.

Min Jin Lee’s profoundly moving and gracefully told tour de force, Pachinko, follows one Korean family through the generations, in exile from a homeland they never knew and caught in the indifferent arc of history.  A national bestseller, Pachinko is a New York Times Editor’s Choice, an American Booksellers Association’s Indie Next Great Reads, and a February Book of the Month for Amazon.  Her debut novel, Free Food for Millionaires, was named one of the Top 10 Novels of the Year by The Times of London, NPR’s Fresh Air, and USA Today.  Her short fiction has been featured on NPR’s Selected Shorts.  Her writings have appeared in The New York Times, Condé Nast TravelerThe Times of LondonVogueTravel+LeisureWall Street Journal, and  Food & Wine.  Her essays and literary criticism have been anthologized widely, and she has served as a columnist for the Chosun Ilbo, the leading paper of South Korea.  She has received the NYFA Fellowship for Fiction, the Peden Prize from The Missouri Review for Best Story, and the Narrative Prize for New and Emerging Writer.  She went to Yale College where she was awarded both the Henry Wright Prize for Nonfiction and the James Ashmun Veech Prize for Fiction.  She attended law school at Georgetown University and worked as a lawyer for several years in New York prior to writing full time.  She lives in New York City with her family.

“In 1930s Korea, an earnest young woman, abandoned by the lover who has gotten her pregnant, enters into a marriage of convenience that will take her to a new life in Japan. Thus begins Lee’s luminous new novel PACHINKO—a powerful meditation on what immigrants sacrifice to achieve a home in the world. PACHINKO confirms Lee’s place among our finest novelists.” – Junot Díaz, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and This Is How You Lose Her

Cara Hoffman is the author of the newly released, Running, a dark and breathtaking novel of love, friendship, and survival set in the red light district of Athens in the 1980s that Garth Greenwall calls “a ferocious, brilliant book.” She is also the author of the critically acclaimed novels RunningSo Much Pretty, and Be Safe I Love You.  She has written for The New York Times, The Paris Review, Electric Literature, Marie Claire, SalonLitHub, and National Public Radio, and is the recipient of numerous awards and accolades including a Folio Prize nomination, and a Sundance Institute Global Filmmaking Award, and a MacDowell Fellowship. Originally from Northern Appalachia, Cara dropped out of high school and spent the next three years travelling and working in Europe and the Middle East. She did not go to college, became a newspaper reporter covering crime and environmental politics, and later attended graduate school at Goddard College, selling her first novel So Much Pretty, before receiving an MFA in 2009. She has been a visiting writer at Columbia, St. John’s, and University of Oxford, and currently teaches in the Stonecoast low residency MFA program at the University of Southern Maine.

“Hoffman impressively evokes the combination of nihilism, idealism, rootlessness, psychic and economic necessity, lust and love that might set a young person adrift. Unlike the runaway heroes of many queer narratives these characters are not cast out but looking to get lost…The Athens on display here is peopled with rebels and runaways of all kinds, idealists, revolutionary operatives, con men, wayward young scholars, squatters…In Bridey and Milo Hoffman has created memorable anti-heroes: tough and resourceful scarred, feral and sexy. The book and the characters refuse to conform and Running like all good outlaw literature takes sharp aim at the contemporary culture’s willingness to do so.” – The New York Times Book Review

Behind the Book on NBC’s GIVE!

Behind the Book was beyond thrilled to be featured on NBC’s philanthropic reality show, GIVE, on March 11.

As you may know, our Executive Director worked in television for 20 years before she launched Behind the Book. But Jo was on the production side, and in no way used to being in front of the camera. She swallowed her nerves and got through the filming, only to be surprised with a generous gift at the end. Through GIVE, we were awarded a $20,000 grant from the Ganek Family Foundation – and we’re so grateful!

Meeting Jenna Bush Hager was a treat for us all, and we loved working with the pros at Bungalow Media on the production end. We can report that the students at PS 125 were extremely excited to have a television film crew in their midst.

Our thanks go out not only to them, but to author Tony Medina, who agreed to be featured in the segment, and principal Reginald Higgins, who agreed to let the show film in his school.

Here’s to teamwork!

You can view the full episode on NBC’s website:

GIVE on NBC

 

March Reading at KGB

Our March reading at KGB Bar in Manhattan’s East Village is filled to the brim with new works! Four authors will headline on Thursday, March 9 at 7PM:

André Aciman is the acclaimed author of the new novel, Enigma Variations.  His prior books include Eight White NightsCall Me by Your NameOut of EgyptFalse PapersAlibis, and Harvard Square, and the editor of The Proust Project.  He is the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a fellowship from The New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers.  His work has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The New Republic, The Paris Review, as well as in many volumes of The Best American Essays.  He teaches comparative literature at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and lives with his wife in Manhattan.

“Aciman writes arousal so beautifully you miss it when it’s gone . . . [Aciman is] up to something bolder this time . . . Aciman is all the way himself here.  He writes with the ferocity of a writer who’s finally getting his vision down, and he has to say it, has to get it out.  He’s made a magnificent, living thing.” – Paul Lisicky, The New York Times Book Review

Nicole Krauss has been hailed by The New York Times as “one of America’s most important novelists.” She is the author of the international bestsellers, Great House, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Orange Prize and winner of the 2011 ABA Indies Choice Honor Award in Fiction and the 2011 Anisfield-Wolf Award, and The History of Love, which won the Saroyan Prize for International Literature and France’s Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger, and was short-listed for the Orange, Médicis, and Femina prizes.  Her first novel, Man Walks Into a Room, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book of the Year. In 2007, she was selected as one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists, and in 2010 she was chosen by The New Yorker for their “Twenty Under Forty” list.  Her fiction has been published in The New Yorker, Harper’s, Esquire, and Best American Short Stories, and her books have been translated into more than thirty-five languages.

“The voice [in Great House] sweeps you up…beautiful and mysterious.  Krauss’s understanding of the varieties of human suffering—exceptional in a writer so young—makes the experience of her characters resonate in us.  Their stunningly distinct and lively voices hold us captive…Krauss, who began her career as a poet, can do just about anything she wants with the English language.” – Ann Harleman, The Boston Globe

Eric Puchner is the author of the collection Music Through the Floor, a finalist for the California Book Award and the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award, and of the novel Model Home, which was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Barnes & Noble Discover Award, and won a California Book Award.  His short stories and personal essays have appeared in GQ, Granta, Tin House, Zoetrope, Narrative, Glimmer Train, Best American Short Stories, Best American Nonrequired Reading, and Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses.  He has received a Wallace Stegner Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, and an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and was a Pushcart Prize winner.  In 2015, he was awarded the Jeannette Haien Ballard Writer’s Prize, given annually to writers “of proven excellence in poetry or prose.”  An assistant professor in the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University, he lives in Baltimore with his wife, the novelist Katharine Noel, and their two children.

“Ray Bradbury meets Tom Perrotta in the new collection by Puchner (Model Home), which blends science fiction with the all-too-real suburban horrors of deadbeat dads, unsupervised teens, and the onset of mental illness.  In the instant classic “Beautiful Monsters,” a brother and sister rearing themselves in a world where parents are extinct encounter their first adult . . . . Other tales feature aging punk rockers, vindictive divorcées, and ready-to-snap bookstore employees, completing Puchner’s composite of everyday desperation.” – Library Journal

A Philadelphia native, Tom McAllister lives in New Jersey, teaches at Temple, and is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, an editor at Barrelhouse, and the author of a memoir, Bury Me in My Jersey: A Memoir of My Father, Football, and PhillyThe Young Widower’s Handbook is his first novel.

The Young Widower’s Handbook is a stunning, clear-eyed examination of the complexity of grief.  In McAllister’s hands, this story of a man dealing with the loss of his wife takes on such depth and surprising humor that you can’t help but give yourself over, heart and soul, to Hunter’s journey.” – Kevin Wilson, author of The Family Fang