Born in Brooklyn, NY; son of a shopkeeper; married; wife's name Jennifer; children: Samuel, Marisa. Religion: Jewish. Hobbies and other interests: Biking.
Office—R. Michelson Galleries, 132 Main St., Northampton, MA 01060. E-mail—[email protected]
Poet, children's-book author, curator, speaker, and gallery owner. R. Michelson Galleries, Amherst and Northampton, MA, owner. National Yiddish Book Center, curator of exhibitions; guest speaker and lecturer throughout the United States and internationally.
New Yorker Best Book designation, 1993, for Did You Say Ghosts?; Children's Book Committee Book of the Year designation, 1996, for Animals That Ought to Be; Jewish Book Council Book of the Month designation, 1999, for Grandpa's Gamble; Skipping Stones magazine Multicultural Honor Award, 2002, for Too Young for Yiddish; National Council for the Social Studies/Children's Book Council Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People designation, 2006, for Happy Feet; Felix Pollack Prize in Poetry; New Letters Literary Award; Pablo Neruda Prize finalist; three New York Public Library Best Children's Books for Reading and Sharing designations.
Animals That Ought to Be: Poems about Imaginary Pets, illustrated by Leonard Baskin, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1996.
A Book of Flies Real or Otherwise (verse collection), illustrated by Leonard Baskin, Marshall Cavendish (New York, NY), 1999.
Grandpa's Gamble (picture book), illustrated by Barry Moser, Marshall Cavendish (New York, NY), 1999.
Ten Times Better (verse collection), illustrated by Leonard Baskin, Marshall Cavendish (New York, NY), 2000.
Too Young for Yiddish (picture book), illustrated by Neil Waldman, Talewinds (Watertown, MA), 2002.
Happy Feet: The Savoy Ballroom Lindy Hoppers and Me (picture book), illustrated by E.B. Lewis, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2005.
Across the Alley (picture book), illustrated by E.B. Lewis, Putnam (New York, NY), 2006.
Oh, No, Not Ghosts! (verse collection), illustrated by Adam McCauley, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2006.
Tuttle's Red Barn, illustrated by Mary Azarian, Putnam (New York, NY), 2007.
Animals (verse collection), illustrated by Scott Fischer, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2008.
POEMS; FOR ADULTS
Tap Dancing for the Relatives, illustrated by Barry Moser, University of Central Florida Press (Orlando, FL), 1985.
Semblant, illustrated by Leonard Baskin, Gehenna Press (Rockport, ME), 1992.
Masks, illustrated by Leonard Baskin, Gehenna Press (Rockport, ME), 1999.
Battles and Lullabies, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 2006.
Poetry included in anthologies, such as The Norton Introduction to Poetry, and published in periodicals such as New Letters and Poetry Northwest. Contributor of book reviews to New York Times Book Review.
Work in Progress
Busing Brewster, a picture book about an African-American child who is bussed to an all-white school in Boston, Massachusetts, for Knopf, 2009; C Is for Chicken Soup: A Jewish-American Alphabet, for Sleeping Bear Press.
A prize-winning poet and children's-book author, Richard Michelson is the author of the illustrated books Across the Alley, Happy Feet: The Savoy Ballroom Lindy Hoppers and Me, and Animals That Ought to Be, the last featuring illustrations by the late artist Leonard Baskin. Noted for his ability to craft witty verse ripe with intelligence as well as imagination, Michelson has earned the Felix Pollack Prize in Poetry as well as the New Letters Literary Award for his adult verse. In addition to writing, Michelson is the owner of the R. Michelson Gallery, and exhibits the works of numerous contemporary sculptors, painters, and printmakers in his galleries located in Amherst and Northampton, Massachusetts. His gallery incorporates a wide range of illustration art, including original works by Jane Dyer, Mordicai Gerstein, Trina Schart Hyman, Maurice Sendak, Barry Moser, Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss), E.B. Lewis, Diane DeGroat, and Jules Feiffer.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Michelson experienced personal tragedy early in life when his father, a shopkeeper, was killed during a robbery. The horrors of the Holocaust also figured strongly; Michelson's aunt, recalling her years as a young Jew living in Europe, was haunted by memories of Hitler's Gestapo. While his po- etry for adults—published in the collections Tap Dancing for the Relatives and Battles and Lullabies—reflects the serious nature of his reflections on history, racism, and culture, his work for younger readers is inspired by his love and respect for family and culture.
In picture books such as Grandpa's Gamble, Too Young for Yiddish, and Happy Feet Michelson depicts close-knit family relationships. Reflecting its author's Jewish traditions, Grandpa's Gamble finds a young boy trying to understand why his elderly grandfather spends so much time in prayerful silence. When the boy's question is answered by Grandpa Sam, the boy learns about the persecution of Jews in Poland many years before, and about how his immigrant grandfather used the opportunities available after arriving in America to become a wealthy man before the illness of a child humbled him and caused him to return to his faith. Too Young for Yiddish again finds a boy turning to his grandfather, or Zayde, for guidance, this time with the hope of learning Yiddish. Although the man dismisses the child's request due to the boy's youth, his library of Yiddish books creates a connection between the two generations as time passes. In Booklist Hazel Rochman deemed Grandpa's Gamble a "moving immigrant Passover story" that brings to life "the intimate bonds of love and faith across generations," while a Publishers Weekly critic wrote that Too Young for Yiddish "possesses both power and pathos" and stands as an "urgent" reminder to readers that the Yiddish language is slowly being lost to time.
Although the family is African American, Happy Feet is similar in theme to Michelson's Jewish-themed picture books because it centers on a strong family. Focusing on the parent-child relationship, the story is narrated by a young boy whose father runs a business across the street from Harlem's Savoy ballroom, where the family has a front-row seat to the parade of culture, swing music, dance, and celebrity that passes through the dance palace's doors. Showcasing the rich culture that flowered in that New York neighborhood during the early twentieth century, Happy Feet serves as "a valentine to the renowned Savoy" as well as a "tribute [that] will take young readers back to Harlem-as-it-was," according to a Kirkus Reviews writer. The "beautifully lit, expressive watercolor" illustrations by Caldecott Medal-winning artist E.B. Lewis add to the book's magic, according to Booklist contributor Carolyn Phelan, and in School Library Journal Nina Lindsay deemed Happy Feet a "charming" story in which Michelson presents "a dramatic read-aloud introduction" to the Jazz era. Across the Alley, which also features Lewis's illustrations, focuses on two boys—one Jewish and one African American—who become best friends despite their family's cultural differences.
While many of Michelson's books are based in reality, several are more fanciful. Praised by a Publishers Weekly contributor as "both imaginative and colorful, nonsensical and clever," the poetry collection Animals That Ought to Be features the narration of a young animal lover who dreams of a herd of new creatures that could make life more interesting: the Talkback Bat, for instance, would voice the verbal comebacks people never utter aloud, while the Channel Changer eliminates the need to fumble with the television remote control at commercial time. The Publishers Weekly critic also cited Michelson's "cheery, effervescent tone," while Horn Book reviewer Mary M. Burns praised the "imaginative reality" brought to life in Baskin's "brilliant expressionistic paintings."
A Book of Flies Real or Otherwise trolls the same waters as Animals That Ought to Be, presenting a "wonderfully outre" collection of poems which contain "more than a touch of whimsy and humor," according to a Publishers Weekly contributor. Another collaboration between Michelson and Baskin, the book features thirteen insects that are depicted based on their common name, then described factually. The Midas fly, fruit fly, coffin fly, and black fly are among those portrayed in both fanciful and realistic form, resulting in an "off-beat aggregate of facts and fiction," according to the Publishers Weekly critic. Citing Baskin's "painstakingly executed illustrations," Burns added in Horn Book that A Book of Flies Real or Otherwise will "entice" young readers with Michelson's "jaunty, rhythmic rhymes" and "conversational text." Other unique verse collections by Michelson include Ten Times Better, which uses unusual animals to introduce the concept of multiplication by ten, and Oh, No, Not Ghosts!, featuring art by Adam McCauley.
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, September 1, 1993, Ilene Cooper, review of Did You Say Ghosts?, p. 69; October 15, 1996, Hazel Rochman, review of Animals That Ought to Be: Poems about Imaginary Pets, p. 427; March 15, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of Grandpa's Gamble, p. 1333; October 1, 2000, Michael Cart, review of Ten Times Better, p. 343; November 1, 2005, Carolyn Phelan, review of Happy Feet: The Savoy Ballroom Lindy Hoppers and Me, p. 60.
Daily Hampshire Gazette (Amherst, MA), May 3, 2006, Bonnie Wells, "Poetry That Speaks of Everyday Cruelties and Love."
Horn Book, March-April, 1994, Lolly Robinson, review of Did You Say Ghosts?, p. 192; November-December, 1996, Mary M. Burns, review of Animals That Ought to Be, p. 754; September, 1999, Mary M. Burns, review of A Book of Flies Real or Otherwise, p. 620.
Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2002, review of Too Young for Yiddish, p. 106; November 1, 2005, review of Happy Feet, p. 1186.
New Yorker, December 13, 1993, review of Did You Say Ghosts?, p. 117.
Publishers Weekly, August 2, 1993, review of Did You Say Ghosts?, p. 81; September 23, 1996, review of Animals That Ought to Be, p. 76; March 22, 1999, review of Grandpa's Gamble, p. 90; August 2, 1999, review of A Book of Flies Real or Otherwise, p. 82; July 31, 2000, review of Ten Times Better, p. 94; January 14, 2002, review of Too Young for Yiddish, p. 60.
School Library Journal, October, 2000, Nina Lindsay, review of Ten Times Better, p. 190; March, 2002, Linda R. Silver, review of Too Young for Yiddish, p. 198; November, 2005, Nina Lindsay, review of Happy Feet, p. 100.
Richard Michelson Home Page,http://www.rmichelson.com (October 3, 2006).