Michael Rosen

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December 2009 Archives

I've not yet been to the CherryVale Mall, in Rockford, Illinois. I've never had a reading in a big box book store. Only the Indies have had me. But there's a woman in a bookstore there named Gee Gee, who has hand sold copies of What Else But Home one after the other with love and care...

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Gee Gee somehow found my book, drove 65 miles to my reading at the Wisconsin Book Fair, in Madison ~ and I'm far more than happy we met.

This is Gee Gee's pug,Hoover, in Boston...
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For the nearly seven years while I was sitting in cafes putting words to paper, editing and re-writing, eventually working with Clive Priddle and later with Laura Stine at PublicAffairs, I wasn't a writer. I was a man with a bike and laptop and backpack.

Once a book is out and you start to book fairs & bookstores, radio and television, Internet videos, then you're "a writer," you're an "author." I've been blessed along this way by meeting the most wonderful people.

This is my bookstore owner hero, Carla Cohen of Politics & Prose (with Philippe, Juan and William, & I've published this before)...
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My prayers are with Carla and her husband David. With her son Aaron Cohen who is making a film about lots of Aaron Cohen's. Our world needs Carla and lots more of Carla.

She introduced me to A Happy Marriage, and then to sitting with Rafael Yglesias. Which is a gift.

As are James Galvin, Daniel Asa Rose, Helen Thorpe, Judy Bernstein, Rachel DeWoskin, Mark Naison - writers, poets & scholars far more experienced than I, & generous. Collegial in its thick sense also of compassion.

Dan & Kit Mosheim, a lady who lives in VT now but originally from Austin, Texas and I can't find her name (if you see this, please email again and tell me), Karen Vinacour & Andrea Masley, Sheri Best, Leslie & Chris Hann, Jane Crotty, Nydia Velazquez, Diane McWhorter, Perry Pidgeon Hooks & her mom Missie, Yogi-Baby & Stu, Becky Fiske for assigning my book in her Bard @ Simon's Rock college course in Biography, Bill & Mary Bender, Leslie & Ripton (who refuses to read my book but loves Dan Brown) & Morgan (who liked it) & William (who says I tell a good story) & Kindu & Phil & Carlos, for Whitney who is off to India, Clive Priddle whom I count on, Lisa Kaufman whom I have hope in, Mark Chimsky whom I want to flourish far further from trauma, Carolyn & Miri & the JBC people, Heidi Budaj, Heidi Toboni, Julie Gales & her mom, Bernie and Barb Banet, Lolita Jackson & John Predergast, Harish Rao & Evelyn Frison, Leah Paulos, my mom Shirley & my dad Howard, David Leslie & Clayton Patterson, Robert Krulwich, Kelly Hughes, Garry Bregman, Kathryn and Harry Amyotte, Hugh and Florence Short, Marie Short, Ria Gruss, David & Sue Schwartz, John & Lorna Howard, Frances Goldin who is a Lady, Rosie Mendez, Michael Fuquay, Margarita Lopez, Noah David Smith, Daniel Bell, Adam Kluger & Mark Goodman, R. Roly Matalon, R Simon Jacobson, Matthew Pace, Mary Spink - I know I'm missing people ~ tell me & I'll post (don't be shy!).

And Ali - Worducopia - thank you for THIS REVIEW !

The moon is particularly beautiful tonight, & the world is hardly complete without the beauty of flowers...
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A Christmas moment, slowing into the 14th St subway stop, the light coming back. As Is, James Galvin:

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I peeled the Prairie Lights sticker from the back and stuck it to that pole to the right of As Is. Is that littering? I think it's a message to the future. Putting James Galvin there and I'm imagining some young person on the subway noticing, seeing, peeling back that note in a subway tube bottle.

"The farthest way
Ive ever been
Is inside my own home.
My daughter's room.
Today." ~ Pg 40.

...and it's been dirty out here. A White Christmas, us bike riding splash-covered ones nodding to each other as we pass by:
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The park in our part of town, Tompkins Square:
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And in the upper right of the park, the field of snow just right of center in this photo, that's the blacktop baseball field where Ripton took us and we met the other, slightly older boys who would become our sons too, and spent so many days:
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I met Jessica Hall walking on Avenue C last week. I was pedaling the wrong way on a one way street, the light was turning as I was flowing through the yellow, she stepped into the intersection and I did stop. She said I should tell the story of my most awkward bookstore moment of these past traveling months. I do have a couple photos. Mine was in a nearly picture perfect river town in Lower New England, near an enormous white wooden opera house on the water, a steel bridge spanning big space. I'll tell the story quickly - excuse me for not truly editing. Maybe I can tell it again else where better. In late autumn I receive an email from a bookstore lady saying she's been looking all year for a book that was socially inspiring. She found mine. She asked me to drive the couple hours to her store. She'd have 30 or so people there. She'd ensure a good group. I looked at the store website. It seemed fine. Nothing odd. We scheduled a time. I didn't hear back again. Except my reading was posted on her website, at 3 PM on a certain December day, with a 1:30 reading of a novel earlier than mine the same Saturday. I called the day before and spoke with the proprietor. She told me everything was fine. She was going to host a reception first, explainoing that was a good way to meet people, to warm guests to "the author and the book." I've had that experience. I thought she was right. BUT, she didn't have any of my books. She said she'd ordered them, but the books hadn't arrived. No problem, I told her. I'd bring some. She suggested 30 or so.

I drove up to the river town. I arrived a half hour early. I drove back and forth along the main street, looking for the bookstore. I couldn't find it. I saw a small sign and turned down a steep driveway and parked on the flats by the river. There was a small, stand alone cabin with a sign for an art store and another for the bookstore, and the door was locked. I walked up the driveway, up on the big porch to an art store sign, a folding up book-cover sign and no bookstore sign. I was carrying my box of books. A man came out, mid-fifties, pullover V-neck sweater, thin tie, chinos. Lace-up leather shoes. White. He asked what I was looking for. He told me I'd found the bookstore. The room in back, a door open to a porch overlooking the parking lot, lower building and river, was set with a large table; a large, clear plastic bowl held an unopened bottle of champagne cradled in ice, rows of wine glasses, a round plate of miniature sized deviled eggs and cut up triangles of croissant. A counter was on the left, one large caldrone of coffee, one large caldrone of hot water, a stack of coffee cups, tea bags, milk. A smaller table on the right had cut pieces of Dunkin Donuts. Two other men were with me in the back room, a couple, Southern accents, mid-30'ish. I wondered why they were in the bookstore early. Local neighbors? Speaking easily with the man who'd told me I was in the right place. The back room had a few shelves and a few books.

I carried my box of books to the front room. A round woman was sitting behind the front desk. The proprietor, a circle of a person, a pulled down winter cap, wool stockinged thin legs in black shoes. She was built of twisted balloons pushed together. I told her I'd brought the books she'd wanted. She asked who I was - her afternoon reading, I explained. The front room had a few shelves and a few books. She stood up and the balloons came apart to form a perfect "S", a short woman. African-American. She introduced her mother, a kind woman grown up in Triadelphia - a West Virginia coal mining town. The man in the V-neck was her husband, an English teacher in a high school a town or two over.

Three o'clock came. No guests. 3:15 then 3:30. The other two men there, the couple - one was author for the 1:30 PM reading, the other his mate. A self published novel about an adolescent girl. set in the South. Today was his first reading, the pull-up book-cover stand on the porch his marketing (MUCH better than mine!) and no one had come. He and his guy were New Yorkers via Louisiana.

The proprietor suggested we pull up chairs in the front room and read to her...

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It would be good practice, she suggested. We needed to explain our books to her, so she could sell them to her customers. I needed to run away. We formed a circle in her front room. The novelist's partner was sitting in the chair the proprietor wanted her mother to sit in. The novelist from Louisiana read a segment from near the end of his book, the young girl protagonist looking at holiday gifts under her family Christmas tree. I read a section about Jesus and my sons answering the bigger boys whether we Jews believe in G-d - a William question, I think. Page 30 or so of my book. Whether we Jews can get to heaven, whether Jews are White?

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The proprietor announced that our two books were so different. Fiction and nonfiction. I begged to differ. I did differ - dialogue is made up. Dialogue is fiction. The arc of a narrative is fiction. What we choose to frame makes fiction. Transcribing the spoken word wouldn't read as dialogue. The Mother got angry. She wanted to read fact. Fact was fact. Truth was truth. The proprietor agreed. They wanted to read nonfiction books that were real. The mother spoke to me about truth and Satan. She told me she prayed everyday for everyone, and therefore for me. The proprietor was nodding in agreement.

The couple from Queens, via Louisiana, said they needed to get back to their dog, who would otherwise pee in their apartment. I said I had to go. The proprietor asked the novelist how many books he was leaving. I started to leave with my box of books. The proprietor asked I wanted to leave any of my books. She was operating her store on consignment, it seemed. I said, "But you ordered my books, right? They're arriving Monday?" She said they were. "But if anyone wants one tomorrow [Sunday, before Monday's book delivery?], your books won't be here." I told her I didn't have many books left.

These are the photos. Some unfortunate tourist did walk into the bookstore while we were reading our Tennessee Williams reality: but the guest fled.

This is when I need to get back to NY, get back to Everyman...
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By Michael Rosen on December 25, 2009 8:42 AM | 0 Comments | 0 TrackBacks

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The December 2009 Holiday issue of Today's Black Woman (on newsstands now) picks What Else But Home as a Top 10 books of the year! Pages 72 - 73.

"Author Michael Rosen was one of 2009's most pleasant surprises. This powerful and inspiring story about overcoming the spectre of racial, class and cultural separation started out innocently enough in the guise of a pick-up baseball game. The boys who participated in that pick-up game all came from diverse inner-city backgrounds, their world a mine-field of poverty and crime. They overcame those obstacles to form lasting friendships. How they did it proves that love and compassion can guarantee victory over all."

So thank you Today's Black Woman, thank you Rhonda Patterson.

A new Amazon review, by Jean Marzollo. What Else But Home is one of my three favorite books that I read in 2009... All three of these books are fascinating, well written, and intensely about the real world we live in. While What Else But Home is non-fiction, it reads like fiction with compelling characters and a riveting story set in the East Village of New York City. If you care about inner city children, you will love, as I did, Michael Rosen's true story of himself-a businessman, his wife-a doctor, and their seven wonderful sons, two [adopted] and the others friends from the projects.

A sweet email I received this week about my book: "It's fantastic! I ordered 10 printed copies for Christmas presents." THANK YOU, kind person. No, that's not from my Mom. She'd give them as Hanukah gifts, anyways.

An email I received today from someone who listened to my New Dimensions interview with Michael and Justine Toms: "I just listend to your interview on New Dimension's, and I was so impressed with the story you were telling about the family you created and the adventure in social empowerment you are having.  Stories like yours can give us the insights for thinking out of the box and doing things a little different.  Thanks Much!"

Thank you for this email. It's beauty lies EXACTLY in not saying that we've done something good or kind, but in giving insights to think and act a bit differently, to overcome the oppressions of racial and class discrimination.

Michael & Justine Toms are extraordinary. You can listen to our interview by CLICKING HERE, then click on LISTEN NOW.

& what does this picture say to you?...
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I didn't want to go. We went anyways. You walk into the museum, around the exhibits, are lifted up a walkway UNTIL, Mehalia Jackson in strengthening trails of "Take My Hand, Precious Lord," caresses your soul, you are inside looking out the window to the balcony where Martin Luther King, Junior was murdered. The door is right there. You need to tell Brother Martin to stay inside a moment. But you can't. There's a newspaper folded on one bed, the bedspread on the other pulled back a touch, a table and reading lamp between, the bathroom door open. Stay inside a moment... but you never can. When my way grows drear precious Lord linger near, When my life is almost gone, Hear my cry, hear my call, Hold my hand lest I fall, Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home....

This is Tom Franck, and in the background my friend Carter taking a photo...
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Tom & Sandy Franck run Talbot Heirs, the small and wonderfully beautiful hotel across the street from the Peabody, in downtown Memphis. The rooms are fun, the hallway art alive, the Francks welcoming and smart.

&, the pigeon came deeper into the room. The pigeon is there, if you look closely...
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This is him, standing on the workout bench...
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JUDY, is this bird sick? ~ Michael


This...

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is a genius ! He's a pigeon- inside our home. Standing one "the wrong side" of the sliding door to our terrace. It's winter outside. The pigeon came in seeking warmth. Don't we all come inside, seeking the same? Our dog, Mr. Jenkins, hasn't learned to go through the doggie door we have there, so we've been keeping the sliding glass door open for most of his life. THIS bird is the first to have learned to come in.

Pigeons are feral survivors, mostly undramatic, pedestrian (odd word for winged ones). That's why we picked--I think my friend David Leslie (the Impact Addict) first suggested--having a pigeon as the logo of our EVCC, the East Village Community Coalition.

I have problems with conventional boundaries. The pigeon was pooping everywhere. I couldn't shoo him out into the cold.

This is Giovana...

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...the SAME woman from The Door who was one of Carlos' two GED teachers. She was at my book reading at The Door on Thursday. Michael Zisser bought her a copy of What Else But Home. I was honored to be with the University Settlement and The Door people, who dedicate their professional lives to making class and race disparities disappear.

Adam Kluger and Mark Goodman brought me to FOX TV's "The Strategy Room" yesterday....

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Thank you, Harris & Jordan & Mark & Adam.

THEN, AFTER, & some meetings, I went back to Everyman Espresso...

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I wasted nearly an hour trying to find a real cup of coffee in Midtown. NOT a chain store coffee - before I biked back to Everyman, then back to Midtown for another meeting. Home is home. I wish my phone camera were sharper. It's a good coffee.

1st Things 1st: STARTING tomorrow, Dec 9 - 15, New Dimensions Radio is featuring an interview with me on its worldwide broadcast schedule, "Changing the World, Seven Boys at a Time" Hosted by Michael Toms. Program 3320

You can hear it streaming for free on the New Dimensions website for two weeks or download it for a small fee beginning Dec. 1st. You can also hear it on a radio station close to you. . Go to Listening Options for a list of stations that carry New Dimensions.

This is a photograph of Robert Blair at my Charmichael's reading:

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who with his wife Debbie started the West End School, a free boarding school in Louisville for underprivileged boys. Mr. Blair stole a tiny touch my spotlight speaking last week at Carmichael's Bookstore, in Louisville. I'm thrilled that he did! Together with Stand Up for Kids, a group new to Louisville, that reaches out to homeless teenagers. The evening was exciting, community groups meeting and opening new opportunites among themselves. So thank you Carmichael's, the West End School, Stand Up for Youth and the people who joined me at the bookstore:

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My friend Carter is in that photo above! He come to Louisville and DID keep me company on the 6 hour deep nighttime in-the-rain on America's-truck-FILLED highways drive to Memphis, where I did appear on Live at 9 in the Peabody mall. I had 10 minutes before this band played on a stage set in a water fountain in the mall. They're from Nashville, and good. I don't know their band's name:

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These are two of the wonderful people who came to my Davis Kidd reading in Memphis. Jeanette and Missie:

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Jeanette is one of the people who runs Urban Youth Initiative (UYI) in Memphis, more of below, and Missie is Perry Pidgeon Hook's mother and a power.

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These are some of the 100'ish or so people from Urban Youth Initiative I spoke with on Friday in Memphis, a church ministry of many groups in Memphis aimed at helping disadvantaged youth there. I have almost never been more welcomed, and more inspired. So thank you to Jeanette and all the people involved and affiliated with UYI, and Godspeed in your work:

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The building we were in is a meeting hall and basketball court behind a church on Tulane Road, which seemed relatively rural to me, though in Memphis. The JUXTAPOSITIONS.... this is the Christmas tree in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis:

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This is the Duckmaster in the Peabody Hotel, with some young adoring children, waiting for the ducks to parade from the fountain across the lobby red carpet into the elevator up to their luxury hotel apartment (so I heard). The juxtapositions in this amazing America of ours are heart rendering. From the poor and endangered, primarily African-American & Latino children ministered to by UYI in one part of Memphis to these duckies on parade....

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and these photographs a bit too big, I should scale them down more, so I'm sorry I'm not taking more time to write a shorter letter.... Just some other Peabody photos, including an ivory pagoda a man in the antique store off the lobby says is "museum quality" and is from Osaka. It has an army of carved figured surrounding each level. It must cost, well, how many times the national median income?, pretty spectacularly beautiful it is...

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and the pagoda is breathtaking. and the end....

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In the timeless words of Tiny Tim, "God Bless Us, Every One!

four-ten-AM. packing for shuttle to Iowa City airport. Iowa city has the softest water I've come across yet. How do you know you've gotten the soap off ? Staying at the Golden Haug. Nila Haug came to my reading last night, very kind and sweet place and person. The shower is one of those old tubs with the curtain suspended 360 inside - like swimming with a raincoat -- that's a lyric too (Kindu would know). But a good place. Have a cold. Flying six-30-AM to Louisville.

Iowa City does have James Galvin (I know I've said that a lot, but poets are artists) and Prairie Lights, & Prairie Lights has Paul Ingram, and Paul's Corner, and he and that are worth a trip across a country or nearly a continent too.

In Louisville, later today, KY, I'm meeting with the Stand Up for Kids people, which is why this not-sleeping makes so much sense, then Carmichael's @ 7 PM, Publisher Weekly's "Bookseller of the Year" for 2009.

Did I say I have a cold? I bought more books in Iowa City than I have any right to. They're mailing the books home. For Juan, more Thich Nhat Han. For John and me, more poems. For Carter and me, a book about NY. Carter better not stop talking tonight all night long.

This is Helen Thorpe...

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...author of the recently published Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America. We were on a panel together with Po Bronson at the Miami Book Fair.

In today's Miami Herald, in "What are you reading now?", she writes:

``At the Miami Book Fair, I was on a panel with Michael Rosen, who read a stunning passage from his memoir What Else But Home. In it, he tries to explain the enormity of the Holocaust to five impoverished boys who lived in projects near his penthouse and had never heard of the Holocaust before. Rosen and his wife wound up adopting all five of the boys. I was riveted by his spare and dynamic account of the experience, an act of bravery and compassion.'' [the BOLDS are entirely mine, and thank you Helen!]

I'm a slow reader, am a third into Helen's book and am caught by the prose and the story. A recommended read.

and this is James Galvin, my favorite living poet...

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He agreed to a coffee today, and then agreed to sign six books, three for me and three for my friend John Howard, also a fan. which reminds me of the lyric, "a peanut butter sandwich made with jam, one for me and one for David Amram," but that's another folk story.

I read Mr. Galvin's poems. They have a quiet and beautiful voice that might talk into you, whisper something you need to hear. Perhaps.

 

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