This year’s Cherie Smith JCC Jewish Book Festival is shaping up as a family affair.
That’s because in some cases, local authors are related to others who are speaking on the same day or evening. And in other presentations, authors are dealing with wrenching family-oriented issues.
“It was not planned as such but it became such,” festival director Dana Camil Hewitt told the Straight by phone.
For example, on Monday (February 22) morning, Bonnie Sherr Klein will discuss her children’s book, Beep Beep Bubbie, with students at two Jewish day schools in a virtual presentation from her home. It features a grandma who gets a new scooter, which concerns her granddaughter, Kate. But after a while, Kate realizes that the scooter enables them to have fun shopping at Granville Island.
Klein is also a documentary filmmaker who has relied on a scooter herself since suffering a stroke many years ago.
The evening of that same day, her son, Seth Klein, will be interviewed by political scientist and climate-policy expert Kathryn Harrison about his book, A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency, in a separate virtual presentation.
A Good War delves deeply into Canada’s remarkable effort to ramp up military production during the Second World War. This enables Klein, former B.C. director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, to offer valuable lessons for how governments in the 21st century can take giant leaps in a short period of time to stave off a climate breakdown.
“We’re very excited to have him in conversation with Kathryn Harrison from UBC,” Camil Hewitt said.
Also on February 22, Calgary author Naomi K. Lewis joins educator Abby Wener Herlin in conversation about her well-regarded memoir, Tiny Lights for Travellers. Nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Nonfiction in 2019, Tiny Lights for Travellers explores her Jewish identity while retracing her grandfather’s escape from the Nazi-occupied Netherlands.
Two U.S. authors, Myla Goldberg and Ilana Masad, are scheduled to speak together on February 23 at an event entitled “On the Mothers and Daughters Spectrum”.
Goldberg, a Brooklyn-based novelist and banjo and accordion player, is the New York Times bestselling author of Bee Season, which deals with family breakdown. Another of her novels, Wickett’s Remedy, takes place during the Spanish flu pandemic at the end of the First World War.
Her latest novel, Feast Your Eyes, features a narrator describing how her mom juggled a photography career with parenthood. Lit Hub has described it as a “mother-daughter story, an art-monster story, and an exciting structural gambit”.
The other author that evening, Masad, tells a tale in All My Mother’s Lovers about a queer, pot-smoking daughter’s discovery of five sealed envelopes that her recently deceased mother had addressed to five men.
Her central character, Maggie Krause, thought her parents were happily married. In her quest for answers, she sets out to deliver the letters and in the process learns that things at home were not as they seemed.
This event will be moderated by the Globe and Mail’s Marsha Lederman.
The family theme will be featured again on February 24 when Carleton University political science professor Mira Sucharov will launch her new book, Borders and Belonging: A Memoir, which reveals her childhood phobias triggered by her parents’ divorce and the challenges of writing and teaching about Israel-Palestine relations. This event will be moderated by Vancouver psychiatrist Max Sucharov, who is her father.
That evening, another event will have a family theme. Entitled “Creativity Runs in the Family”, it will feature two Vancouver sisters, Naomi Eliana Pommier Steinberg and Myriam Steinberg, each discussing their books.
Naomi Eliana Pommier Steinberg’s Goosefeather: Once Upon a Cartographic Adventure is both a memoir and a travelogue. It details how she spent 382 days travelling around the world by road, rail, land, and sea, performing her one-woman show. She begins in a French town where her non-Jewish maternal grandfather saved her Jewish grandmother from the Nazis.
Sister Myriam Steinberg’s Catalogue Baby: A Memoir of (In)fertility chronicles her decision to become a mother after turning 40, relying on the support of family and friends, as she didn’t have a partner.
“They have a joint moderator [Lani Brunn], a very good friend of theirs, who knows both very well and read the books,” Camil Hewitt said. “Each book is outstanding. They are fantastic personalities.”
And for those seeking practical tips for raising children in a pandemic, child psychologist Abigail Gewirtz will address this and other topics on February 21. The University of Minnesota's College of Education and Human Development scholar is the author of When the World Feels Like a Scary Place – Essential Conversations for Anxious Parents and Worried Kids.
The final event at this year’s Cherie Smith VCC Jewish Book Festival, featuring Jewish actor and author Tovah Feldshuh, was originally scheduled on February 25 but was recently postponed until April 15.
Feldshuh, who has portrayed former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir and former U.S. Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, has written a new memoir, Lilyville: Mother, Daughter, and Other Roles I’ve Played.
“Almost all of the events except for Tovah Feldshuh are ‘pay what you can,’ ” Camil Hewitt said. “This means there’s a free option for everything.”