Literary event aims to bring ‘everyone to the table’
A gathering of Jewish women with an interest in reading will learn how another Jewish woman with an interest in writing has honed her craft over the years.
On Wednesday, May 25, Women’s Philanthropy of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County will host writer Meg Wolitzer at its first book and author event.
She will discuss her latest novel, The Uncoupling, set in the fictional New Jersey suburb of Stellar Plains.
In the real suburban NJ community of East Brunswick, women from synagogue book clubs and others will gather to hear Wolitzer be interviewed by Jennifer Greenstein Altmann, who is cochairing the program with fellow East Brunswick resident Ruth Bash.
“She is an incredible writer whose latest book has received rave reviews,” said Altmann, a humanities writer in Princeton University’s Office of Communications who is working on a master’s degree in creative writing. “She was one of my professors and since I have this personal connection to Meg, I thought it would be great to bring her to East Brunswick.”
Altmann said the book’s plot — Wolitzer’s take on Aristophanes’ classic Greek comedy Lysistrata that has the women of Stellar Plains spurning sex — is a “tantalizing” one.
“I expect we will explore relationships, and she will offer lots of her witty observations,” said Altmann.
Women’s Philanthropy director Audrey Napchen said the organizers deliberately decided not to choose a book with Jewish content.
“Everyone has a different view on the way they practice their Judaism,” she said. “We wanted to take that out of the equation and focus on making a connection with each other and coming together as a community…. We are inviting everyone to the table.”
In an interview with NJJN from her Manhattan home, Wolitzer said she had wanted to write about female desire for some time.
“I kept hearing women talk about the vicissitudes of their partners,” she said. “I guess I just sort of marinated in what was going on around me and absorbed it.”
The novel centers around Eleanor Roosevelt High School, whose drama teacher selects Lysistrata as the school production. The classic Greek play, about women who go on a sex strike to bring an end to the Peloponnesian War, casts a spell on the locals.
“A lot of writers use sex to showcase a character,” said Wolitzer. “I’m doing exactly the opposite. My central characters are middle-aged, married English teachers who love each other and about whom everyone says, ‘I wish I had a marriage like that.’ I’m not interested in writing about sex for sex’s sake.”
The Uncoupling, said Wolitzer, is, instead, about “how we live with each other and how we love and how time changes that radically.”
The author said her life has always revolved around writing. She grew up in a secular Jewish family on Long Island in a town much like Stellar Plains.
She is the daughter of novelist Hilme Wolitzer, whose first book was published when she was 44. Unlike her mother, Wolitzer sold her first book while still in college.
“My mother always supported my hopes and aspirations to be a writer,” she said.