Who doesn’t love a good story? And who hasn’t said to themselves, “I wish I could write this one down”? Here’s a book for all of us who delight in storytelling and who rejoice in a great tale. For those of us who possess a yen for writing or would like to possess one, the literary lessons included in this book are instrumental, practical and writer-friendly.
Everyone’s Got a Story is an anthology of short stories written by Ruchama Feuerman’s writing students and edited by her. Mrs. Feuerman has had her own stories widely published in newspapers, magazines and journals. Her novel, Seven Blessings has met with international acclaim and she has been teaching the art of writing for 15 years, inspiring and guiding countless writers, many of whom have gone on to have their own works published elsewhere.
When she first began teaching writing in 1993, Mrs. Feuerman, then Ruchama King, had just received her Master of Fine Arts from Brooklyn College. The response to her classes was overwhelming. “Women came from all over – they were hungry for this,” she recalls. “I loved what was coming out of my students. Many were quite accomplished to begin with. A few seemed very simple to me and self-effacing, the kind of people life tends to overlook. But to read their stories was to see a wealth of an inner world. They had so much to give, to say. …Over the years a dream took root. I wanted to gather my students all together in a book.”
This dream became a reality, and Feuerman’s professional discipline and coaching are translated into the many creative pieces presented in this anthology. And the diversity of the topics covered in this anthology is testament to this teacher’s appeal.
Ruchama’s students come from around the globe and from your own backyard. Some have doctorates and some have high school diplomas. Not all are women. Yet the common thread binding them is Mrs. Feuerman’s nurturing. A New Jersey resident who took Mrs. Feuerman’s workshops several times attests to the success of the class. “The more you write – and rewrite – the better you get,” she affirms. “You have the opportunity to obtain lots of feedback from lots of different people. That was really helpful.”
The backgrounds of the writers are as diverse as their offerings. We are presented with insights from a ba’al teshuvah and musings of a chassid. There is a story written by a new mother and another by a grandmother. The anguish described by a child of Holocaust survivors follows a most humorous depiction of a droll uncle. One story details a racecar driver’s odyssey towards Yiddishkeit, and another portrays the intricate work of a scribe. With over 40 offerings, there is a selection for even the discriminating and the finicky.
I was as much intrigued by the stories as by the array of genres that were offered. Divided into categories focusing on fiction, character, humor and other topics, the stories run the gamut from serious to funny, from solemn to whimsical. Each student’s written words find their home in this anthology. The quality of the writing varies from story to story, though most of them belie their authors’ rank as students. There were very few stories that bored or irritated. Some reflect more obviously honed guidance, yet others are penned by authors whose stories I truly relish and would love to see anthologies of their own.
Before each category of selected stories, Feuerman defines the genre of that category and offers writing instruction in that specific style. For me, these invaluable writing tips and tools were even more engaging than the stories themselves. Offered with wit and humor, even a seasoned writer would benefit from her virtual writing manual and her generous sharing of secrets of the trade.
Feuerman details her intention for including instruction in this anthology. “I wanted to showcase my students in this book,” she says, “More than that, though, I wanted to give tools to others – how do you evoke setting, create a compelling character, make a reader want to turn the page? How do you find the story that has urgency for you; that you must tell? My goal is to provide the skills to the point where my students can take off, on their own.”
Reading her instruction is almost like reading a recipe for a favorite cake. We’re in essence told how to find the best ingredients, what amounts to put in, and how to shape it. But with any recipe, the final product varies from one baker to another. The creative aspect is the special domain of each writer.
Neither your typical anthology nor your typical handbook, Everyone’s Got a Storysettles both accounts in a satisfying manner. It is for anyone who enjoys a good story or anyone who would love to write a good story.