Love spanned DC’s packed Politics and Prose Bookstore throughout award-winning writer Faye Moskowitz’s reading from “And the Bridge is Love: Life Stories” November 13.
An overflow audience of almost 200 people whooped and clapped, laughed and some even cried at her deeply evocative reading and comments.
“We didn’t realize she was such a rock star,” a Politics and Prose manager told me. They sold out of her book.
“And the Bridge is Love” was re-issued this month by The Feminist Press — 20 years after its initial publication. The essays remain fresh and searingly moving, bridging those two decades, and the earlier decades of Moskowitz’s life.
“I am an octogenarian, a somber mouthful that conjures up images for me of slow-moving sea creatures, dreamily floating, waving their multiple arms, at once enticing me into their grasp and stunning me with fear of the nothingness they promise,” she read from the preface.
But such fears “melt away like spun sugar on the tongue with only a bit of sweetness lingering to recall the remarkable journey.”
And she has spun her very remarkable journey into stunning, bittersweet life stories.
“Long-lost family and friends are preserved here as if they were put up in gleaming jars of ruby fruit, stored in a lavish pantry” in her native “gentile Jackson” Michigan and Detroit. The book is “a love song to the places where I grew up.”
She read one of the funniest of her many howlingly funny essays, about black smoke and a stench of burning feathers interrupting her family’s Passover Seder.
Her stepmother, in an Old Country accent, admonishes each firefighter to wipe his feet before entering their home, and lectures the fire chief, “This is AMERICA, mister.”
In a play on the traditional four questions of Passover, “‘Why does this night have to be different from all other nights?’ I kept asking my husband, but he didn’t answer me.”
After the reading, an audience member asked why she chose to read that story instead of one of the more emotionally moving ones.
Moskowitz explained, “It took blood to write some of them, and when reading, that blood comes to the surface.” She had told the audience in her intro, “You certainly don’t need an emotional bloodbath.”
She must have shed a lot of plasma writing the wrenching first essay in her book. Like many of these breathtaking, resonant life stories, it’s about the death of a loved one.
“I can’t tell you what a gift it was for me to be called upon that way. I never felt more alive than in those few months Jenny let me help her die.”
Avoiding pathos and bathos, the author has point-counterpoint in this and all her essays: “Don’t most people leave a sick room thinking, deep down, thank God I got off this time; for the moment, at least, I’m still okay.”
As another audience member said, “Faye’s stories don’t proclaim themselves, they just are.”
Nor does Faye Moskowitz proclaim herself, she just is.
“I grew up in a time when (there were) few expectations for women. But the women in my family were the tough ones. They sustained everyone,” she said at the reading. “Those lessons of strong women stayed with me.”
Moskowitz also credited “beloved Jack”, her husband of 63 years, who has “always sustained me and encouraged me.”
She married at age 18, had four children, earned her BA degree when she was 40 (soon passed comps for a Ph.D.), and began to write and teach.
She helped create a middle school at DC’s prestigious Edmund Burke School while teaching at the private high school. At George Washington University, she chaired its creative writing program and then its English Department, and now teaches creative writing and Jewish American literature there.
Her other books include “A Leak in the Heart: Tales from a Woman’s Life”, and “Whoever Finds This: I Love You”.
Her essays, short stories, and poems have received two PEN Syndicated Fiction Awards, among other awards, and she has been honored also by Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps.
Hers is one extraordinarily “remarkable journey”, and it is filled with love.
For more info. Faye Moskowitz, “And the Bridge is Love”. The title comes from the conclusion of Thornton Wilder’s “The Bridge of San Luis Rey”: “There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.” The Feminist Press, www.feministpress.org, of The City University of New York. Politics and Prose Bookstore, www.politics-prose.com, 5015 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Washington, DC, 202-364-1919.