My writing springs from the ways that larger world events shape personal identity: History with a capital “H” informs personal history with a small “h”. In my memoir, Letters to My Father: Excavating a Jewish Identity in Poland and Belarus, I explore how my father’s veiling of his Jewish identity moved me as a first generation American to go to Poland and Belarus to “excavate” my family documents. Amazingly, after two world wars, I found my father’s birth record of 1912 in Belarus, as well as an archive of all my family members who had been annihilated in the Shoah—from ages three to ninety-five—including their photographs.
The other force behind my writing is my four-decade career as an educator. The fact that I have been fortunate enough to have taught a wide diversity of students—university undergraduates and graduate students; adult students in community college; children of farm workers and Native American high school students; African-American university students in a course I offered; Jewish students at a private academy, Polish university students during my Fulbright in that country—this has allowed me to experience their experience, if you will, to broaden my own sense of personal identity to consider theirs. Parallel to my teaching life has been my scholarly life. My work as a doctoral student penning a dissertation, “Language as a Way of Knowing”, along with work in the British novel, ethnic American literature and composition theory, provided the background for research and writing as a tenured university professor.
My current project, Bantry Bay: American in West Cork, Ireland, chronicles the over three decades of summers I have spent in a renovated farmhouse in the town of Bantry in West Cork, Ireland. This book-length project relates my experience becoming part of the community there and researching the history of this formerly IRA stronghold. Apart from the personal fact that I am descended from Irish immigrants on my mother’s side who came to the US in 1840 from Ballina, Ireland during the famine (I have been able to learn their names and genealogy), the story of the British repression of the Irish for over six hundred years, the Irish refusal to submit despite harsh measures, has moved me since I was an adolescent. The tragedy and heroism in Irish history is story enough, but now today, with Brexit, the terrible “Troubles” may already be returning after a hard won and tentative peace.