Friday, 25 November 2016

Does Life Change When You Win A $100,000 Book Prize


Susan Pedersen Reflects On Family and 2015 Cundill Prize 
By K.J Mullins Newz4U

Winning the 2015 Cundill Prize in Historical Literature has not changed author Susan Pedersen but it did help her have more time to reconnect with her youngest son. Last autumn when Pedersen won the prize she was taking some time off from her teaching position at Columbia University to work on her current project. She used some of the prize money to fly her youngest child to the UK for some much needed one on one time.

Pedersen said that winning the prize was special but in terms of academic success did not have a large impact at Columbia University. She noted that the book appearing in the Oxford University Press in summer 2015 was more celebrated at the American school.
Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell (l), Susan Pedersen
and Chancellor Michael Meighen - Cundill Win!

Pedersen is a dedicated academic and a devoted working mother. Loyal to a life of exploring and retelling the history of Britain there are times that her two worlds are in conflict. Long periods of research while teaching takes time, making each minute with her family important quality time. She remembers speaking at a lecture in aboard when her daughter was just three months old. Still nursing she transported back several large containers of milk on the airplane. “The flight attendants all were working mothers and so helpful” making sure to pack the bottles in dry ice for the long trip home.

During the summers Pedersen was often away from home doing research. Her children always came with her and her husband on these trips. “I always told the two of them to entertain themselves,” Pedersen laughs. Because of that time her daughter and son spent together they have a tight bond with each other which Pedersen is quite happy about.

Pedersen admits that at times the blending of her two worlds is a challenge, a fact that she shares during some of her lectures. Many young working women have been inspired by her example of mixing family and a successful career.

Pedersen in university housing for NYU in Greenwich Village with her family. (Her husband is a professor at NYU). We spoke about the high cost of rents in both New York City and Toronto for small apartments. For this historian having a large office with room for books at her school is a life saver! That's not to say books aren't an important part of the family home which she confided is filled with book shelves.

Her book The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire showed the power and fatal flaws of the League of Nations. The book took a decade of research. Her next book is still years away but her excitement of the subject is infectious. She is venturing into the world of Edwardian era of politics from the eyes of three women. At a time when women, like children were to be seen but not heard, feminism played an important role. Pedersen had a mischievous smile in place as she discussed her subjects in Toronto hours before the announcement of the 2016 Cundill Prize for Historical Literature (McGill University) was announced. Still early in the game of research Pedersen has found some delicious scandals. “This book will be very different than The Guardians,” she promised. One of the biggest changes will be the overall style of writing which she believes will speak to a large audience. Not that The Guardian was not an amazing read that appealed to a wide audience.

One of the most lasting powers from literary prizes like the Cundill Prize is increasing the reach of books that often have a very limited audience. Historical literature is generally read by historians, with dry academic writing. The Guardian broke that rule by being lively and a page turner, appealing both to the academic and the general public, it has been on many best seller book lists.


Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Last Folio - Books of the Dead - Yuri Dojc's art at the Hamilton Art Gallery


By Stephen Weir
Edited version posted by Huffington Post

Moscow. Jerusalem. Vatican City. São Paulo. Canadian photographer Yuri Dojc is is known and admired for his world vision.  His photographs of crumbling synagogues, badly decayed Torahs scrolls and discarded school books he discovered in a rotting  70-years locked Jewish school in Slovakia are seen as instruments of change in a battle against cultural genocide.

Here in Canada little is known about his travelling exhibition of pictures of those holocaust books. That is because he is Canada’s most accomplished nude photographer. That may changes now that his Last Folio exhibition has finally arrived in Canada, and people in Ontario are seeing his passion and his dread of mankind’s darkside.

The Last Folio is an exhibition, an art book and a documentary movie, based on the Slovakia pictures he has taken.  The exhibition that continues to tour in Europe, Israel, South America and the United States just opened in Hamilton, Ontario.

Time had stood still since 1942 in Bardejov, Slovakia, until ten years ago Dojc returned to visit his family’s ancestral home.  There  was once a thriving Jewish community in the North-Eastern Slovakia town but that ended a long time ago. It was on the eve of World War II, many of the villagers had fled, and those remaining were taken away to concentration camps.

Serendipity led Dojc, along with a documentary film team to the local Jewish school, which had been locked since the day their students were deported to the concentration camps. All the schoolbooks were still there, including essay notebooks with corrections.

The decomposing books, which were lying on dusty shelves, are the last witnesses of a once thriving culture. Dojc  photographed each book like the survivors they are–each one captured as a portrait, preserved in their final beauty, silent witnesses to the horrors of history.

It was oh so personal for the Toronto photographer. Amongst the hundreds of books and fragments he photographed one instantly seared his soul – it had belonged to his grandfather, Jakab Deutsch.

“The Holocaust is something, it is a topic that I have avoided all my life, but now in my 60s, it eventually caught up with me,” said Yuri Dojc, explaining how he turned his photographs of those books into the global travelling show he calls Last Folio.
School found by Yuri Dojc unused since WW2
“This exhibition started in 1997, it was a total departure from what I was doing until then.  This work actually changed me as a person and as a photographer.  This is a show about cultural memory.  Memories of people who never came home. Memories about my parents, from whom I just got scraps  of what happened during my childhood.

“ What I was fascinated with is the beauty of the decaying books  … they are monuments to people who used to own them . Most of the people who owned those books did not return from the camps. There were no funerals, there were no headstones, there is nothing to show they lived, except what I was able to picture. Those books are their tombs and at the same time they are acts of defiance against those people who tried to destroy (it all). “

It is Dojc’s stunningly beautiful photographs that let us experience the vibrant cultural history of Slovakian Jews through the now abandoned schools, synagogues and mikvahs (ceremonial baths) he remembers with his camera.

“There is a reason why I call it Last Folio. It was the last stand. The people are all gone, the books 90% of them are gone and the other10% will be gone in five years because of neglect. A project like this is just a cultural memory -- nothing else.  The photographs are all that I can do.”

In Brazil the arrival of the show was frontpage news. Last month a television special was broadcast throughout the country comparing Dojc’s exhibition with what is happening in Allepo, Syria.

“The news feature talks of how easily cultures can be destroyed by war,” explained Dojc. “They said I was showing a culture that was killed 70-years ago and now we are watching the destruction of another culture, in real time in Syria. So what have we learned over those 70 years?  My pictures preserve and hopefully we learn!”

Art Gallery of Hamilton is exhibiting the Last Folio, The show opened last week and will remain on view until May 14, 2017.

George Socka interviewed Yuri Dojc at the Art Gallery of Hamilton. Now posted on You Tube