Short stories and the city
"First and foremost among my grandfather's Tel Aviv tall tales was the heroic account of the time he saved his adopted city from imminent destruction by an enormous ball of falafel that had already drunk the waters of the Yarkon River and devoured half of Dizengoff Street." Already the very first sentence of Tim Bugansky's short story about the immigrant experience suggests that native English speakers living in Israel don't lack the creativity to fill a 500-page book with specifically Anglo-Israeli literature.
Bugansky, who since 2007 divides his time between Ohio and Herzliya, is one of 37 authors whose work is featured in "Tel Aviv Short Stories," a forthcoming collection of 52 pieces to celebrate Tel Aviv's centennial next year. Published by Ang-Lit, a Tel Aviv-based English Language publishing cooperative, the anthology will be officially launched this morning at Tel Aviv University.
"We believe that the stories are typically Tel Aviv," says Shelley Goldman, co-editor and CEO of Ang-Lit, which she co-founded in 2006 with South African-born Wendy and Jeffrey Geri, all three Tel Aviv residents.
Great balls of felafel
Besides gigantic falafel balls, the stories include the tales of a newly observant woman who returns to the city to explore her secular roots, a kibbutznik who seeks gay roommates via the Internet and a Haredi man who, instead of honoring his weekly lunch date with his mother in Bnei Brak, ends up in Jaffa, where he heard religious men frequent S&M parlors.
"There were some tremendous stories, and if we didn't have to limit the book to 500 pages, many more would have been included," Goldman says. Goldman, a Manchester-born former editor at the Jerusalem Post, adds that she received more than 200 submissions (mostly from Israel) and that a small committee - "some from the world of literature and some just enthusiastic readers" - selected the winning entries. (Three of her own stories made the cut, but Goldman, who said she worked over two years on this project, told Anglo File that all stories were sent to the jury anonymously.)
"I think that the stories in many ways reflect the cosmopolitan, the fun-loving, dynamic aspect of the city," Goldman told Anglo File this week during a phone interview from her house in Kikar HaMedina, home to Tel Aviv's high-end shopping district. While all stories take place in Tel Aviv, the setting is meant to be a mere backdrop to the action and not the focus of it, she adds. "The criteria for the stories being selected were that the story had to be set in Tel Aviv, but it's not a travel guide. If we wanted to compare it to [famous Irish writer James] Joyce, it's like "Dubliners," a collection of very nice stories set in Dublin."
Bugansky's "The Giant Falafel Ball" is about a young American who came to Israel trying to reinvent himself while reminiscing about stories he heard from his grandfather, who himself had immigrated to Israel many years earlier. If one substituted the falafel ball with any other food item and changed the street names, the story could take place anywhere in the world, says Bugansky. Yet he feels the story fits just perfectly. "I lived in a lot of different places and I don't see this exact story emerging anywhere else than in Tel Aviv," he says.
Running a publishing company by and for immigrants, the people behind Ang-Lit are aware that Anglos in Israel's literary scene don't have it easy, though they bring something to the table native Israelis lack.
"We are Israelis, but we write in English, so we have a unique narrative perspective," says Goldman, who came to Israel in 1982. "When people use the term Israeli literature, it is almost always written in Hebrew. Yet we are Israelis and we are writing in English, and we are very well acquainted with the society."
Some of the authors, like Bugansky, are prolific writers with previously published works, some of them featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post and other major newspapers. One contributor removed his piece intended for "Tel Aviv Short Stories" mere hours before it went to print because he had just sold exclusive rights to New York publishing giant Random House.
Others are complete novices in the literary world. "I always wanted to be a writer, so I started to write after I stopped working," says Ruth Glick, a translator and Netanya resident who came from New York in 1968.
Both of her stories printed in "Tel Aviv Short Stories" deal with Holocaust survivors living out their lives in the coastal metropolis. One of the texts has been published before in the New York-based Midstream Magazine - Glick's first publication. The other story, which ends with a suicide bombing in the Carmel Market, is her second-ever published work.
Ang-Lit solicited submissions for the current anthology in its debut publication, the 2007 short story collection "Jane Doe Buys a Challah and Other Stories." While the publisher sold all 1,000 copies, it was unable to find an overseas distributor for either book.
"Our dream is to be picked up by one of the big publishing houses and manage to bring our material overseas," Goldman said. "The American publishers who work with the Israeli market in English only distribute in [Orthodox] places. They were interested in taking our last book, but they wanted us to take out this story about someone having an affair and that story about homosexuality. We refused. And the big companies who don't do this kind of censorship don't want short stories."
"It's nearly impossible to publish anything - especially short stories - if you are not already an established author and if you are not translating from Hebrew into English," Goldman said about the trials and tribulations of running Ang-Lit. Yet, she is optimistic that "Tel Aviv Short Stories" will be able to sell the 1,000 copies that will soon hit the shelves of the nation's bookstores.
"We believe that these days, people don't have so much time to spend on books, and short stories are the perfect way to fill in the hours when you are commuting, or when you want a quick literary fix."