N.b.: Concepts in this post are adapted from an essay I wrote in 2005, which won "honorable mention" in an essay contest in Florida, actual title of which I have now forgotten; I like to think some concepts and phrasings have improved in the ensuing 4 years, 2 continents, and graduate degrees..
Today's recommendation is hiring me to write a postmodern, fanciful movie about the passionate, brutal life and equally passionate, brutal texts of Anzia Yezierska.
I know, that's an egocentric mouthful, but KEEP READING.
I do not even really know how to pronounce her name. I came across Anzia Yezierska's short fictions in a course I took on women writers in college. Tokenism. She was the token Jewish-American writer; we read the only story most people do read by her, "Where Lovers Dream," which is fortunate, because it's her best. What struck me was not the tokenism, not the non-standard English, but the way time was softened and constructed as a place, the interplay between nostalgia and temporality. What kept me reading was the love story; I had just had my heart broken. What shattered my soul into a thousand pieces and made me say to myself, "This is absolutely brilliant" was the recursiveness of the story, the circular, nearly Borgesian narrative that ended where it began, creating a neat, circular narrative that never really ends and by dint of that, makes a stunning and innovative statement about feminist constructions of time.
BUT THAT'S NOT ALL.
I looked her up and was surprised to discover that this writer with the unproncounceable name also had an unknown birth date. think about that for a second. You think of your life as a discrete ray, a line beginning with a definite point. You have, maybe, a shoebox under your bed with cards and mementos. You know what was in the top 40 the week you were born. What of your identity would be shattered to not even know the year? I realize that's how people lived for much of human history, but it unsettled me. And it made me wonder how, if at all, this affected her writing. Her stories are filled with a confessional, nearly atavistic textual scream to the reader, an attempt to connect in a language that wasn't even her native one. Most critics have dismissed her writing as brainless prattle for immigrants, okay to demonstrate a certain mode of non-standard English writing in a certain place and time.
Also, she was driven out of her ancestral family home by the Cossacks. That image really stuck with me.
My senior thesis in college was largely about Yezierska. My senior thesis was a mess, in part because I got so lost in her texts and her life. Every story seemed a desperate, angry wail to the reader. The words were simple, but urgent.
BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE.
Also, apparently while she was at Teachers' College of Columbia in New York City, she had an affair with John Dewey (yeah, THAT John Dewey) and the rumors are that he fathered her (only) child.
TALK ABOUT PROGRESSIVE EDUCATION.
I don't care if I'm wrong. This is where the movie I want to screen-play-with comes in.
Can you imagine? Can you even imagine? Cossacks! Turn of the century ghettos! Fetishization of poverty is so trendy right now (see: this year's Oscars); so are crazy writers. This will make a fortune.
I am slightly sarcastic.
I am totally serious.
I will cry if you don't run out RIGHT NOW and read her stuff.
I've been editing this entry for a week (i had it all written much more elegantly in a notebook that ended up in a particularly ill-fated suitcase), so I'm just going to post this now).
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