Steve Stern

33rd annual Key West Literary Seminar

HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN: Literature of the Spirit
January 8–11, 2015

“My life is a mystery I have no particular desire to solve. I grew up in a Reform Jewish congregation in Memphis, Tennessee, that was so divested of tradition I might as well have been a Methodist. We had a choir, a pipe organ, and a rabbi in ecclesiastical robes. I left Memphis in my teens without a backward glance and lived the wayward life of my generation for about a decade. When I began to write fiction in my mid-twenties, however, I was surprised that my characters insisted on having Jewish names. Washed up in Memphis again in my thirties, I took a job at a local folklore center and, because I was a native and worked cheap, was assigned the task of researching the roots of the local Jewish community. Its origin, as I discovered, was a blighted stretch of North Main Street once known as the Pinch—a vanished East European ghetto community. The oral histories I harvested from the old survivors of the Pinch revitalized the neighborhood for me, which rose out of the past like (to my mind) the lost city of Atlantis rising from the sea. Desperately seeking a destiny, I called the event a spiritual homecoming, and proceeded to set three subsequent books of fiction in the Pinch. Later books have ventured beyond those original boundaries, but the culture, history, and traditions of that place have continued to inform and define my stories. Of course I have handy explanations for why I continue to inhabit a world I know only at second-hand, but I still reserve the right to call it a mystery. The friends of my youth persist in asking me when I plan to drop the Jewish masquerade, and while I sometimes ask the same question of myself, after wearing the mask for so many years, I find that it’s become indistinguishable from my face.”

Selected Bibliography

The Book of Mischief (2013)
The Frozen Rabbi (2010)
The North of God (2008)
The Angel of Forgetfulness (2006)
The Wedding Jester (1999)
A Plague of Dreamers (1993)
Harry Kaplan’s Adventures Underground (1990)
Lazar Malkin Enters Heaven (1986)
The Moon & Ruben Shein (1984)
Isaac and the Undertaker’s Daughter (1983)
Hershel and the Beast (1984)
Mickey and the Golem (1983)

“Sometimes, when I couldn’t afford to pay the utility bill at the end of the month, I was forced to read by the light of the stories themselves.” (Steve Stern, The Angel of Forgetfulness)

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