Who ever thought that little old Yiddish mensch Isaac Bashevis Singer was such a horndog? Asaf Galay and Shaul Betser begin The Muses of Bashevis Singer, their light and playful documentary, with the following quote from the Nobel Prize-winning author: “In my younger days I used to dream about a harem full of women. Lately I’m dreaming of a harem full of translators. If those translators could be women in addition, this would be paradise on earth.” Well, it seems that Singer, who was born in Poland in 1902, emigrated to the United States in 1935, and died in Florida in 1991 at the age of eighty-eight, found that paradise, as Galay and Betser meet with a series of women who were among many hand-picked by Singer, the man who nearly singlehandedly preserved Yiddish literature in the twentieth century, to serve as his translators, and not necessarily because of their language skills. “There were certain women who were more than just translators to him. It happened quite often,” says his Swedish publisher, Dorothea Bromberg, who also talks about Alma, Singer’s wife of more than fifty years. “He loved her, I’m sure, in his own way,” she adds. “She was very jealous of him, and she was completely right.” Galay and Betser meet with translators Eve Fridman, Evelyn Torton Beck, Dvorah Telushkin, Marie-Pierre Bay, Duba Leibell, and Dr. Bilha Rubenstein as well as Singer biographers Florence Noiville and Janet Hadda, his granddaughters Hazel Karr and Merav Chen-Zamir, Yentl the Yeshiva Boy playwright Leah Napolin, and his longtime secretary and proofreader, Doba Gerber, who share intimate, surprising tales about the author of such books as The Family Moskat, The Magician of Lublin, Shosha, and Enemies, a Love Story and such short stories as “Gimpel the Fool,” “A Friend of Kafka,” and “Zlateh the Goat.”
The seventy-two-minute film, lifted by a bouncy, airy soundtrack by Jonathan Bar-Giora, also includes footage of Singer making speeches, appearing on interview programs, going to a Jewish deli, walking on the Coney Island boardwalk, and writing with pen on paper and on a typewriter with Yiddish characters. But as the title implies, The Muses of Bashevis Singer doesn’t depict him as a callow cad but as a determined writer — and father and husband — who just loved women, loved being surrounded by women, using them as inspiration for his marvelous stories that mixed fiction with reality. “Isaac was a very frisky old man,” says Leibell, who worked with Singer in his later years after he moved to Florida with Alma. “That’s to put it very mildly.” The Muses of Bashevis Singer concludes the IFC Center’s winter Stranger than Fiction series on March 24 and will be followed by a Q&A with the director.
Who: Drama critic and author Alisa Solomon
What: Theatre for a New Audience’s Open Books Series 2015
Where: Polonsky Shakespeare Center, 262 Ashland Pl. between Fulton St. & Lafayette Ave., 212-229-2819
When: Monday, March 23, free with advance RSVP, 7:00
Why: Theatre for a New Audience’s Open Books series continues with Alisa Solomon presenting her book Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof (Picador, September 2014), an engaging analysis of one of Broadway’s most popular musicals ever, which was adapted into an Oscar-nominated film. “As the first work of American popular culture to recall life in a shtetl — the Eastern European market towns with large Jewish populations — Fiddler felt tender, elegiac, even holy,” Solomon writes in the introduction. “It arrived just ahead of (and helped to instigate) the American roots movement. It was added to multicultural curricula and studied by students across the country in Jewish history units, as if Fiddler were an artifact unearthed from a destroyed world rather than a big-story musical assembled by showbiz professionals.” The free evening will include a conversation between Solomon and moderator Jonathan Kalb, an audience Q&A, a book signing, complimentary food and drink, and a meet-and-greet with Solomon.
Who: Veronica Roth
What: Discussion, Q&A, and signing
Where: Barnes & Noble Union Square, 33 East 17th St., 212-253-0810
When: Sunday, March 15, free, 12 noon
Why: In another part of our life, we are involved in the publication of Veronica Roth’s bestselling trilogy, Divergent, which was turned into a film last year; Insurgent, which is opening in theaters March 20; and Allegiant. So it is with somewhat of a bias that we recommend this special afternoon at the Union Square B&N, where Ms. Roth will discuss her writing, answer questions, and sign copies of the movie tie-in edition of Insurgent. You’ll have to purchase a copy of the book in order to receive one of the limited wristbands that will get you into the event; the line will start forming at 10:00 am. (There will not be separate queues for Abnegation, Candor, Amity, Erudite, and Dauntless factions.)
Who: Assaf Gavron, Shira Averbuch, Yuval Hamevulbal, Roy Noy, Tal Mosseri, the Power Girls (Tuti and Naama), Rabbi Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, Mesiba Ivrit, Reuven (Ruby) Namdar, and more
What: Hagigah Ivrit (חגיגה עברית)
Where: JCC in Manhattan, B’nai Jeshurun, Israeli-American Council (IAC), Symphony Space, the Highline Ballroom, Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Park Avenue Synagogue, Yeshiva University Museum, and other locations
When: March 14-30
Why: The first-ever North American cultural festival celebrating the Hebrew language features a book talk with Assaf Gavron, author of The Hilltop; an interactive educational performance of Peter and the Wolf; the Festifun2 musical production with Israeli child stars; a talk by Rabbi Eliezer Ben-Yehuda on “The Importance of the Hebrew Tongue to the Rebirth of the People in Their Land — and the Continued Existence of Judaism in the Future”; a dance party with live music; Hebrew classes for beginners; Shabbat dinner; a Passover family workshop; a conversation with Sapir Prize for Literature winner Ruby Namdar; a screening of Sharon Maymon and Tal Granit’s The Farewell Party; and other special and ongoing events.
Who: James Grissom
What: Book launch for Follies of God: Tennessee Williams and the Women of the Fog (Knopf, March 3, 2015, $30)
Where: The Corner Bookstore, 1313 Madison Ave. at 93rd St., 212-831-3554
When: Tuesday, March 10, free, 6:00
Why: The epigraph to James Grissom’s Follies of God is a quote from Tennessee Williams: “I have been very lucky. I am a multi-souled man, because I have offered my soul to so many women, and they have filled it, repaired it, sent it back to me for use.” Later, in the first chapter, Grissom writes, “No play written by Tennessee Williams, however, got its bearings until a fog rolled across the boards, from which a female form emerged. ‘I do not know why this is,’ Tenn confessed to me, ‘but there is a premonitory moment before a woman, an important, powerful woman, enters my subconscious, and this moment is announced by the arrival of fog. Perhaps it is some detritus of my brain belching forth both waste and a woman. . . . I have not seen the fog in years.’” In the book, Grissom delves into Williams’s inspirations, his creative process, and the actresses who played the dramatic roles in his works, including Lillian Gish, Maureen Stapleton, Jessica Tandy, Geraldine Page, Julie Harris, and Katharine Hepburn, in addition to female relatives and others. The book launch was supposed to take place February 27 at the Corner Bookstore but was moved to March 5 because of the weather, so you have another chance to learn more about this fascinating tome about one of America’s greatest playwrights.
200 Eastern Parkway at Washington St.
Saturday, March 7, free, 5:00 - 11:00
The Brooklyn Museum celebrates women in the March edition of its free First Saturdays program. “Women Changemakers” will feature live performances by Alissia & the Funketeers, Princess Nokia, and the DJ duo JSMN and MeLo-X; a curator talk by Catherine Morris about the exhibition “Judith Scott — Bound and Unbound”; a Colored Girls Hustle mix tape workshop; a sketch class in which participants will draw from a live woman model; a book club talk with Dao X Tran, author of 101 Changemakers: Rebels and Radicals Who Changed U.S. History; screenings of Julianna Brannum’s LaDonna Harris: Indian 101 and Rahwa Asmerom’s Didn’t I Ask for Tea?; a healing space with tarot readings, herbalism, acupressure, and more led by Harriet’s Apothecary; and a discussion with Tavi Gevinson about her online Rookie magazine and the print companion Rookie Yearbook Three. In addition, you can check out such exhibitions as “Revolution! Works from the Black Arts Movement,” “Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic,” “The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago,” and “Chitra Ganesh: Eyes of Time.”