Thursday, June 22, 2006

Need a Hug?

Have you heard about India’s “hugging saint?”
Mata Amritanandamayi known as “Amma” is reported to have given more than 26 million hugs. According to a recent article in Conscious Choice magazine, “Amma’s long, tender motherly enfoldment has become her trademark gesture of compassion.”

This got me to thinking, and I admit to a hugging habit myself. Admittedly not as selfless, humanitarian, or revered as Amma; and certainly not as impactful, my hugs engulf various audience members at my book signings -- especially those who offer praise for my memoir, The Division Street Princess.

As evidence of my growing habit (I’m up to about 200), here’s photos from recent events:

My good friend Phil Rozen expressing surprise at an upcoming hug. Phil is Director of Corporate Communications for Paterno Wines. Daughter Faith Soloway is in the background. This was taken at the Women & Children First event May 25th.

Beverly Fischmann Steinberg, an old school chum and a member of Roosevelt High School’s 1956 Reunion Committee. Bev’s been a cheerleader for the book and happily accepted this hug at the Book Stall June 20th. When not dragging people to my events, Bev is head of Help! Unlimited Personalized Timesaving Services.

This lanky fellow is my cousin Warren, son of Mollie (Elkin) and Jack Silver. Warren, a talented writer himself, appears in my book, as does his parents. Despite the disparity in sizes, we managed a warm, familial hug.

Sheila Sered Gideon, a good hugger, too, is a Roosevelt High classmate and friend.

No hugging here, just a crowd shot from the Book Stall in Winnetka where some 50 people came to hear apron-clad readings from friends and relatives. The author is viewed humbly from the back.

Ruth Gilbert, with my cousin Neil Shapiro in the background.

Cousin Renee Elkin standing and Alisa Rosenthal seated. Alisa is the daughter of my good friend Marshall Rosenthal, another Roosevelt High alumnus, and now Director of Communications and Government Relations for Golden Apple.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Beach Scenes: Pictures and Words

Lucky me, I’m related to talented people. Today we’re focusing on my cousin Renee Elkin a gifted photographer and teacher who also served as photo editor for THE DIVISION STREET PRINCESS. In the post that follows, Renee generously shares four photos from her upcoming artist-made book, “Beach Photography: A Retrospective by Renee S. Elkin.”

Her black-and-white photos are titled: Montrose Beach Showers, Push-Pull, Supergirl, and Fist; and all are ©Renee S. Elkin. I think you’ll agree the images are beautiful, evocative, and intriguing.

I’ve also included some text from my memoir – just a few paragraphs lifted here and there from a chapter called “Mum’s The Word” -- which describes an adventure at Chicago’s North Avenue Beach in the 1940s.

“With one hand on the banister and the other carrying a straw bag that held my magazines and eyeglasses, and with my feet in barely-buckled sandals, I raced two-at-a-time down the stairs and out the door to meet Mrs. Levinson. She was clutching a brown paper shopping bag filled with supplies for our outing: suntan lotion, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, apples, and comic books. Ben was carrying several scratchy, mustard-colored woolen blankets from the Army-Navy surplus store. Sam, the middle Levinson son, held two thermos jugs of purple Kool-Aid. Allan, the youngest, swung plastic pails and shovels…

“As the streetcar reached the end of the line, about three miles from home, we still had a six-block steamy trudge to the lakefront. I almost regretted arriving at our destination because it meant the finale of my daydreams. But as soon as I saw the pretend smokestacks of North Avenue Beach’s boathouse, I was eager for the mecheich (pleasure) the cool lake would offer…

“At the gangplank, we all removed our shoes, then skipped barefooted across frying sand until we found spots for our blankets. After unloading her shopping bag, Mrs. Levinson settled on one blanket, Allan claimed a place in the sand for digging, and Sam and Ben raced into the lake, shouting as the chilly water knifed their bare skin...

“After shedding my playclothes and before tiptoeing in, I put my eyeglasses on to see where the lifeguard was stationed. A suntanned adolescent in red Park District bathing trunks (‘visible for miles’ according to a story in the newspaper announcing the start of beach season) stood at the foot of his wooden perch. He was chatting with a teenage girl in a two-piece bathing suit, but kept one hand on the whistle around his neck. Although the lifeguard was at his post, I was troubled he wasn’t scanning the lake. I didn’t know how to swim and was afraid of deep water, but I quashed my anxiety, placed my glasses inside my bag; and tiptoed over sand, stones, shells, and dead fish.”

Postscript: We made the cover page of the June 16-22 issue of The Chicago Jewish News. Check out Pauline Dubkin Yearwood's terrific review of "Julius Rosenwald: The Man Who Built Sears, Roebuck and Advanced the Cause of Black Education in the American South" by Peter Ascoli, "The First and Final Nightmare of Sonia Reich" by Howard Reich, and "The Division Street Princess," by you know who. Here's the cover:

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Bernard Malamud & Irv Shapiro: Happy Father’s Day

Pictured: Janna Malamud Smith as she waits to go onstage for her June 4 appearance at the Printers Row Book Fair. Kind and generous, this writer and psychotherapist agreed to be photographed for my blog.

On the 20th anniversary of Bernard Malamud’s death, Janna Malamud Smith explores her renowned father’s life and literary legacy in her new book, MY FATHER IS A BOOK. For this year’s upcoming Father’s Day, June 18, I’m giving my dad – Irv Shapiro -- the gift of residing on the same page of my blog as Bernard Malamud. I’m also suggesting that Janna’s book, and mine – THE DIVISION STREET PRINCESS – would be excellent gifts for your own father, grandfather, husband, or partner.

Despite the differences in their age, fame, and life journeys, Bernard and Irv had some things in common: they were sons of Russian-Jewish immigrants, were described as warm and funny, and were adored by their daughters. In the early pages of Janna’s book, she has a four-year-old child’s memory of her father, as do I in my book. Her excerpt goes first:

“On a Saturday morning when I was four and my mother and brother had gone out, he was writing at the dining room table and I was amusing myself…Entering the kitchen from the opposite hall, tiptoeing quietly, I opened a drawer and stealthily reached a hand into the crinkly cellophane bag of bread…
‘Janna,’ my father called. ‘Come here.’
I dropped the half-eaten bread on the stair, swallowing my mouthful while crossing the few steps through the living room and into the dining room. A black Royal typewriter sat temporarily on the table where we ate; beside it a pad of paper, a pen, a typewriter eraser.
‘What were you doing?’ he asked.
‘Were you eating?’ He’d given me a second chance.
He pulled his chair back away from the table and invited me to climb into his lap. …I liked him and his lap. He no doubt saw a parenting opportunity that helped him accept the end of the morning’s writing. For me it was binary: caught or not caught.”

And now a photo of Dad and me, plus an excerpt from my memoir:

“In 1942, the year I turned four, my father was a $17-a-week salesman at Blue Star Auto Supply on Milwaukee Avenue. And although he felt lucky to have a job since he never went to high school, let alone college, my father -- Irving Eugene Shapiro -- hungered for more: He wanted to be his own boss. So when he spotted the For Rent sign that was scotch-taped to the plate glass window of the grocery store downstairs of our apartment, Dad took it as an omen that his fortunes would change…

He plucked a Camel from an open pack in his shirt pocket, lit it and inhaled deeply. Then resting the glowing cigarette on the ashtray’s lip, he turned to me and said, ‘You’d like me around more, wouldn’t you Princess?’ He scooped me up in his strong arms -- a lift-up I loved because I could feel Dad’s biceps. When I would comment on the hard rocks stored on his upper arms, Dad would tell me how he got those muscles. ‘Swimming laps at the Division Street Y, the very same pool as Johnny Weissmuller.’ Although Dad may have had the strength of Tarzan of the Jungle, he had the build of a wrestler. He was short -- about 5’4” -- with a broad chest, big belly, and his legs bore black-and-blue markings. Along with my nightly ride up to his chest, I also loved that my Dad called me ‘Princess,’ for the pet name made me feel special, unlike the ordinary ‘Elaine’ my mother used, or ‘peanut’ from my older brother Ronnie. ‘Princess’ -- dainty, pretty, protected -- that’s how I felt in my father’s eyes, and in his brawny arms.”

Postscript: some photos from last week’s events: Vanessa Bush and Matt Cunningham from my Chicago Public Radio interview. And from the Printers Row Book Fair: moderator Mary Davis Fournier, me, Chris Burks, and unseen, Faith Sullivan.

Special thanks to two journalists and their monthly publications that included us in their June pages: Victoria Lautman, Chicago Magazine and Cindy Sher, JUF News.