Harriet Shenkman, Ph.D. is a Professor Emerita at City University of New York. She serves on the Advisory Board of the Women’s National Book Association, NYC. She was awarded second place in poetry in the Women’s National Book Association National Writing Contest, 2013. She is proud to serve as Poet-in-Residence at Boomer Cafe and to have a poetry page on Verse Wrights. Her poems have been published in a number of publications and she is working on a poetry collection, Sweet and Sour Soup. She is also completing a novel entitled The Camel Tamer. She lives in New York with her husband Jerry and they have three children.
How long have you been a member of the WNBA-NYC? How did you get involved with the organization?
I have been in the New York chapter of WNBA for several years. Last year I became the Academic Liaison on the Board. This was a suitable position as I am Professor Emerita at CUNY and was director of a literary arts center within my college. I am excited about our new partnership with the NYU Creative Writing Program and we hope to launch our first joint event in March of 2014.
Congratulations on “Mirror, Mirror” placing in the First Annual WNBA Writing Contest! What was the experience like? Will you enter next year’s contest?
It is an honor to win a national award. It’s very useful in building credibility as a serious writer. I am thrilled to have also just won second place in the 2013 Women Who Write contest for my poem “The Possibility of Teetering.” It will appear in Calliope 2013: the 20th Anthology. I will also have the opportunity to read it in Louisville, Kentucky at their annual conference.
Where can our members find your other published works?
My latest poem “Fourth Date” will be published in August at Boomer Cafe. Previous poems have been published at When Women Waken, Verse Wrights, Jewish Mag, Jewish Renaissance Magazine, and The WNBA Bookwoman Anthology. And forthcoming are poems in Third Wednesday, a quarterly journal of poetry, prose and art, and Jewish Currents, a quarterly journal.
Is your background in poetry, or have you written in other genres?
My background is not poetry. I have written over thirty academic articles and my creative writing began with novel writing. However, I find satisfaction in the briefer form of poetry to express what I want to say. You work at getting at the essence of things
From where do you draw inspiration for your writing?
For my poetry, I may start with an image or an experience that is startling or exceptional in some way. And then I explore it, what it means, and how to capture its essence in words. For my novel, I have characters in my head that I want to see interacting in a challenging context. I am also passionate about situations in the world I want to reveal and explore.
How different is the publishing process for poetry? More or less difficult?
Publishing poetry in the mainstream press is difficult. Agents and editors are more interested in novels and nonfiction. But my poetry is very accessible and I hold the position of Poet-in-Residence at Boomer Cafe. I want to put together a collection of verse called Sweet and Sour Soup for the Over Fifty Soul. There is a huge market for readers in the baby boomer generation and older that has not be tapped.
Do you have any projects currently in the works?
I also have a novel in the works called The Camel Tamer. I am working on revisions. You could say it is a hunt for a terrorist narrative within a coming of age story. I am striving for a tragic/comic effect and my two main characters, a hardened Mossad agent and an innocent American kid, are polar opposites. Most of the story takes place in Jerusalem and other places in Israel.
What’s your favorite word and why?
I do not have a favorite word. I love to put words together into unique constellations that convey feelings and meaning. One reader of my poetry said it is provocative without being sentimental. I like that description.
What are you currently reading? Any great recommendations for our members?
I am reading Ruth Ozeki’s new novel, A Tale for the Time Being, and I am looking forward to hearing her in conversation with Carole DeSanti at the WNBA event in September. I love the new novel by A.M. Homes, May We Be Forgiven. She is a master at combining darkness and wit. She won the Women’s Prize for Fiction over several respected women authors. I would recommend both books.