Kate Braverman — Alive, Well, ‘Frantic’


“Frantic Transmissions to and From Los Angeles: An Accidental Memoir,” by Kate Braverman (Graywolf, $15).

“Did I say that my work has been translated into Turkish? Apparently, it will be read in Istanbul, but not in Los Angeles.”

Yes, Kate Braverman did say that in a telephone conversation from her new home in San Francisco. On more than one occasion, in fact, she mentioned this, digressing, ranting, in as polite a rant as possible, that she is merely “referenced” in Los Angeles, where she grew up and lived much of her adult life. The references have even taken on a funereal character.

Despite apparently being characterized by the Los Angeles Times a year or so ago as “the late, legendary Kate Braverman,” despite coincidentally bearing the same last name as the deceased character in Sidney Lumet’s film, “Bye Bye, Braverman,” Kate Braverman, 55, author of the underground classic, “Lithium for Medea,” three other novels, countless anthologized short stories and now a new “accidental memoir” titled, “Frantic Transmissions to and from Los Angeles,” is anything but dead. “Frantic Transmissions” has just been published by Graywolf Press, a small, literary press in Minnesota, which awarded her its first-ever nonfiction prize for this latest effort.

A defiant, unabashed feminist, Braverman calls herself “an experimental writer. “I’m interested in genre-demolition,” she says. To her, genres are “vestiges of a patrician and patriarchal order … I practice all forms, all genres. I like to subvert form.”

In “Frantic Transmissions,” she has adhered to this subversive strategy. Though billed as a memoir, the book contains chapters written from the point of view of an uncle, an aunt, a real estate agent selling Braverman’s house, and, most daringly, in the collective voice of three women who meet at the Santa Monica Pier. Is this fiction? Nonfiction? Essay? Short story?

Braverman has written in all of these forms in the past, as well as poetry. Her prose has a lyrical quality. Often described as hallucinatory, her words seem to come out of a dream or a drug-induced, psychotic break. Filled with bizarre incongruities, sentences attack other sentences, words attack other words. She has been compared ad nauseam to Joan Didion, but she has made her own mark as a Jew from the streets, a woman who says she comes from the “projects of Sepulveda Boulevard.”

While she has also written about barrio Latinos, Braverman has written a good deal about Jews on the margins, poor, blue-collar Jews, druggies, hookers, divorcees who inhabit the city of Los Angeles.

“When men create disturbing chaos, accumulate excesses with extreme abandon, they are absolved, receive a metaphorical purple heart.” However, “should a woman dare to risk deviation, she is locked into an institution.”

Her first novel, “Lithium for Medea,” which depicts the struggles of a substance-abusing, traumatized woman living in Los Angeles, was published in 1979 by Harper & Row, but she says “it was at a time when Harper & Row ceased to exist. It became a division of a ski company or a car company or a baby-mitten factory.”

She decries the increasing corporatization and globalization of entertainment monoliths, yet one of her short stories, “Science of Navigation,” about a teenage Jewish girl, traveling from one L.A. foster home to another, will be published by the Tribune-owned Los Angeles Times in the inaugural issue of its new Sunday magazine, West.

If her novels haven’t received as much attention as she would like, she has won an O. Henry award, a Carver award and twice been selected for the Best American Short Stories collection.

Still, she hasn’t gotten the recognition from the literary establishment accorded her Jewish male predecessors, men like Norman Mailer, Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, all of whom have influenced her.

“I learned dialogue from Roth,” she says. “I learned interior, intellectual monologue from Bellow, and genre-demolition from Mailer.”

Despite the Jewish themes in her work, including two chapters in “Frantic Transmissions” about her typically dysfunctional Jewish family, she says that she “has never been invited to a Jewish conference, never been nominated for an award by a Jewish organization or a Jewish grant-funding source.”

And, she says, “This is the first interview I’ve ever done with Jewish media…. I’m not coming out of the closet, I’ve been out of the closet for 28 years” as a Jew.

She says that the last Jewish woman who experimented boldly with prose was Erica Jong, in her 1973 debut novel, “Fear of Flying.”

“Every 30 years or so, there is a work that dares to present a Jewish woman who is divorced, has economic problems and lives a post-historical life…. I want to be recognized as the splendid mutation that I am.”

She also wants to be recognized as an Angeleno. Part of the charm of “Frantic Transmissions” is her evolution throughout the book from one who flees Los Angeles — describing it in the classic dystopian terms we have known since the days of Nathanael West — to one who immigrates to the Northeast where she bonds with the land and open forests in the Allegheny Mountains, only to learn that there is no there, there in rural New York.

The author, who early in the memoir writes of Los Angeles as a “city of subtraction and ash” with cancerous radiation coming down from a sun that sets “in oranges brutally metallic and chiseled with inhuman translucence,” ends up yearning for “incandescent, neon-infested boulevards with ersatz glittering invitations … (rather) than the pinched lips of neighbors who just encountered a verbal architecture they suspect isn’t orthodox.”

Which begs the question — why didn’t Braverman and her husband, a genetic engineer and futurist, move back to Los Angeles?

“I didn’t exist as a literary being in Los Angeles,” she says, pointing out again her “posthumous life” in the Southland, based on an L.A. Times reference worthy of Mark Twain or Bob Hope, a mistake that she says occurred in the past year or so.

Braverman, the renegade scribe, who taught writing privately in Los Angeles for nine years while also teaching at Cal State Los Angeles as well as UCLA for two decades, now lives in the Bay Area. But she says that Los Angeles has been “the main character” in all of her novels and most of her short stories. She would like to be read in Los Angeles, and she “would like to be read by Jews.”

“I put Jewish bag handlers, taxi drivers and hookers on the page as well as the people who design the planes,” she said.

Kate Braverman will talk and sign books on Thursday, Feb. 23, 7 p.m. at Dutton’s Brentwood, 11975 San Vicente Blvd., (310) 476-6263; on Friday, Feb. 24, 7 p.m. at Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (310) 659-3684; on Saturday, Feb. 25, 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. at UCLA, Bunche Hall, room 1209B; and on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 4 p.m. at Claremont College, 1021 N. Dartmouth Ave.

 

Shadows of Shoah in ‘Snicket’ World


 

Daniel Handler looks like a character in one of his own “Lemony Snicket” novels. At a breakfast interview with The Journal at a New York café, he wears a pinstriped suit with a handkerchief in the pocket — reminiscent of something the bumbling Mr. Poe might wear when he deposits the unfortunate Baudelaire orphans at the home of a relative who wants to kill them and collect their fortune. In repose and in photographs, Handler’s face turns dole, as if, like Snicket, he is turned melancholy by the events he narrates.

Nevertheless the disparity between Handler as Handler and Handler as Snicket is huge. In conversation, Handler, who has now authored 11 books in the wildly popular “Lemony Snicket’s: A Series of Unfortunate Events,” is so lively and funny that it is difficult to recognize him as the person who wrote about three children whose lives are so bad that the high point for them was their parents dying in a fire. Handler’s dour fiction seems to be coming from a place that is far removed from his personality.

“I thought it was a terrible idea that I write for children,” said Handler, while tucking into his bagel and lox. “I am the sort of person who thinks of stories that are on the macabre side of the spectrum. I just try to think of things that would be interesting, and what was interesting to me was something dreadful happening or something dreadful about to happen, and I couldn’t imagine any children’s publishing house taking an interest in that.”

But take an interest they did. When he was 28, Handler, who at the time was a struggling writer, found himself possessor of a four-book deal with Harper Collins, which was intrigued by his proposal for a series of books about, as he puts it “orphans who will get into a lot of terrible trouble and nothing good will ever happen to them.”

The series became a runaway hit and turned the warm and fuzzy world of children’s literature on its head. Thus far, the books (there will be an unlucky 13 books in all), with their wretched-sounding alliterative titles — the latest one is “The Grim Grotto” — have sold 25 million copies. This past winter, Jim Carrey starred as Count Olaf, the series’ most nefarious villain, in Paramount Pictures “Lemony Snicket’s: A Series of Unfortunate Events.” The film, based on the first three books, made more than $100 million at the box office (no date has been set on a DVD release).

Handler’s genesis as the chronicler of the macabre came about from a childhood in which the Holocaust was a lurking constant.

“My father left Germany in late 1938,” Handler said. “He left for what in retrospect seems like obvious reasons, but at the time everyone was figuring out when to leave. And those who chose to stay generally were not having a good time.”

The Handlers eventually settled in San Francisco, and their household was a traditional Jewish one — they observed Shabbat, went to temple and sent their children to Hebrew school. But, as Handler puts it, when the extended family would get together, “the stories around the dinner table would be about getting out of Germany.”

“I don’t think I had a specific fear of the Nazis. The narrative that was in my head was would I know when it was time to leave — that any moment the borders could be closed and what could you do?” Handler said. “When I was a child I took relief from the fact that San Francisco was on the shore, so I thought I could leave that way, which was kind of silly because what was a 10-year-old boy going to do — be pushed out in a rowboat on the Pacific Ocean?”

But like Count Olaf, who attaches himself to the Baudelaires like a murderous leech that they can’t escape, Handler “was aware that there was menace at an early age.”

“I don’t think the Jewish philosophy on menace is that it doesn’t really exist or that good will overcome it. And certainly there is not any sense of if you are a good person, you will avoid that menace, which is certainly a sense in other religions,” Handler said. “Judaism doesn’t promise that at all. If you look up the history of the Jewish people, you would think that they had been chosen for something else. So I think there was that sense [when I wrote the books].”

Now Handler lives in San Francisco and is working on books 12 and 13 of the series, as well as an adult novel. He is also a new father of 1-year-old Otto, who, like Sunny, the youngest Baudelaire orphan, likes to bite things and speak in unintelligible syllables that only his family can understand.

“The baby only has one word now. He says ‘aorbb,’ which means up,” Handler said. “I am nervous about [Otto reading my books] because you have no worse critic than your own offspring. I fear he will find the books boring, and that will be very painful for me.”

I do have the option of not telling him that I wrote them,” he added. “I wonder how long I can keep that up.”

For more information on “Lemony Snicket” visit www.lemonysnicket.com (which tells readers “Attention: Please Run For Your Life. You have undoubtedly reached this Web site by mistake”).

 

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

Two widely divergent Jewish performers come to Southern California tonight. Make the drive to Claremont for the feel-good sounds of Israeli folk/rock star David Broza. The celebrated trilingual guitarist and singer-songwriter will perform his English, Spanish and Hebrew favorites in a concert sponsored by Hillel of the Claremont Colleges. Or, for something closer to home and below the belt, head to Royce Hall, as UCLA Live! Presents “An Evening With Sandra Bernhard.” The bawdy comedian and student of kabbalah offers up her latest rants and raves, with musical accompaniment by Mitch Kaplan and Pam Adams.
David Broza: 8 p.m. $5-$50. Garrison Theatre, Scripps College, Claremont. (909) 621-8824.Sandra Bernhard: 8 p.m. $20-$45. Royce Hall, UCLA, Westwood. (310) 825-2101.

Sunday

Two seasoned comedians prove they’ve still got it, as Orange County Performing Arts Center presents “Together Again: Comedy Greats Tim Conway and Harvey Korman.” The “Carol Burnett Show” duo known as much for cracking each other up as they were for entertaining the audience joins impressionist Louise DuArt for two shows, today only.
2 p.m. and 7 p.m. $35-$60. Segerstrom Hall, Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. (213) 365-3500.

Monday

Diane Arbus’ work gets center stage at MOCA’s latest show, “Street Credibility,” which examines the convergence of real and posed photography from the 1940s to the 1970s. Arbus’ choice to pose her subjects, who were real people, was a departure from a tradition that separated the worlds of journalistic style and artificial photography. Other artists featured in the exhibit include her peers, as well as later photographers whom she influenced — Larry Clark, Lee Friedlander, Sally Mann, Charles Gatewood, Garry Winogrand and others — as well as some of her predecessors, namely Lisette Model, August Sander and Weegee.
11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Monday and Friday), 11 a.m.-8 pm. (Thursday), 11 a.m.-6 p.m. (Saturday and Sunday). Free (members, children under 12 and all day Thursday), $5 (students and seniors), $12 (general). MOCA at the Geffen Contemporary, 152 N. Central Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 626-6222.

Tuesday

Queens, N.Y., transplant and author Lisa Lieberman Doctor puts her roots into the pages of her first novel, “The Deflowering of Rhona Lipshitz.” It’s Queens 1971, and Rhona Lipshitz is in love, but not with the man whom she’s engaged to marry in just 11 days. Doctor’s previous writing credits include an Emmy win for her work on the soap opera, “General Hospital,” and 16 years in the film industry, most recently as vice president of Robin Williams’ Blue Wolf Productions. She discusses “Rhona Lipshitz” tonight at the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles.
7 p.m. 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 761-8648.

Wednesday

New on DVD is a film that’s not the usual Holocaust-themed fare. “Liability Crisis” is the story of Paul, a Jew so obsessed with the Holocaust that he sees images of Hitler everywhere. His life is on the verge of unraveling when his long-distance girlfriend shows up and he must confront his situation.
$19.98. www.pathfinderpictures.com/video.

Thursday

Providing the second tile in the Skirball’s World Mosaic series is celebrated oud player and singer/songwriter Naser Musa, in a concert titled “Naser Musa and Friends.” Joined by violinist Georges Lammam, accordionist Elias Lammam, upright bassist Miles Jay and percussionists Souhail and Tony Kaspar, Musa will perform traditional Arabic, Arabic folk and traditional Andalusian music this evening. His lecture on Arabic music precedes the show.
7 p.m. (lecture), 8 p.m. (concert). $15-$25. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 655-8587.

Friday

Filmmaker Stephen Grynberg had an interesting response to Judy Chicago’s call to artists to submit works on the theme, “Envisioning the Future.” He looked to the past. As a child of a Holocaust survivor, he has said that his personal exploration always involved looking at his own family history. By looking back, he was able to envision his own future. Hence the title of his art installation, “PAST FORWARD,” which was chosen as one in Chicago’s series.
Runs through Feb. 29. 5-10 p.m. (Feb. 13 and 14 only), Noon-4 p.m. (Friday, Saturday and Sunday). Progress Gallery, 300 S. Thomas St., Pomona. (310) 480-1794.

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

This weekend, it’s “Northward, ho!” as North Hollywood’s NoHo Theatre District hosts the NoHo Theatre and Arts Festival. The two-day theater, performing and visual-arts fest features theater performances at 20 NoHo venues, music and dance acts on outdoor stages, arts workshops for kids and outdoor gallery areas. Two of the many theater performances worth checking out are “Cyma’s Story,” a play about a Russian Jewish immigrant, and “Grandmothers of the Universe,” a solo piece by Miri Hunter Haruach, an African American convert to Judaism.

11 a.m.-8 p.m., May 17 and 18. Free (festival events anddaytime performances). Lankershim Boulevard, between Chandler and Magnoliaboulevards, North Hollywood. (818) 623-7171. www.nohoartsdistrict.com/festival2003/.

Miri Hunter Haruach performs “Grandmothers of the Universe.” Photo by Veronica Puleo

Sunday

Arrested artistic development was just one of the many ways Hitler’s totalitarian rule influenced German culture. Today, Dance Camera West/Los Angeles International Dance Film Festival focuses the lens more specifically with a screening of the documentary “Dance Under the Swastika.” The lives of prominent 20th century choreographers and dancers Mary Wigman, Harald Kreutzberg and Rudolf von Laban are examined through interviews of some of their contemporaries and clips from historical dance films. A panel discussion with dance scholars Susan Manning and Jennifer Fisher follows.7:30 p.m. $8 (general), $6 (students, Skirball and Dance Resource Center members). Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 655-8587.

Monday

Head back to NoHo tonight to enjoy a tale of college reunions and famous lesbian folksingers. Eclectic Company Theatre’s “A Weekend Near Madison” tells the story of David Rabinowitz and the complexities that arise when his college ex-girlfriend (the aforementioned folksinger) tells him that she and her life partner would like him to father their child.8 p.m. (Mondays), 7 p.m. (Sundays). Runs through June 16. $12-$15. 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., North Hollywood. 818-508-3003

J.Bassman

Tuesday

They’re getting the band back together! For the real Mashina reunion, you’ll have to book with El Al, as the defunct Israeli rock band comes together for four shows in Israel this summer. But for a variation that some would argue is even better, you can catch Yuval Banai and Shlomi Bracha at the Knitting Factory tonight. The three-guitar acoustic show (Nosshi Paz rounds out the group on guitar, as well) will be equal parts Mashina Unplugged and Yuval and Shlomi Unplugged as they perform songs by the group, as well as solo hits.8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. $45 (in advance), $50 (at the door). 7021 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 463-0204.

Wednesday

The Workmen’s Circle explores subtler forms of Jewish activism in a new exhibit titled “Love as Activism: Beyond Egalitarianism in the Contemporary Ketubah.” It features original ketubot (Jewish marriage contracts) that use alternative texts or nontraditional artwork to express couples’ unions. Accompanying the show is a series of programs, including two panel discussions, a ketubah design workshop and screening of the documentary “Naming Prairie.”9 a.m.-5 p.m. (Monday-Friday, but call ahead.) Runs through June 27. 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007.

Thursday

Those of a certain generation will recall the term we cannot print, but which Erica Jong coined in her 1973 best-selling novel “Fear of Flying.” (Hint: it involves the word “zipless.”) But the prosaic writer has produced seven novels and at least four books of poetry since then. She discusses her latest novel, “Sappho’s Leap,” with writer Anne Taylor Fleming (“Marriage A Duet” and “Motherhood Deferred”) in another Writer’s Bloc conversation at the Skirball, tonight.7:30 p.m. $15. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 335-0917.

Friday

Voyeurs and ladies looking for a girls’ night out find common ground tonight in the form of a new play, “Dial-Logs.” Written by Jewish television producers Julie Heimler and Jill Asars, the story is told entirely through telephone conversations and centers on best friends who live on opposite coasts. With the help of good long-distance plans, the two women keep each other updated on the intimacies of their lives.8 p.m. (Thursday-Saturday). Runs through May 31. $10. The Complex, Ruby Theatre, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 280-2660.Amy Turner, bottom,and Christina Venuti in “Dial-Logs.”

Zionism, by George


In a key scene in “Masterpiece Theatre’s” “Daniel Deronda,”adapted from George Eliot’s 1876 novel, the hero attends a Zionist meeting.”Isn’t the way forward through assimilation?” asks Deronda (Hugh Dancy), anorphaned aristocrat unsure of his roots.

“When we pretend to be what we are not, we lose a bit of oursouls,” Mordecai, a Jewish mystic, replies. 

If the early Zionist movement seems an unlikely topic for aVictorian novel, Eliot (“Middlemarch,” “Silas Marner”) was an unlikelyVictorian novelist. “She raised eyebrows,” said “Deronda’s” Jewish producer,Louis Marks, who spearheaded the teledrama with screenwriter Andrew Davies.

Born Mary Ann Evans, Eliot began shocking people when sherejected Christianity at age 22, according to Marks.  She was further shunnedwhen she moved in with her married lover in 1854.  Although the unofficialeditor of the influential Westminster Review, she was never publiclyacknowledged because she was a woman.  In 1859, she began publishing a stringof acclaimed, socially conscious novels under the pseudonym George Eliot. 

Her final novel was “Deronda.”  “As an outsider, sheidentified with the Jewish experience of oppression,” Marks said.

“She was outraged and disgusted by the degree ofanti-Semitism that existed in English society,” Davies, Marks’ longtimecollaborator, said.

Eliot began writing “Deronda” after befriending theGerman-born scholar Emmanuel Deutsch, the prototype for the fictionalMordecai.  An official in the Jewish manuscripts department of the BritishMuseum, he taught Eliot Hebrew and about the then-nascent idea of Zionism. When he was diagnosed with terminal cancer in the 1870s, he went off to die inJerusalem. “That inspired Eliot,” said Marks, whose daughter lives inBeersheva. “His return to his roots perhaps moved her to create Deronda, a manalso struggling to find his roots.”

The producer said the novel inspired early Zionist leaderssuch as Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and aristocrats who backed Britain’s BalfourDeclaration, the first political recognition of Zionism.  With war erupting inthe Middle East, he believes its message is equally relevant today:  “Manypeople are worried about Israel’s survival, and ‘Deronda’ makes people aware ofwhat is at stake,” he said.

The two-part drama airs March 30 and 31 on KCET.

People of the Book Festival


Jewish books are hot these days.

Jonathan Fass should know; he’s directing the People of the Book – Jewish Book Festival, a program of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles, which turns four years old this week. The emergence of the festival is part and parcel of the Jewish book renaissance that’s been sweeping the nation recently.

At a time when Jewish continuity is in, Holocaust memoirs are everywhere and Jewish-themed tomes grace the book reviews of major daily newspapers, the festival has prospered. Several thousand Angelenos attended the 1999 fest. And at this year’s event, Nov. 12-16, you can catch Myla Goldberg (“Bee Season”) and Nomi Eve (“The Family Orchard”) whose stunning debut novels have gleaned national attention (see sidebars). Author Rich Cohen, who’ll read from his partisan saga, “The Avengers” (see story below), had lengthy excerpts of his book published in Newsweek.

Significantly, it’s not an exclusively Jewish shop that is providing the 250 tomes for festival “bookstores” at the West Valley and Westside JCC’s. Rather, it’s the upscale Century City Brentano’s.

Fass has a theory about the explosion of Jewish books. “Jews are the People of the Book, so if there’s a reinvigorating of Jewish identity, it follows there’s a reinvigorating of Jewish literature,” he says.

The festival has come a long way since it was whipped up from scratch by the JCC’s Seville Porush in 1997. The 2000 fest is smaller and more focused than in years past, so it’s more polished, and events aren’t competing against themselves to draw patrons in the megalopolis. “We’ve been learning what works and what doesn’t in a huge city like L.A.,” Fass explains. “We’ve also been trying to reach out to audiences we haven’t targeted before.”

For the first time ever, there’s a singles event, co-sponsored by JDate.com, featuring Rabbi Niles Elliot Goldstein, himself a single guy. Goldstein will talk about his book, “God at the Edge: Searching for the Divine in Uncomfortable and Unexpected Places,” chronicling how he set out to find God in tough, scary situations like dog sledding in the Arctic.

Also debuting is a panel discussion highlighting the lesbian Jewish experience, where you can hear Zsa Zsa Gershick, editor of “Gay Old Girls,” profiling lesbian pioneers of the gay liberation movement.

The 10 festival programs, moreover, include children’s storytelling events; Tova Mirvis reading from her book, “The Ladies’ Auxiliary,” set in the Orthodox Jewish community of Memphis, Tenn.; and a mystery night with “A Conspiracy of Paper,” David Liss’ tale of an 18th century London Jew investigating the mysterious death of his estranged father. Richard Krevolin’s monologue “Boychick,” starring Richard Kline, is another tribute to a misunderstood father by a son out of touch with his Jewish roots. (“Boychick” will run Nov. 18 and 19, but the Nov. 16 performance has been canceled. Advance reservations are necessary to guarantee the festival admission price of $6 per person.)

The goal of the festival is simple. “We wanted to present as wide a range of Jewish literature as possible,” Fass explains.

And while the fest does not yet break even from ticket sales, that’s not the point, adds Fass, the JCCs’ Jewish education specialist. “We lose money,” he says, candidly. “But the goal of Jewish education is not to turn a profit. It’s to help Jews grow Jewishly.”

All festival events are $6 except children’s programs, which are free. A $24 pass allows admission to all events. For more information and to obtain a festival brochure, call (323) 938-2531, ext. 2207.