Inside the Industry with Sharon Hart-Green: She crafted a novel so rich in history and full of heart
Updated: Oct 4, 2019
Sharon Hart-Green's debut novel, Come Back For Me, is a gripping story of trauma, loss, and the redemptive power of love set in the aftermath of World War II. It was chosen as the inaugural fiction offering of The New Jewish Press and was released on June 1, 2017.
Sharon received her PhD in Judaic Studies from Brandeis University and has taught Hebrew and Yiddish literature at the University of Toronto. Needless to say, she is more than qualified to create the appropriate atmosphere in Come Back For Me, multi-dimensional as it is.
At what point in your life did you decide you would like to be a writer? What encouraged you to pursue writing as a career?
I had been involved in the arts since childhood—painting, music, theatre, etc. As I grew older, however, I gave up most of my artistic activities once I started seriously pursuing an academic career. Nevertheless, those creative impulses were never completely silenced. They eventually bubbled up from beneath the surface and suddenly I found myself needing to write. This occurred in the middle of my academic career, after I had been teaching literature at the University of Toronto for quite a few years. I suppose that after years of teaching the works of other writers, I felt an intense need to become a creator of literature, rather than the one who teaches other people’s stories.
As a professor of Modern Hebrew Literature as well as Yiddish Literature, would you share a few of your favourite pieces or authors?
My favourite modern Hebrew writer is unquestionably S. Y. Agnon, the Nobel Prize winning author whose stories and novels are modern classics. For readers who would like a taste of Agnon’s work, I would recommend starting with one of his signature short stories such as ”Agunot” or “Tehillah.” As for Yiddish literature, I never tire of the work of Isaac Bashevis Singer--another Nobel Prize winner! -- especially his novels Satan in Goray, The Family Moskat, or The Slave.
For anyone interested in exploring Modern Hebrew Literature, with which Jewish writer(s) would you suggest they begin?
I think that S. Y. Agnon’s novel A Simple Story is a good place to begin. It is an absorbing read with vivid characters, and a straightforward plot. I also highly recommend Yehuda Amichai’s poems, which speak directly to both the mind and heart. Agnon and Amichai –a AA start!
Enlighten me, if you would, on some of the struggles that modern Jews are facing today?
One of the greatest problems facing Jews today is the recurring problem of anti-Semitism. It is particularly pernicious because it is masked in the garb of anti-Zionism and BDS. In most countries in Europe, Jews are once again afraid to wear any identifiable Jewish symbols, lest they become victims of violent attack. The problem has not reached the streets of America, but it has certainly entered American college campuses.
How have these issues affected the Jewish writing industry?
There are still many Jewish writers who continue to have successful careers, and some of these writers have built their reputations on writing about their cultural experiences as Jews. However, the publishing industry is particularly sensitive to social trends, so if a group of people starts to be seen as unpopular, then it makes it harder to get such books published. I see some signs of this happening already in the publishing industry, although it is not blatant.
Your debut book, Come Back For Me, bravely takes the reader to Post-War Israel leading up to the Six Day War, a devastating moment in Jewish history. As a Jewish author, what has it been like to connect so personally with the catastrophic events that altered Jewish history?
The events of recent Jewish history and their aftershocks hover close to the surface in the hearts of most Jews, especially those who allow themselves to reflect on them. However, when I write, I do not start out thinking that I want to cover a particular historical event or period. It seems to just emerge from somewhere deep in my historical consciousness. I often begin with a character and see where it takes me. I must admit, however, that I feel most comfortable writing about places I know well. For example, my next novel (which I am writing now) is partly set in Boston, a city in which I lived for almost eight years.
It's refreshing and necessary that more pieces of eye-opening and genuine work are published. Do you have any hot tips or words of inspiration for aspiring writers?
My main piece of advice to aspiring writers is to allow others to read your rough manuscript and offer criticism. That is the most valuable way of learning how to improve your writing. You need not alter your work according to every criticism offered, but it forces you to think about your work in a more objective way. I think we are all partially blind to our own creative work. Others help us lift the blinders!
Beautifully spoken by a beautiful writer. You can find Come Back For Me by Sharon Hart-Green on Amazon, and you won't want to put it down!