Guest blog post by Jane Yolen and Barbara Diamond Goldin
Interested in learning more about Meet Me at the Well? Join Kolbo Fine Judaica Gallery on Thursday, May 3rd from 7-8pm as we welcome Jane and Barbara for a discussion and book signing! This event it free and open to the public, light refreshments will be served. Click Here to add this event to your Google Calendar.
Barbara and I first met at Centrum, a summer writing workshop held on an old army base in Port Townsend, Washington. I was leading the children’s book division, reading and critiquing manuscripts and giving craft lectures and a lot of tips about children’s book publishing along the way. I did that for twelve of fourteen years.
Barbara took the workshop twice, and so we began a long friendship that only deepened when she and her family moved east, landing in the town next to mine. She was already a published children’s book writer by then—and eventually joined my ongoing critique group. It’s a moveable feast of seven well-published women writers who meet—or at least try to—once a week.
The seeds of friendship were planted at Centrum, but it was in the critique group—after more than thirty years of knowing one another—that the idea for Meet Me At The Well blossomed.
I had long wanted to write such a book. I’d minored in religion at Smith College. Even though I am Jewish born and keenly proud of my heritage, and even though I have written a number of award winning books with Jewish themes (The Devil’s Arithmetic, Briar Rose, Stone Angel, O Jerusalem, Milk & Honey, and others) I felt a need for a co-author who knew more about being a good Jew than I did.
And there was Barbara, already right in my orbit, a Jewish Book Award winner.
I told her what I wanted to do and she agreed happily, and so the book–a modern midrash for young readers about the girls and women of the Hebrew Bible–began.
Working on Meet Me at the Well took Jane and me on a ten year journey from getting the contract to publication. Jane has co-authored many books with other writers, but this was my first time working with another author. What an honor for me.
Trust me, the honor was all mine! I learned so much from Barbara along the way—and not just about writing! Also about Jewish morality and Jewish life.
Coming from two different Jewish backgrounds, we had to figure out how to approach Jewish texts and their many commentaries in a way where we both felt comfortable with the results. We also had to figure out how to organize the book. We wanted the layout to look classic –a bit like a page of Talmud or a haggadah with commentary. Except here the Biblical text surrounds the commentary, which is in boxes, and contains historical facts, folktales, midrash, etc. Many thanks to our editors and art director at our publisher Charlesbridge for their help on this! They absolutely made that dream come true.
And a special shout out to Israeli illustrator Vali Mintzi whose color palette was Biblical and desert and whose choice of moments from each woman’s life was perfect.
Jane wrote a poem for each woman and I wrote an Imagine piece. I really loved trying to get into the head of Eve and Miriam and the other women and think of what they would write about their experiences.
For me the highlights of working on the book were three:
First, rereading—and close reading—the Bible which I hadn’t done since college days.
Second, finding those bits and pieces of rabbinical midrash, historical commentary, and feminist anthro-political and archaeological books that helped me understand the difficult stories (Jael, Miriam, Sarah, Naomi & Ruth.)
And third, compressing my feelings about each woman into a poem in way that was not too coded for young readers, but gave them a way into the emotional center of each woman’s story, just as Barbara’s Imagine pieces did.
We hope that Meet Me at the Well will help bring Biblical women into focus for our audience of ten year olds and up, even including adults. We hope that the richness of the stories and commentary will place these women in the forefront of their stories, and that readers will add their own midrash along the way.
And I—the less religious of the two of us, hope you feel as blessed as we did while working on these treasures of story, even though it took us over ten years from start to publication. We knew and were honored knowing that we were lending our voices to a long line of puzzle-workers, teasing out meaning, movement, and memory to set each jewel of a woman in a new bit of silver and gold.
Jane Yolen is an author of children’s books, fantasy, and science fiction, including Owl Moon, The Devil’s Arithmetic, and How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? She is also a poet, a teacher of writing and literature, and a reviewer of children’s literature. She has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of America and the Aesop of the twentieth cen.
Barbara Diamond Goldin has written picture books, story collections, non-fiction, retellings, and historical fiction. In 1997, she received the prestigious Sydney Taylor Body-of-Work Award from the Association of Jewish Libraries. This award is presented to the author whose collected works are a distinguished contribution to Jewish literaturr children.