Yermiyahu Ahron Taub
Oyster River Pages: Why did you choose Oyster River Pages?
Yermiyahu Ahron Tab: I saw a posting that Oyster River Pages was seeking submissions. And I am so glad I did sent in my story "Time, With Bernie." Eneida read my work closely and provided helpful feedback. And the publication is beautifully designed. I particularly appreciated how the pieces were accompanied by a visual image. I know that providing a forum for literary writing is a labor of love for all involved, and it's especially wonderful when that love is so clearly apparent on multiple levels.
ORP: When did you learn that language had power? What was that experience like for you?
YAT: There has never been a time when I wasn't aware of language's power. Growing up in an Orthodox Jewish yeshiva community, I lived in a world that was inherently multi-lingual. English, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Yiddish co-mingled and vibrated against and through each other. I learned Hebrew grammar and writing and studied Hebrew texts throughout my childhood and youth. I started studying the Talmud, in which Aramaic is so vital, in the fifth grade. Yiddish was always in the air. My parents spoke Yiddish. The rabbis of our yeshiva community often spoke and lectured in Yiddish. However, I didn't study Yiddish, let alone read secular Yiddish literature, until I was in my mid-twenties.
Throughout my childhood, I was always reading voraciously in English, a passion I pursued not exactly secretly, but certainly without the approval of my father. I was a regular patron of my school library as well as the branch and central libraries. Indeed, the happiest times of my childhood were spent in libraries, selecting books to check out and often staying there to read for long periods of time. I attribute my love of language to the world of my upbringing and my love of literature to the sanctuary I found in libraries and books. My writing practice began early and in relation to the reading. I submitted compositions to the student publication as a child.
ORP: What is your relationship to language, and how does that feed into your work? Do you speak or write or dream or create in more than one language? And if you do, does your multilingualism manifest itself in your work? How?
YAT: I write in English and Yiddish. English is my native language and the one in which I am most comfortable. However, I regularly translate some of my work into Yiddish. Sometimes, I have in mind the Yiddish version when I write the English one. Similarly, the Yiddish version can influence the original English one. Thus there is a conversation between languages in my work. All of my poetry books include work that also has a Yiddish version. My second book of poetry, What Stillness Illuminated/Vos shtilkayt hot baloykhtn is completely bi-lingual, English and Yiddish. My sixth book of poems, A moyz tsvishn vakldike volkn-kratsers/A Mouse Among Tottering Skyscrapers is a selection of my Yiddish-language poems and is my only one that is all-Yiddish. My recent book of short stories Prodigal Children in the House of G-d has a glossary of Yiddish and Hebrew terms that appear throughout the book. I read Yiddish literature as a way to connect me to centuries of Jewish culture and civilization, to anchor me in a language community past and present. I write in Yiddish to make my own contributions to that literature. When I write in Yiddish, I am staking my own claim for Yiddish, not only as a language of the past, but as a vibrant, contemporary language, one rife with possibility and innovation.
ORP: What advice would you give to someone who has never been published?
YAT: Read widely for pleasure, rather than out of obligation or a looming deadline. Immerse yourself in language and the worlds of literature. Find the works that speak to you and think carefully about why they do. Develop your own literary voice. Never be swayed by rejection. It just takes one editor to connect with your work and be willing to give it a home for others to enjoy. Believe in your work, fight for it. Develop nerves of steel, but retain the sensitivity and care that are necessary for great writing. If the rejection comes with feedback, consider its utility, but don't be derailed or deflected from your vision. Allow yourself to feel the pain of rejection's sting, but don't linger there too long. Do not crumple beneath the withering words.
ORP: What are you currently working on?
YAT: I am currently a Translation Fellow at the Yiddish Book Center and am translating three memoirs by Rachmil Bryks (1912-1974), a prolific and highly-acclaimed Yiddish poet and writer. Bryks writes about his hometown, Skarzykso-Kamienna, Poland, the approach of the Germans and beginning of the war, and his experiences in numerous internment camps during the Holocaust. Bryks' wrote with great wisdom and acuity and with an eye for the telling detail. He was committed to writing in a compelling, accessible style. Although his fictional and poetic work has been previously translated into English (and numerous other languages), it is my hope that my translations will bring this extraordinary writer's autobiographical work to wider audiences.
Yermiyahu Ahron Taub is the author of Prodigal Children in the House of G-d (2018) and six books of poetry, including A moyz tsvishn vakldike volkn-kratsers: geklibene Yidishe lider/A Mouse Among Tottering Skyscrapers: Selected Yiddish Poems (2017). Tsugreytndik zikh tsu tantsn: naye Yidishe lider/Preparing to Dance: New Yiddish songs, a CD of nine of his Yiddish poems set to music, was released in 2014. Taub was honored by the Museum of Jewish Heritage as one of New York’s best emerging Jewish artists and has been nominated four times for a Pushcart Prize and twice for a Best of the Net award. With Ellen Cassedy, he is the recipient of the 2012 Yiddish Book Center Translation Prize for Oedipus in Brooklyn and Other Stories by Blume Lempel (Mandel Vilar Press and Dryad Press, 2016). His short stories have appeared in Hamilton Stone Review, Jewish Fiction.net, The Jewish Literary Journal, Jewrotica, Penshaft: New Yiddish Writing and Second Hand Stories Podcast, among other publications. Please visit his website at www.yataub.net. His story “Time, With Bernie” is currently featured in Issue 2.