Category Archives: News

Madison’s Writers Resist Reading: Details and Thoughts

I know I often write about how honored I’ve been to have received this award or that nomination, to have been invited to this reading or that lecture, to have my name mentioned alongside the names of other writers I admire. I never use the word casually. I mean it sincerely every single time. I always wanted to be a writer, but I began writing seriously later in life, and I’m still amazed that my work has been published at all and that I’m a member of a creative writing program, much less one as respected as the University of Wisconsin’s. Both those things–being a published writer and teaching–were beyond my wildest dreams, so when someone acknowledges my work when there are so many better and more prominent writers around–well, that’s even farther beyond those dreams, and I’m not kidding around;  I am truly, deeply honored.

But having used the word honored in all those other contexts means that I’m now in need of a word that means “honored and then some.” Honored-plus? Super-honored? Full-fat honored? HONORED in all caps? Because that’s how I feel about having been invited to be a featured reader at the Madison Writers Resist event on Sunday, January 15: extra honored with a cherry on top. If you want the time and place, you can jump to it by clicking here.

But in this post, I wanted to say a little something more about this reading.

As a great many American citizens are aware, Writers Resist is an international movement that was conceived after the US election by the poet and activist Erin Belieu. The idea is elegant and powerful: on January 15, 2017, the date of Martin Luther King’s birthday, writers, readers and citizens seeking solidarity and inspiration will gather in their cities and towns to hold what is described as “a ‘reinauguration’ of our shared commitment to the spirit of compassion, equality, free speech, and the fundamental ideals of democracy.”  To date readings are being held in about 75 locations, from New York and Boston to Seattle and San Francisco to Zurich and Hong Kong.

The Madison event, which is a fundraiser for the Wisconsin ACLU, takes place from 6 to 9pm. It  was organized by Sean Bishop, Kara Candito, Ron Czerwien, and Rita Mae Reese, four formidable poets who live here in Madison. The readers have been asked to read briefly from relevant passages of either their own work or the work of other writers who inspire them. After these readings there will be an open mic.

The featured readers in Madison include Masood Akhtar, Marilyn Annucci, Moisés Villavicencio Barras, Araceli Esparza, Fabu, Dale Kushner, Lissa McClaughlin, Rubén Medina, Oscar Miralis, SP Mulroy,  Timothy Yu, and me, as well as all 6 of this year’s Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing fellows, Derrick Austin, Jamel Brinkley, Natalie Dawn Eilbert, Sarah Fuchs, Marcela Fuentes, and Barrett Swanson. I know many of these writers and am genuinely excited to hear them read, one after another.

Making it all just a little more special is the location of the reading, the beautiful Gates of Heaven, a former synagogue adjacent to James Madison Park. It helps make this feel like an almost spiritual event. I believe it will be a consoling event, a healing event.

My teacher Marilynne Robinson (talk about honors–not much beats having Marilynne Robinson as your teacher) once told us that the English who colonized this country did not celebrate Thanksgiving once a year as we do today or as suggested by the traditional Thanksgiving stories we were told as children. Rather, she said, whenever the religious leaders believed something had occurred that gave them particular reason to express gratitude to their god,  the colonists would gather together in church and as a community give thanks. These were known as days of thanks-giving and they occurred frequently throughout the year.

We have had many days of coming together in fear and despair of late. I see the Writers Resist readings as a worldwide day of thanksgiving. We give thanks for our voices, our convictions, our ferocity, our freedoms, our intellects, our imaginations, our power. That we in Madison will be gathering in the once-sacred Gates of Heaven to read to one another on this day of thanks-giving makes our event all the more moving.

And so, once more, the details: Sunday, Jan. 15, 6 – 9pm, the Gates of Heaven Synagogue, 302 E. Gorham St. Featured readers will begin at 6pm and an open mic will follow.

 

Harold U. Ribalow Prize Finalist

Three novels with Jewish themes were nominated for the 2016 Harold U. Ribalow Prize: Jessamyn Hope’s Safekeeping, Jim Shepard’s The Book of Aron, and my A Reunion of Ghosts. This week it was made official: The Book of Aron took the prize. I have to say that having my work considered along with work by Jim Shepard, one of my favorite authors, a writer whose work I frequently teach to my students, made me feel as though I’d stepped into an alternate universe. I’m truly overjoyed to be in this company and to end the year knowing that this book has had some nice pats on its paper back. I’m about to begin a sabbatical; the plan is to make some serious headway on book number 3. So here we go–

 

China

I’m happy to share the news that Beijing White Horse, a publisher of literary fiction in China, has acquired A Reunion of Ghosts. I’m so grateful to my hard-working team at William Morris Endeavor for making this happen. The photo below is of White Horse Temple in China, where the founding members of the publishing firm originally met to solidify their commitment to culture and literature.

Dublin Literary Prize Long List

allllThe Dublin Literary Award has the longest long list of all the major prizes: this year libraries around the world nominated 147 books for the prize. As my Harper/Harper Perennial editor wrote when she passed the news along, “What’s so wonderful about this is that nominations come from librarians, not publishers, and so it reflects the passion of the literary community.” In my case, two libraries nominated Reunion: the Seattle Public Library and New Hampshire State Library. My deep thanks to the librarians there.

The judges will now begin the formidable process of winnowing the list over the next few months. In April a more typical short list of ten books will be announced. But until then, I am basking in the glow of being among the honored 147.

Review: The Bookshop in West Sussex, England

For the most part, reviews for A Reunion of Ghosts have tapered off, but today I came across a new one from The Bookshop, a bookstore in England that looks just the way a book shop ought to:3c37a9_f6e6bafbe65c41b5bdd907b6440c3ad6mv2_d_2048_1731_s_2

I have to say that coming across a lovely review such as this during a week when I have been questioning everything including the worth of the work I do was very affirming. It reminded me that it is, indeed, important to put literature out into the world. 

When I write, I try to live up to the exhortation of my professor, the late James Alan McPherson, who one day interrupted class to urge us to “consider writing about something important.” Those words changed me and my work. Ever since, I’ve tried to take risks and tackle the hard stuff. Thus, a first novel about genocide, a second that I consider to be a biography of the 20th century narrated by three suicidal (if wisecracking) sisters.

Jim also used to characterize all his work as failures, even his Pulitzer Prize winning work, even the work that won him a MacArthur genius award. He meant it, I think, in the sense that all art falls short, fails to achieve perfection, fails to live up to the vision we had for it when we began. Certainly, in that sense, my own work fails too, and it fails far more than Jim’s ever did. So it means a lot to know, imperfect though it may be, it touched someone.

Anyway, the review:

A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell is an absolutely astounding novel and I urge anyone and everyone to go and read it. I bought this book simply because of its pretty front cover, but it is so much more than that: a novel beautifully written – startlingly so in fact – and drew from me both tears of sadness and laughter on more than one occasion. The novel is written as a joint suicide note by three sisters whose great grandfather invented poison gas for the Germans during World War One. It is evocative and chilling, hilarious and devastating, and brutally questions the difference between truth and fiction, between meaning and coincidence. READ IT. Please.

On this Veteran’s Day

Last Day of the War jacketIt’s a little hard to see, but the cover of my first novel includes the famous photograph taken on Armistice Day: 11/11 at 11am. (If you have a copy of the book–and bless you if you do!–the time can be seen on the clock tower.) That day the streets were filled with joyous Parisians and American G.I.s celebrating together.

The name of this novel, The Last Day of the War, is meant to be bitter and ironic. Nov. 11 was not really the last day of World War One. Not long after that Nov. 11, thanks to a flawed peace agreement that was overly punitive and that also preserved imperialism, the world would soon be at war again, this time involved in a conflict that would lead to the coining of the word “genocide.” And then there would be wars in Asia and in the Mideast and the wars we fight today. An endless state of warfare.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” said Martin Luther King, Jr. in the midst of another bloody conflict, this one as old as the United States. I wish I believed in these words. I’m sorry to say that I don’t. At least this week, it seems to me the moral universe makes weak, sporadic appearances, then it sputters and stalls and gives way to a far more troubling, but very familiar universe. 

Still, on this Veterans Day, I thank all those soldiers who fight over and over and over again for a just world, including those who came out to their city squares last night in response to the United States’ appalling election results. In my own city of Madison, those soldiers were 2,000 strong. “Very unfair,” pouted our president-elect until someone took his tweet toy away. I say to him: perhaps it is time for you to learn that this is what democracy looks like.

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Guest Editing The Ilanot Review

constraint-front-cover-1Attention fiction writers! I’m excited to announce that I’ll be the guest fiction editor of the winter 2017 issue of the Israeli literary journal The Ilanot Review. The theme for the issue will be “Letters,” which we’re loosely interpreting to include epistolary stories of not only traditional letters, but of emails, text messages, or other forms of written communication that you think falls under this description. The submission period is February 1 through April 30.

Now, I don’t have complete say over the stories published in this issue; decisions will be made by editor-in-chief Janice Weizman, fiction editor Katie Green, and me. But I’d love to see work by students and friends (and, of course, any reader of this blog qualifies as a friend of mine!).

For more information about The Ilanot Review you can visit its website, where you’ll find general submission guidelines.

Career Girl Monthly: Mini-Review

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Career Girl Daily ranks A Reunion of Ghosts number one in their list of must-read books. They say:

#1 A Reunion Of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell

The blurb can’t do this book justice. Simply put, this book is a shared confessional of three sisters who have decided to kill themselves at the end of the 20th century. Sounds depressing right? Well, no. These three sisters have an extraordinary family history, starting with the man who invented chemical weapons. I read the front and was a little skeptical of a book described as ‘devastating’ but when I read other reviews touting it as ‘flat-out funny’ and ‘hilarious’, I realized there’s more to this book than the blurb. It’s dark, fascinating and hilarious.

 

From Instagram: Someone’s cat and my book. The poster says the kitten was teething on the book, but it seems pretty clear to me she’s reading it…and probably nearsighted as well. Get the kitty some glasses, I say!

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@thatdarnghostie
Spent the day off buried in paper. “A Reunion of Ghosts” by Judith Claire Mitchell —> so sad and bloody brilliant that the kitten tried to eat it. #areunionofghosts #bestboxdayever