By Cindy MIndell
STAMFORD – According to New York Times opinion writer James Atlas (“Really? You’re Not in a Book Club?,” Mar. 22, 2014), some five million Americans participate in a reading group. Of those thousands of living rooms, libraries, and coffee shops where people gather to read and discuss the latest novel, how many play host to the book’s author as well?
Not many. But one North American program that does just that, bringing together authors with the women who are reading their books is HBI Conversations, sponsored by the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute of Brandeis University. Launched in 2001 in Palm Beach, Fla., the program now boasts 17 groups in the U.S. and one in Montreal, engaging more than 600 participants.
From fall to spring, each affiliated group reads three books written by Jewish women authors. The titles, selected by the volunteer group coordinator, are meant to honor HBI’s mission of “fresh thinking about Jews and gender worldwide.” After completing a book, the group meets with its author for an intimate conversation.
Five years ago, Stamford resident Eileen Breakstone brought HBI Conversations to Connecticut when she started a cohort in her community, inspired by her mother-in-law’s group in Boca Raton, Fla.
“HBI enriches an understanding of how one relates to the current interests of Jewish women – personal, political, and historical,” Breakstone says. “But uppermost is the opportunity to meet and converse with the author about her book, interests, and life with a limited group of readers in a social setting. Both the author and women learn from each other.”
Breakstone and her fellow HBI Conversations group coordinators attend the annual meeting of the Jewish Book Council in New York to hear authors talk about their latest books. They then read several of the works and choose three for the year’s reading list.
The annual participation fee of $180 includes copies of the books and meetings with the authors, and supports Brandeis University’s scholarship and residency program for Jewish women authors and artists.
The conversation with the writer provides both a personal and global experience to participants. “The meeting gives you an intimate portrait of the author,” Breakstone says. “Even though it might not be the best book you’ve ever read, the experience is so enriching because it makes you more aware of your place in history, of Jewish women in literature, and of Jewish history in the U.S.”
For 2014-15, the Stamford group will read Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman and meet with the author on Oct. 30; Tinderbox: A Novel and meet with author Lisa Gornick on May 14; and The Garden of Letters and meet with author Alyson Richman on June 11.
The group, which draws members from as far away as Westchester and Yonkers, still has spaces available. For more information: firstname.lastname@example.org
To learn more about HBI Conversations: brandeis.edu/hbi/conversations/index.html
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