Kaufman, Alan 1952-
Kaufman, Alan 1952-
PERSONAL: Born January 12, 1952, in New York, NY; son of George and Marie (Jucht) Kaufman; married Diane Spencer (a teacher); children: Isadora Goldie-Bella. Education: City College of the City University of New York, B.A., 1975; attended Columbia University, 1986–87.
ADDRESSES: Home—1126 Bush St., Apt. 605, San Francisco, CA 94109. Agent—(literary) June Clark, Peter Rubie Literary Agency, 240 W. 35th St., Ste. 500, New York, NY 10001; (lecture) George Greenfield, Lecture Literary Management, Inc., 246 5th Ave., Ste. 400, New York, NY, 10001; (film and theater) Susan Gurman Agency, 865 West End Ave., New York, NY 10025-8403. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Writer, poet, editor, journalist, and literary impresario. Jewish Arts Quarterly, founder and editor, 1974–75; Shdemot Magazine, poetry editor, 1981–83; Live Magazine, producer, 1982–83; Jewish Frontier, editor in chief, 1988; Tel Aviv Review, North American coordinator and consulting editor, 1988; Wordland and Wordland Books, producer and editor, 1992–93; Challahpalooza, producer, 1996–97; Davka: Jewish Cultural Revolution, founder and editor, 1996–98; Tattoo Jew, founder and editor, 1998–2001.
Performances include La Mama Theater, New York, NY, 1987; Nuyorican Poets Café, New York, NY, 1989; Tribeca Poetry Festival, 1990; International Literary Symposium, Munich, Germany, 1992; Literaturhaus, Hamburg, Germany, 1992; Liter-aturwerkstat, Berlin, 1993; American Performing Arts Festival, Berlin, 1993; Berlin Jewish Cultural Festival, 1994; National Poetry Slam, Ann Arbor, MI, 1995; Six San Francisco Writers, Berlin, 1996; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, CA, 1997; San Francisco Book Festival, 1999; St. Mark's Poetry Project, New York, NY, 1999; Seattle Book Festival, 2000; State University of New York at Stonybrook, Jewish Visual Arts Conference, 2000; Detroit Jewish Book Festival, 2000; A Traveling Jewish Theater, San Francisco, 2000; KGB Bar "Writers on the Edge" series, New York, NY, 2000.
AWARDS, HONORS: Firecracker Alternative Book Award, 2000.
The End of Time (short stories), Hudson Press (New York, NY), 1985.
(Editor) The New Generation: Fiction for Our Time from America's Writing Programs (anthology), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1987.
Who Are We? (poems), Davka (San Francisco, CA), 1997.
(Editor) The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, Thunder's Mouth Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Jew Boy: A Memoir, Fromm International (New York, NY), 2000.
Matches (novel), Back Bay Books/Little, Brown (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor to anthologies, including Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets' Café, Henry Holt, 1994; Coffeehouse Poetry Anthology, Bottom Dog Press, 1996; and It's the Jews!: A Celebration of New Jewish Visions, Long Shot Productions, 1996. Contributor to print and online periodicals, including Salon.com, Witness, The Reading Room, Long Shot, Savoy, Conspire, San Francisco Examiner, and Tel Aviv Review.
SIDELIGHTS: Although educated at the Columbia University master of fine arts writing program, Alan Kaufman has declared his independence from academic writing. Instead, Kaufman produces poems that can be perceived aurally as well as from the page, a type of anti-establishment, "outlaw poetry" that was made popular in the 1950s by the Beat movement and is still attracting audiences outside of university settings. As editor of The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, Kaufman has introduced readers to a new generation of oral poets who he feels are "the true poets of the country today." The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry collects work by such well-known poets as Bob Dylan and Gary Snyder, as well as those known principally to Kaufman through his many years as a street poet in New York City and San Francisco. In an online interview with Last Sigh, Kaufman described the "outlaw poets" as in revolt "against the rigidity and cloistered abstraction of contemporary poetry. Our purpose was not to suffuse the old corpse with new life but be rid of it altogether, create something completely fresh from out of our own flesh and bones…. We were outsiders. We were, in other words, romantics, desperate, a little dangerous, willing to try anything: Outlaws with nothing to lose."
Kaufman's experiences as a poor Jewish child in the Bronx form the backbone of his memoir, Jew Boy: A Memoir. The author probes honestly into the features that defined his youth and have informed his mature years, especially the fact that he is a son of a Holocaust survivor, a former fighter in the Israeli army, and an artist who is no stranger to self-destructive impulses. A Publishers Weekly reviewer praised Kaufman's ability "to combine humor and pathos with a cold-blooded sense of irony in his chilling descriptions of uncovering his identity." In Booklist, Ted Leventhal differentiated Jew Boy from other "pathographies" because the author engages in true self-analysis. Leventhal deemed the memoir "an inspiring portrait of a young man's literary awakening." Kaufman's "unique voice, by turns manic and wretched, is always intoxicated with language. It was formed on the teeming streets of New York in the early 1960s, not in the cafés and salons but in the subway stations, in the tenement halls and on the fire escapes, where young men with aching frustrations stumbled into the written word as an unlikely savior," explained James Sullivan in the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review. The book's editor, Fred Jordan, had previously edited books by Jack Kerouac and Henry Miller and the graphic novel Maus, by Art Spiegelman. Sullivan likened Jew Boy to these works, saying that Kaufman's work combined "core elements of each: Kerouac's wide-eyed discovery of an alternative America, Miller's resolve to throw open the doors of private lives, however unflattering, and Spiegelman's comic-book approach to the modern era's most horrific event."
Matches is Kaufman's "finely wrought, visceral first novel," noted Library Journal contributor Molly Abramowitz. The matches of the title are soldiers in Israeli Army slang, individuals who "strike, burn, and die" in military service. Protagonist Nathan Falk, an American-born Jew and son of a Holocaust survivor, arrives in Jerusalem to begin his required military service in the Israel Defense Force. The narrative follows Falk through his three years of active duty service and subsequent month-long reserve stints. He describes the difficulties of his service, the terrors of armed patrols throughout the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and the scorn of his fellow soldiers who cannot understand why an American would risk his life for a country that is not his homeland. Gradually, Falk gains the trust and understanding of his comrades. Not an infallible human being, he also relates the affair he undertakes with Maya, his best friend Dotan's wife, while Dotan is in combat in Lebanon. He participates in harrowing combat operations, makes a critical arrest, and learns a great deal from the unit's top Bedouin tracker, whose work thwarted the plans of a group of desert infiltrators. Based on Kaufman's own experiences as an IDF soldier, the novel ruminates on the horrors and absurdity of war and on the volatile political situation throughout the Middle East. A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that "as a novel, it's baggy, but the result gives readers a fascinating look at the story behind the numbing newspaper tallies." Booklist reviewer Barbara Bibel called the novel "a stunning tale of betrayal, guilt, love, and war."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, August, 2000, Ted Leventhal, review of Jew Boy: A Memoir, p. 2099; September 15, 2005, Barbara Bibel, review of Matches, p. 32.
Library Journal, October 15, 2005, Molly Abramowitz, review of Matches, p. 45.
Publishers Weekly, September 4, 2000, review of Jew Boy, p. 98; August 22, 2005, review of Matches, p. 37.
San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, September 10, 2000, James Sullivan, "Saved by the Word," review of Jew Boy.
Heelstone Web site, http://www.heelstone.com/meridian/word2.html (February 27, 2006), CK Tower, interview with Alan Kaufman.
Last Sigh, http://www.lastsigh.com/ (fall, 1999), Mr. Greg, "The Tatooed Jew: An Interview with Alan Kaufman."