It seems fitting that some hours before Steve Stern took the podium at the 2015 Key West Literary Seminar, Jane Hirshfield and Barry Lopez discussed the idea of the trickster figure. We need trickster, they proclaimed. Someone has to shake things up, and more often than not, that burden falls on the writer
This couldn’t be truer for a writer like Stern who prefaced his reading by stating that he’d recently had a colonoscopy. Hey, that’s certainly how some kind of light gets in.
I’ll admit that prior to this afternoon, I wasn’t very familiar with Stern’s work, but somewhere along the literary highway I heard him and his writing described as very humorous, southern, and Jewish. What’s not to love? As someone who collects volumes of regional folklore, I couldn’t have been more delighted when Stern went off script and read his short story, “Lazar Malkin Enters Heaven.” The story centers on an old man named Lazar who despite missing one eyeball, one limb, and several organs, refuses to die. Stern read the story in a deep, commanding tone—not simply giving a reading, but retelling a tale. Audiences at the San Carlos listened up as each of us was transported out of our red seats and plopped down into a Tennessee town where angels walk among us with hidden wings.
What a glorious story-time it was.