Holocaust literature for young & old focus of Resnick Lectures in New Paltz

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This season’s lineup for the Louis and Mildred Resnick Lecture Series will focus on “Holocaust Literature for Young and Old: Crossover Novels and Memoir” – a series title that not only fits the bill in highlighting Jewish issues, but one that shines a spotlight on the genre of literature written for “Young Adults” (YA). YA is a growing publishing category with serious authors writing about topics that appeal to teens and adults. Jan Schmidt, distinguished professor of English at SUNY-New Paltz and published poet, teaches a course at the college on young adult literature.

Schmidt will open the series with a lecture on October 2, in which she will define the genre and look for the distinctions between YA and adult fiction. “I will refer to The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and The Diary of Anne Frank, plus The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne,” she explains. “What has intrigued me in teaching the class is the ways in which these books are open to multiple readings at multiple stages in our lives, and we carry these visions with us.”

Gerald Sorin, SUNY-New Paltz’s distinguished professor of American and Jewish Studies, coordinates the lively Resnick Lecture Series. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Gerald Sorin, SUNY-New Paltz’s distinguished professor of American and Jewish Studies, coordinates the lively Resnick Lecture Series. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

On October 9, author Johanna Reiss will talk about her two YA novels, The Upstairs Room and its sequel The Journey Back. These autobiographical works tell the story of the author’s experience of life in hiding in occupied Holland. For nearly three years, eight-year-old Annie de Leeuw and her sister are hidden in a farmer’s attic. The second volume describes the difficulties of being reunited with other family members after the war is over: a part of the story that often goes unexplored. The author writes, “Wars leave emotional scars that take a long time to heal – generations perhaps.”

Francine Prose, author of numerous works of both fiction and non-fiction and visiting professor of Literature at Bard College, will hold forth on October 16 with her examination of the world-famous diary of a Jewish teenager in hiding in World War II. Anne Frank: The Book and the Afterlife is a close reading of the diary, one in which Prose points to Frank’s “skillfully narrative voice, at her finely tuned dialogue and ability to turn living people into characters.” Prose suggests that Anne Frank did not merely keep a typical teenager’s daily journal, but that she was “a writer of prodigious talent.”

Rabbi William Strongin, director of Jewish Studies at SUNY-New Paltz, will present Art Spiegelman’s two graphic novels, Maus and Maus II, on October 23. An account of the author’s father’s experience in Nazi-controlled Poland is portrayed pictorially in a way that gives readers access to the specific content – the Holocaust – and to oppression as a general theme. The novels have been used extensively in Social Studies classrooms throughout the country.

On October 30, Lawrence Bush, editor of Jewish Currents quarterly magazine, will talk on the anthology They Fought Back: The Story of the Jewish Resistance in Nazi Europe, edited by Yuri Suhl. The Lecture Series coordinator Gerald Sorin, SUNY-New Paltz’s distinguished professor of American and Jewish Studies, says that this book is particularly important, as it’s the first work that dealt with the resistance movement of European Jews during the war.

“They used to call it ‘juvenile literature,’ a kind of condescending term,” says Sorin, noting how YA has come into its own. “There’s all the time in the world for questions after the 45-minute lectures. This is our 25th year. My audiences, though often an older audience, always have a sprinkling of students. Very erudite, sophisticated; they’ve read, they’ve traveled. The Q & A is always an exciting part of it.”

Lectures are held on five consecutive Wednesday evenings at 7:30 p.m. in Lecture Center 104 on the SUNY-New Paltz campus. There is no admission charge, and the public is welcome.

“Holocaust Literature for Young and Old” lecture series, Wednesdays, October 2-30, 7:30 p.m., free, Lecture Center 104, SUNY-New Paltz.

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