I met Taly Ravid when I enrolled in her course “Anne Frank Redux,” offered earlier this year through the Skirball’s Learning for Life program. In that course, Taly led fascinating sessions that combined engaging lectures and discussions about Anne Frank’s original diary as well as other literary treatments of the book. Taly, who is completing a PhD in English at UCLA specializing in contemporary American literature, created a stimulating environment that produced dynamic, meaningful conversations no one wanted to end. In fact, due to the students’ enthusiastic response to the course, an additional session was added!
I have no doubt that Taly’s new course, “The New Guard: Twenty-First-Century American Jewish Fiction”—beginning next Wednesday, September 25—will offer an equally enriching experience. Read Taly’s interview below to learn more about what inspired her to create this course and to get a sense of her innovative thinking and breadth of knowledge, which are matched only by her contagious passion for American literature. There is still time to sign up! You can register here…
What inspired you to develop this course?
A few years ago, the New Yorker published its “20 under 40” list—a much-buzzed-about group of promising, notable writers under the age of 40 who are at the top of the American literary scene. About a third of the writers on the list are Jewish, yet David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, insisted (in a New York Times interview) that the writers have nothing much in common, and the press paid little, if any, attention to these writers’ affiliation with Judaism. That struck me as a big cultural shift. Just a few short generations ago, the literary world bound writers like Bernard Malamud, Saul Bellow, and Philip Roth to their Jewishness. Those writers were presented to readers not as American writers, but as American Jewish writers. This latest New Yorker list seemed to be doing the opposite. I started wondering how—or if at all—being Jewish figures into the works of some of the writers on the list, and I started thinking that a discussion-style course might be a perfect arena in which to explore questions about the intersection of genre, fiction, and group identity.
Your class focuses on twenty-first-century American Jewish writers. Which writers from the last century have also captivated you and why?
I really love Grace Paley and Tillie Olsen. I go back to their short stories again and again. They’re incredible women and incredible writers who somehow haven’t been canonized in the same way that the heavy-hitting men of American Jewish fiction have been. The “men” being Isaac Bashevis Singer, Bellow, Malamud … and Philip Roth. I’m actually also completely enamored with Philip Roth. The punch and pathos that he can wring from a single sentence just slays me. And alongside the sheer brain power and intellect and wit and narrative complexity, there are moments of tenderness in his work that go straight to my gut and the backs of my knees. His capacity as a writer is astonishing.
It must’ve been hard to boil it down to just four books for this course. Which other writers would you recommend?
It was SO hard to narrow it down to just four books for this course! I can’t get enough of Gary Shteyngart and Rivka Galchen. I love Adam Levin. I love Etgar Keret. I love Nathan Englander. Just to name a few …