Israeli novelist David Grossman shared insights on writing and the state of Israel during a lecture Oct. 29 sponsored by American University’s Center for Israel Studies and the MFA Program in Creative Writing’s Visiting Writers Series.
Speaking for about an hour to a standing-room-only crowd in the Katzen Arts Center’s Abramson Family Recital Hall, Grossman reflected on his six novels and several works of nonfiction, which have been translated into 25 different languages. He focused on writing as a way to understand others.
“When you write a story you really want to be exposed to everything that makes this [character] a human being,” he said. “You want to absorb into his body and his skin everything that makes him a person. Maybe he doesn’t experience it like I do. It is such a wonderful way to understand how other human beings experience life.”
Grossman’s work has earned accolades in France, Italy, Austria, Germany, and Israel. Last year, he was awarded the Rome Peace Prize. He lives in Jerusalem, but for three months moved to the West Bank to write newspaper articles and the book the Yellow Wind.
“So much of his work is embracing and really trying to understand the other,” said literature professor Myra Sklarew, who introduced Grossman. “He’s courageous. He’s willing to speak, to take the criticism that he definitely gets. When he published the Yellow Wind, that book was the most widely read in Israel and the most criticized, because he understood the humanity of the Palestinians, and he understood that the Israelis couldn’t fulfill their own gifts as long as there was this unwillingness to look at the Palestinian situation.”
Grossman advocates an independent Palestine and believes its creation is as important to the Israelis as it is to the Palestinians.
“I want them to live their life with dignity everyone deserves, and to raise up their children without fear, and to invest all their energies in creating something,” he said. “I want them to have a state, and I want to have peace that will allow us, Israelis, to start to make a life we deserve, a life we are deprived of for so many years. Life is so much more than what we have learned.”
The event, also cosponsored by the Washington, D.C., JCC and Nextbook, began with comments from AU president Neil Kerwin.
“It is truly an honor to have an internationally renowned author of David Grossman’s stature joining us for a lecture,” he said. “David Grossman’s presentation represents the caliber of cultural programming that we’ve become used to thanks to our Center for Israeli Studies, its collaboration with other departments, literature in this case. The Visiting Writers Series is an example of the type of cross [interactivity] that we try to provide here at the institution.”
Grossman certainly did not disappoint. After an engaging talk in which he also took questions, he signed copies of his books and chatted with students, faculty, staff, and members of the public who attended the event.
“When I write I really try to [divorce] myself from this defense mechanism that protects me or isolates me from the human being that I’m writing about,” he said. “I try to surrender to them. I try to allow the character to take me where in my ordinary life I would be very reluctant to go.”