PERSONAL: Female; married; children: three.
ADDRESSES: Agent—Henry Dunow, Dunow, Carlson, and Lerner, 27 West 20th St., New York, NY 10010.
CAREER: Writer, speaker, and editor.
AWARDS, HONORS: Grant from Canada Council for the Arts.
Preparing for Sabbath (novel), William Morrow (New York, NY), 1981.
(Editor with Ted Solotaroff) Writing Our Way Home:Contemporary Stories by American Jewish Writers, Schocken Books (New York, NY), 1992, published as The Schocken Book of Contemporary Jewish Fiction, 1996
A Woman's Book of Grieving, linocuts by Rochelle Rubinstein Kaplan, William Morrow (New York, NY), 1994.
(Author of meditations) Emily D. Bilski, Objects of the Spirit: Ritual and the Art of Tobi Kahn, Hudson Hills Press/Azoda Institute (Manchester, VT), 2004.
House on the River: A Summer Journey (memoir), Harmony Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor to anthologies, including Who We Are: On Being (and Not Being) a Jewish American Writer, edited by Derek Rubin, Schocken Books (New York, NY), 2005.
SIDELIGHTS: Nessa Rapoport is a novelist, poet, and editor. Writing Our Way Home: Contemporary Stories by American Jewish Writers, coedited by Rapoport and Ted Solotaroff, contains two dozen stories written since 1967. The themes and subjects of the stories make the book "an act of literary nationalism," observed Mark Shechner in Tikkun, adding that the anthology "gives some indication of what the new province of Jewish letters is supposed to look like." Home, as the editors view it, "is a place where one is culturally central, rather than 'marginal,'" Shechner added, "where one makes history as opposed to suffering it, where one may be 'Jewishly educated and culturally confident' (Rapoport), and where 'diversity' and 'eclecticism' (Solotaroff) are the chevrons of cultural self-assurance rather than badges of cultural shame." The book contains stories by Jewish literary voices such as Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Cynthia Ozick, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Michael Chabon, Allegra Goodman, and Rapoport.
Solotaroff argues in his introduction to Writing Our Way Home that the Six-Day War in 1967 "marked a turning point in American Jewish consciousness and identification," and that the stories in the book represent a similarly transformed landscape of American-Jewish fiction, as a Publishers Weekly reviewer observed. "As a collection of frequently brilliant short stories, this volume succeeds," the reviewer continued, while noting that "there is something contrived about the editors' agenda," and adding that not all contributors might be in agreement with "the theory that their work has been enlisted to support." However, as Shechner notes in Tikkun, the book is "not a museum piece for the ages but a demonstration that Jewish writing in America is thriving in all its diversity and schism, a demonstration that demands fresh voices and . . . a dialogue between generations, between men and women, and between literary modernists and literary nationalists."
Rapoport has also contributed the meditations that accompany the images in Objects of the Spirit: Ritual and the Art of Tobi Kahn. Kahn's paintings and sculpture have been celebrated and exhibited around the world. Choice reviewer L. P. Nelson called the book "essential reading for scholars of contemporary art, Jewish Studies, or anyone interested in the material culture of a religion."
Rapoport's novel, Preparing for Sabbath, was among the first novels to detail a Jewish woman's spiritual quest. Howard Schwartz, writing in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, described the work as "an odyssey of the younger generation of Jews in their search to revitalize their religion." The novel's innovative use of biblical sources in English was recognized by Globe and Mail reviewer Erna Paris, who commented that the book's "quest for a passionate ecstatic form of love" is "almost transcendent in its direct echoes from the biblical Song of Songs."
A Woman's Book of Grieving presents a collection of prose poems, lamentations, night thoughts, prayers, and consoling words for women grieving the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, or some other misfortune. The book provides a "finely articulated message of renewal and healing," commented a Publishers Weekly critic, while in Booklist Theresa Ducato added that the author's contributions are "highly charged, each word so perfectly chosen, each emotion so powerfully drawn."
In the memoir House on the River: A Summer Journey, Rapoport chronicles her return to the setting of her family cottage in Ontario, Canada, where she spent her childhood summers. Accompanied by her children, mother, uncle, and aunt, Rapoport makes her pilgrimage to a town deeply charged with family history and imbued with the reassuring power of place. She seeks to recapture the emotions, sensations, and memories—and to say one final goodbye—to the physical and mental geography that has had such a profound effect on her early life. Rapoport's "poetic ruminations reverberate with a nostalgic, wistful tone, always evocative and often poignant," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Los Angeles Times Book Review critic Susan Salter Reynolds observed that the book evokes "a feeling that shimmers just beyond reach as we get older." Daniel Schifrin, writing in Jewish Week, described the memoir as "a small masterpiece that is simultaneously a family history, an essay on reading, a discourse on time, and a prayer of thaanks for life's bounty."
Rapoport provided CA with an excerpt from her essay in Who We Are: On Being (and Not Being) a Jewish American Writer,: "The acclaimed American Jewish writers I read when I was young had the immigrant experience to draw on and quarrel with. They had the music of Yiddish in their ears. They had a tangible neighborhod anti-Semitism to sharpen their mordant wit. Their novels taught a generation of Jews to understand itself—intorn between the world of European parents and the wild, seductive promise of America, with its non-Jewish women and its nonneurotic men. It was not possible for those parents to transmit an intimacy with Jewish texts in the heder their children endured, longing for baseball.
"With some exceptions, this was not the narrative of my generation, and yet the stories we read in Jewish communal magazines were often written in a Yiddish intonation derived from imitating the tone of earlier fiction rather than from authentic experiences. They were frequently about the same extremes, the encounter between the circumscribed, nostagic world of the ultra-Orthodox community and the post-sixties anarchy of secular America. Or they contrasted suburban Jewish life of the synagogue and the country club with an idealized portrait of Israel in which everyone lived on kibbutz.
"In vain we looked for ourselves, the invisible Jews who did not leave Judaism for a universal truth or retreat to a fundamentalist security. What about the rest of us, we wondered, young Jewish women who could read each month in Ms. magazine, many of whose editors were Jewish, stories about the tribal rituals of African-American or Chicana women, but nothing about the mystery of Jewish ceremonial life. Why weren't our texts, our experiences valuable, we asked, to the overwhelmingly Jewish editorial boards, anthologists, and teachers directing next generation of American writers?
"The moment I noticed our sacred texts flowing through me without cease was the moment I became a Jewish writer. Standing in the aura of Shai Agon and
A. M. Klein, I beheld a radiant vista that seemed almost uninhabited—the prospect of writing in English that could reflect not only Jewish lives but Jewish letters.
'The Jewish novel has been a book for Jews, about Jews, or even against Jews. But the Jewish novel could also resonate with Jewish language and draw its structure, its mode of thought, its allusions from the Jewish books that came before it. These books are not fiction as we make it today. But they are imaginative readings of sacred texts; I see the Jewish novel as a descendant of that tradition.
"I do not mean that a Jewish writer of fiction should replicate the forms of those materials by composing midrash or commentary, but that the text of the novel be informed by those earlier texts, respond to them in syntax and diction, immerse itself not only in the great works of Western culture but in the mostly unknown body of Jewish writing—the exuberant conversation that took place among centuries of sacred books and their creators, the talking on the page that resulted in law, myth, parable, argument, and praise.
"Unshackled, if I ever had been, by the constraint of mimesis, I was impelled by a vision that even today entices me, a steadfast, unquenched love."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Rapoport, Nessa, and Ted Solotaroff, editors, WritingOur Way Home: Contemporary Stories by American Jewish Writers, Schocken Books (New York, NY), 1992.
Booklist, April 1, 1994, Theresa Ducato, review of AWoman's Book of Grieving, p. 1418.
Choice, November, 2004, L. P. Nelson, review of Objects of the Spirit: Ritual and the Art of Tobi Kahn, p. 470.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), July 4, 1981, Erna Paris, review of Preparing for Sabbath, p. 8.
Jewish Week, June 25, 2004, Daniel Schifrin, review of House on the River: A Summer Journey, p. 62.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2004, review of House on the River, p. 486.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 4, 2004, Susan Salter Reynolds, review of House on the River, p. 11. Publishers Weekly, August 24, 1992, review of WritingOur Way Home: Contemporary Stories by American Jewish Writers, p. 58; April 4, 1994, review of A Woman's Book of Grieving, p. 65; May 17, 2004, review of House on the River, p. 43.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 7, 1981, Howard Schwartz, review of Preparing for Sabbath, p. B4.
Tikkun, July-August, 1993, Mark Shechner, review of Writing Our Way Home, p. 81.