Assistant Editor, JTNews
Wendy Marcus was waiting patiently at home on the morning of May 18 for a delivery. After almost a year of planning, reading manuscripts and copy-edit after copy-edit, the inaugural issue of Drash, the Northwest’s first Jewish literary review, was supposed to have arrived at her front door already.
“Driver’s fatigue” was the official excuse from the post office.
“It feels really exciting to be this close to being done,” said Marcus, Drash’s editor and prime mover, though she suspects the work will probably never end. Already, she is sending out grant applications and hearing from writers with submission for next year’s review. The year after that she hopes to publish two issues.
As Marcus will tell you, Drash began as a personal project. In a previous life, before she became the music director at Temple Beth Am 22 years ago, she had worked as a journalist, with stints at the Seattle Times and other regional newspapers. When she finally returned to writing four years ago, it wasn’t to write newspaper columns but short stories.
She submitted her work to various literary reviews, but discovered there weren’t many open to work that was overtly Jewish in subject matter.
“Literary magazines will publish multicultural stuff, but only so much multicultural stuff,” she said. There were Jewish literary reviews in Michigan, Connecticut and New York, but very few, and none west of the Rockies.
Also, she just didn’t like the kinds of writing many reviews published. She thought they were stuffed full of staid, depressing stories.
“You don’t have to be a Pollyanna, but you can still write in ways that give people glimpses of the epoch aspect of human existence as opposed to mindless acts of drug overdoses,” she says.
At the same time, she was noticing a growing number of Jews in the Pacific Northwest writing poems and organizing literary readings.
“I thought there was enough Jewish writing happening that we could tap into it,” she said.
Marcus applied for a grant and received $1,200 in seed money from the Alfred and Tillie Shemanski Testamentary Trust last August. She began to advertise for submission around Seattle and in various publications. By their submissions deadline, Drash had received over 270 submissions.
The final collection features poems, personal essays and short stories. The vast majority of the work comes from the Northwest, but not all of it. Marcus’s goal is for Drash to reflect the feel of the Jewish Northwest, but she has been open to work from outside the region and even from non-Jews who write on Jewish themes or culture.
“There is a Northwest Jewish sensibility,” said Marcus. “I think people might not be so self-absorbed. I think Northwest Jewish writers, a lot of their work is informed by the natural world. We see people who might take a topic and take a lighter side view of things.”
As an example, she points to one Drash essay composed by Seattle-based journalist David Volk, who ponders why God started religion in the “godforsaken” Middle East instead of Seattle. He concludes that Noah would never have been able to build the ark by committee while steering clear of old growth trees.
Drash also features several pieces intended to grapple with the most serious issues facing Jews today. In one essay, writer Susan Monas describes living for a year near the West Bank. There is also an interview with David Guterson, author of Snow Falling on Cedars, in which “he says some pretty out-there things,” according to Marcus.
She thinks that’s a good thing.
“I like that scrappy quality of a literary review. People shouldn’t just put a review down and forget it.”