Vandervelde Downs

Vandervelde Downs is an adult novel about deception. The novel begins with an interview between Vera Solomon and Maxwell Johnson in 1999 about Vera’s interactions with a suspicious character, Bertrand Vandervelde, whom she befriended while volunteering at a Vietnamese Refugee Center twenty years earlier. It turns out that Vandervelde, who was pretending to be a do-gooder, had written antisemitic articles during the war and had stolen a priceless Torah during an attack on a synagogue in Antwerp on 14 April 1941. The Torah had remained hidden in the tunnels below the refugee center and Johnson, working with the CIA on the recovery of looted objects, is hoping Vera can help. Vera survived the Holocaust because her Viennese parents put her on a Kindertransport when she was five years old. She was adopted by Lily (a Quaker) and her husband Ernst (a Jewish florist) and raised in provincial England, in a fictional town called Eden-upon-Tyne. At the time of the interview in 1999, Vera’s two kids, Rosie and Thomas, are adults.  Rosie is at first quite skeptical of this American who comes to talk with her now aging mother but eventually, Maxwell and Rosie begin an affair.

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The Library of Unfinished Tales

The Library of Unfinished Tales is a middle-grade portal fiction novel. Henrietta Stone, a dyslexic seventh grader, moves to  New York City from Champaign, IL, with her mom, Sylvie. Henrietta goes to the local library in search of an adventure book—something with a dragon on the cover, perhaps, or maybe a dragon carrying a sword in its talons. Something exciting. But instead, she finds only grey, drab-looking, unfinished bound manuscripts. She opens one up, and a few pages in, after reading about a monkey who loves bananas, she feels her feet squelching and sliding: she has been transported into a zoo that looks like an ordinary zoo during the day but is populated by talking animals at night. This keeps happening over and over and each story transports to a different aspect, a different time, in the history of Central Park. Each time, as she reaches the last page, the ending isn’t there. And then Henrietta realizes she has to figure out how to get back to the library. Picking up a quill she writes the ending so that everything turns out ok and voilà, she’s back in the library. She runs all the way home to tell her mom, but instead of being surprised her mom just listens with a bemused but distracted look. The book is ultimately about the power of inventive, creative imaginations that grace many dyslexic kids, even as they struggle with the challenges presented by school.

Convergences: Portraits of Artists who Explore/Experience Jewishness and Blackness 

From Porgy and Bess to The Beastie Boys, the complex performances of Anthony Mordechai Tzvi Russell and Anna Deavere Smith, to Spike Lee’s stunning film BlacKkKlansman, Jewishness and Blackness exert mutually powerful influences aesthetically, culturally, and politically. But also, and this is where this creative non-fiction book steps in, personally. The long history of intersections between Blacks and Jews in Europe and North America has been at times joyous, and at other times fraught with deep mistrust and betrayal. The story that is often told as one of convergence (during the shared struggles for Civil Rights) decaying into rupture and mistrust in more recent years is far more complex, and the artists whose lives I examine and stories I tell in this project bring out the granular nuances missed in many of the extant narratives. Convergences places this contemporary creative work in dialogue with the findings of historians and other scholars who have traced the history of the interchange between the two groups, that history, the scholarship, is all there, but in the background. The foreground tells the stories of people whose lives converge between Blackness and Jewishness. Some are Black Jews by birth, others converted, others are interested in both identities. This book argues that the very diversity of patterns reflects the multiple layers of influence and the deep interconnection between Jewishness and Blackness. Convergences open up spaces of inquiry and illuminates new aspects of the relationship between these communities that will contribute to the ongoing exploration of difference and often troubled identifications of all kinds—far beyond Blacks and Jews.