Interview: Jeffrey Yoskowitz, founder of Pork Memoirs

September 20th, 2011 by Vivian Chum

“I totally understand why so many Jews want to eat pork. Pork is a symbol of defiance. Secular Israelis eat it to make a statement and resist the religious hegemony of the Israeli government.”

When you ask a modern Jew about her relationship to pork the answer is often complicated. With SMITH Magazine’s “Six Words on the Jewish Life” show approaching (September 21, at 92YTribeca in NYC) we thought we’d check in with Jeffrey Yoskowitz, a Jew who’s made pork his passion and profession as founding editor of the storytelling site Pork Memoirs. As with many life callings, Yoskowitz recalls the moment when he made his mind up about pork once and for all.

“What would you do if Cindy Crawford wanted to kiss you?” a fellow camper asked him at Jewish summer camp. “But she had just gone to town on a huge bacon sandwich, and she still had bacon in her mouth?” Would Yoskowitz man up and kiss Crawford or keep kosher like a good Jew?

“Truth is, at that age if Cindy Crawford had wanted to kiss me, I would have done anything, but my answer was no. I wouldn’t kiss her if she had bacon in her mouth,” says Yoskowitz.

Yoskowitz’s yearning to lock lips with Crawford may have waned since his Jewish camp days, but his fascination with bacon has not. While you won’t find Yoskowitz chowing down at a pig roast, don’t be surprised if he personally raised and slaughtered the main course himself.

Yoskowitz has made a career out of his fascination with pork. In addition to founding Pork Memoirs, he has written extensively about pork in The New York Times, The Atlantic, and The New Republic. He earned his stripes by working on a pig farm in Israel, where he spent his days covered in pig excrement, tossing out dead pigs, and collecting boar semen. “It’s called ‘milking’ the boars, and it was a promotion from being an all-around cleaner of pig shit,” says Yoskowitz.

“I have a fascination with pork,” he continues, “but it’s not so much a fascination with the meat itself as it is with the idea of pork and what pork represents. To me the pig is so tied to my Jewish identity, whether it’s cultural or religious, and that identity is always in flux and changing.”

Read on for SMITH Magazine’s interview with Jeffrey Yoskowitz on Jewish culture, pork, and his succulent Pork Memoirs. Read more »

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Interview: Adam Mansbach, author of Go the F**k to Sleep

June 8th, 2011 by Larry Smith

“I never would have dreamed that this book would be the big hit. One constant in my career is that I’ve always written the shit I’ve wanted to write.”

Before Adam Mansbach wrote the children’s book for grownups, Go the Fuck to Sleep, he was, in his own words, “feverishly working on all kinds of different writing projects, hoping one would hit and keep me from having to move out of my house and into a discarded refrigerator carton.”

It’s an overstatement, perhaps, but effective motivation nonetheless. Working outside the mainstream, Mansbach has, in reality, had previous success most writers would consider a victory. His first novel, Angry Black White Boy, about the assimilation of hip-hop culture by whites, has been taught at more than 60 colleges, universities and high schools, and has been turned into a play that sold out for three straight months in San Francisco. His most recent novel, The End of the Jews, was called “beautifully portrayed” by The New York Times Book Review and “intense, painful and poignant” by the Boston Globe. Recently a visiting professor of fiction at Rutgers University, he’s also written another novel, Shackling Water, a poetry collection, Genius B-boy Cynics Getting Weeded in the Garden of Delights, as well as A Fictional History of the United States With Huge Chunks Missing. And yet within a few days of the incredible viral run of Go The Fuck To Sleep, Mansbach had sold more copies than the sum total of all of his previous books—before it was even released.

A book for adults about the misery that is trying to get small children to sleep, Mansbach and artist Ricardo Cortes have found genius, and gold, in a presentation that’s exactly like a child’s bedtime story. As GTFTS approaches its official release this Father’s Day, its mere fourteen verses of text and accompanying illustrations has a print run of more than 300,000 copies, been optioned as a movie, and completely changed the life of its author, illustrator, and publishing house.

I spoke with the 34-year-old Mansbach by phone while he was gearing up for his book tour with a visit to his hometown of Newton, MA. As we spoke, the cries of my four-month old baby not sleeping provided an apt soundtrack in the background. Read more »

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Interview: Diane Ackerman, author of One Hundred Names for Love

May 12th, 2011 by Vivian Chum

“I’ve always transcended best by pretending that I’m Margaret Mead viewing a scene for the first time or an alien from another planet regarding the spectacle of life on Earth and discovering how spectacular, unexpected, and beautiful it is.”

Diane Ackerman, bestselling author of A Natural History of the Senses, An Alchemy of Mind, and The Zookeeper’s Wife, has built a reputation on her poetic sensibility and uncanny knack for scouting out connections between the heavens, Earth, and everything in between. In her latest memoir, One Hundred Names for Love: a Stroke, a Marriage, and the Language of Healing, Ackerman navigates between the science of aphasia, the culture of illness, and her marriage to author Paul West with graceful and surefooted verve. Read more »

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Interview: Meghan O’Rourke, author of The Long Goodbye

May 5th, 2011 by Koa Beck

“Writing a book became my form of mourning—my mourning ritual. I was able to put my experiences into language, which would sometimes feel beautiful for me.”

Meghan O’Rourke, a much-lauded poet and literary critic, began her career as an editor at The New Yorker. Later, she became the culture editor and literary critic at Slate and a poetry editor at The Paris Review. A sharp observer of sexism in literary fiction and poetry, she has written on the gender gap in literary magazines and the “unconscious gender bias” with regards to women writers.

Now O’Rourke, 35, has produced a very different kind of work, a memoir about her experiences grieving the loss of her mother to cancer. In the vein of Joan Didion, The Long Goodbye chronicles both O’Rourke’s own challenges with grief as well as that of her family. Read more »

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Interview: MariNaomi, author of Kiss & Tell: A Romantic Resume, Ages 0 to 22

April 19th, 2011 by Lisa Qiu

“I really want to connect to people. I wasn’t going for shocking by any means. I want people to identify with it and share their own stories!”

MariNaomi, author of the autobiographical graphic novel Kiss & Tell: A Romantic Resume, Ages 0 to 22, anticipated varying sorts of feedback when the book was released last month. However, one adjective that has been buzzing around has taken her by surprise: “Shocking.” MariNaomi, 38, divides her book into chronological vignettes by age and romantic endeavor. While the book takes the reader through truthful stories of her crushes, boyfriends, girlfriends, LSD trips, and orgies, her clean black and white aesthetics carry her message through the raw and real emotions of the situations rather than simply of the deeds themselves. Read more »

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Interview: Gabrielle Hamilton, author of Blood, Bones and Butter

April 7th, 2011 by Vivian Chum

“If you just tell the damn story from the beginning to the middle to the end, and you are authoritative about your subject—you know what it looks like, smells like, you know who, what, when, why–everything else will take care of itself.”

Gabrielle Hamilton, New York Times bestselling author of the memoir Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, admits she hit a snag at some point in her writing process. Though she would have liked to have attributed the holdup to the fact that, while writing her memoir, she was also raising two young children and running her East Village restaurant Prune, “The truth is,” Hamilton explained, “I had a paralyzing fear that I’m a piece of shit, this is a piece of shit, I’m boring, and this is boring.” Paradoxically, to overcome that fear, said Hamilton, “I stopped making the memoir about my goddamn self. I brought everything I knew about being a chef, cooking, and the service industry to the project of writing a book.” Read more »

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Interview: Caitlin Shetterly, author of Made for You and Me

April 5th, 2011 by Vivian Chum

“I wrote the book so that other people would feel less alone when faced with the isolation and pain that comes from economic collapse.”

For those who have known the particular pain of joblessness in The Great Recession, Caitlin Shetterly’s plainspoken memoir, Made for You and Me: Going West, Going Broke, Finding Home, is a much-needed bear hug. Freelancers Caitlin and her husband Dan never thought the economy would get as bad as it did. Indeed, after marrying, moving across the country from Maine to Los Angeles, and becoming pregnant in quick succession, their future looked bright in spite of the slowing economy. Shetterly’s husband, a photographer, was booking enough jobs to support his growing family. It seemed for a time that they would really make it in L.A. But by early 2008, making ends meet was becoming impossible, especially with a newborn in tow. Read more »

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Excerpt: Living Loaded: Tales of Sex, Salvation, and the Pursuit of the Never-Ending Happy Hour by Dan Dunn

March 29th, 2011 by Dan Dunn

“Spending damn near every day with my pops at P&J’s in the summer of 1976 is one of two truly meaningful father-son bonding experiences I can recall from my childhood. The other happened when I was five and he kidnapped me and fled to Maryland.”

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Interview: Dan Dunn, author of Living Loaded: Tales of Sex, Salvation, and the Pursuit of the Never-Ending Happy Hour

March 29th, 2011 by Scott Alexander

“It’s my job to hang out with remarkable, passionate people. Winemakers, distillers, and brewers are all doing what they love, and that’s an inspiring thing to be around.”

Read an excerpt of Living Loaded elsewhere in Memoirville.

Dan Dunn is the author of the recently released memoir, Living Loaded: Tales of Sex, Salvation, and the Pursuit of the Never-Ending Happy Hour, which chronicles the period of his life he spent as a nightlife columnist for Playboy. During this time he got to live the life many of us dream about (while we secretly hope the guy who actually lives it is not having as much fun as he appears to be). The bad news? Dunn is having a blast. But it’s not all fun and games. While far from a weepy addiction tell-all, Dunn does pack some emotional heft in with his tales of strip-clubs, booze conventions, porn stars, christian rock concerts and Vegas. And to his credit, throughout the book he grapples in a variety of ways with a central (and uniquely American) question: Is there more to life than having a good time? Read more »

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Interview: Andre Dubus III, author of Townie: A Memoir

March 8th, 2011 by Edward Lovett

“I write every morning because it scares the shit out of me. It’s like fighting: One, you’re opening yourself up to whatever comes, and two, you might fail. It’s hard not to feel totally alive in that moment.”

Lately there has been lots of earnest hand-wringing about “cyberbullying.” When Andre Dubus III, author of House of Sand and Fog, was growing up in Haverhill, Mass., bullying wasn’t anonymous insults over Facebook. It was constant, justified terror of beatdowns—and worse—by poor, drunk, drugged-up kids “who roamed the neighborhood like dogs.”

Skeptical? Intrigued? Read Dubus’s engrossing memoir, Townie, and you’ll get to know and feel this world—and what it took to survive it. Read more »

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