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About Us...Updates and Comments

"About Us...Updates and Comments" is a section for anything that fits our interest in Vanguard and doesn't quite fit elsewhere. It's a kind of blog—although we won't call it that—that's home to a variety of information. In this current web site, the section offers:

  • Sheila Solomon Klass on the literary life;
  • Henry Grinberg on his up-coming new novel;
  • Joel Isaacson on what he's doing;
  • Helen Isaacson on what she did;
  • Betty Gomory on her life in music;
  • Brandon Bain on winning the Vanguard Prize;
  • Mike Levitas telling Grace Hernandez she's the second Vanguard prize winner;
  • Herb Dorfman telling us (again) about his strange Thanksgiving

    By Sheila Solomon Klass

    I have known my destiny ever since March 3, 1948, when, for Vanguard, I wrote the following brilliant official welcome to Dannon Yogurt, newly available in the Brooklyn College Cafeteria:

    Not just an udder food but made with cultured bacteria.

    The Vanguard office truly became my home; for me, Brooklyn College was a sleep-away school. I’d had to move out of my parents’ home; they objected to my going to college. They said, "Get a job. We need the money. You're smart enough already. You have such a big mouth, who will marry you?" (They did need the money and I did have a big mouth.) The Placement Office saved me. I became a Live-In Babysitter, and I found a weekend job roasting nuts in the window of the giant Planters Peanuts store on Duffy Square.

    I wanted a literary life.

    On April 11, 2006, Ballantine Books will publish Every Mother is a Daughter: The Neverending Quest for Success, Inner Peace, and a Really Clean Kitchen (Recipes and Knitting Patterns Included). The book is a dialogue between my daughter, Perri Klass, and me about the similarities and differences in our lives. It will be her tenth book and my seventeenth. Perri is a suburbs-raised Harvard-educated pediatrician. I am a Williamsburg-raised, cold-water-flat, Depression, Home Relief type. My job is to admire her (she's the mother of three of my grandchildren!) but remind her that she is mortal.

    In order to do this book, we had to go back geographically and in memory, and we had the earlier books I wrote to refer to. We returned to the Trinidad Indian cane-cutters village, where Perri was born 46 years ago. (Everyone in this House Makes Babies, 1964). We revisited India, where we'd lived on a prolonged anthropological field trip in the 1960s. (Bahadur Means Hero, 1969, A Perpetual Surprise, 1981). This time we flew to central India so that we might have an actual audience with "God," Sai Baba, the guru (with a following of millions) in his ashram at Puttiparthi. He sings wonderful songs that he wrote honoring himself. We sat silently for many hours on a marble floor so that he might glance at us and thus bestow darshan (grace). In his presence, all around us, devotees gasped in awe but we, alas, felt nothing but our aching gluteus muscles. We traveled quite a bit while doing the book, but mostly we talked and wrote and remembered and argued. We spent two weeks at Ucross, a writer's haven in Wyoming—gorgeous Brokeback Mountain country—where we literally wrote night and day.

    And now, we have a new finished work. Naturally, A BOOK!

    On Sunday, June 5, 2005, the New York Times ran an excerpt from our book, Who Needs the Doctor? And Other Inherited Traits; Parenting magazine, The Ladies Home Journal and MORE magazine will each run a chapter this spring. I am ecstatic.

    A brief autobiographical catch-up: After our Brooklyn graduations, my fellow Vanguardian, Nancy Terrizzi and I took off for the Writers Workshop in Iowa City, where we wrote and studied mostly at night, as we unlocked toilets and restrained patients to earn our keep, in the wards of the State Psychopathic Hospital.

    Back in New York after two years, I taught junior high school in Harlem (Come Back on Monday, Abelard Schuman 1960). I married Morton Klass, an anthropology student; his doctoral-thesis field trip to Trinidad ended my junior high school teaching career, and when I resumed teaching, now the mother of Perri, David and Judy, it was at Manhattan Community College, where I still teach, after forty years.

    In 1979 during the worst crisis of my writing life, my Vanguard "family" consanguinity rescued me. Harvard University Press announced a contest to save the novella, a dying form. Anyone could submit; they would publish the three winning manuscripts chosen by their judges: Eudora Welty, Irving Howe, and John Gardner.

    I submitted my novella, A Perpetual Surprise. After a whole year's wait, word came. I'd won! Now they only had to choose two more novellas. Be patient, Harvard cautioned, as another whole year crept by. One day, I came home to find my manuscript stuffed in my mailbox. Unable to find two more novellas of equal quality, Harvard had cancelled the contest.

    The judges wrote apologetically; they were powerless.

    My hair began to turn white. I couldn't sleep. I nearly went mad. My children remember that I could talk of nothing else. Mike Levitas was one of those I talked to. "You mean you won and they took the contest away?" he said quietly. He mentioned it to his colleague Herbert Mitgang. I wrote to Mitgang chronicling the story, and he printed the item in his column on books. A fine small press asked to publish the book—and did.

    But like my white hair, I have never been quite the same.

    My love of writing is infectious; all three of my children write professionally. Perri writes fiction, medical non-fiction, knitting books. Her most recent novel is The Mystery of Breathing. David writes screenplays and novels. His most recent screenplay is Walking Tall. Judy's writing includes science fiction—she did a Star Trek novel—poetry, many plays and, lately, she's become interested in country music. Her one-act play, The Locker Room, has just been published in the textbook, access literature.

    Mort's devotion to anthropology made travel essential and accessible. His profession subsidized journeys to unlikely places about which he wrote wonderfully. He died suddenly in 2001 leaving me bereft.

    Most of my other books are juvenile or young adult novels. They take less time to write, and I had very little time for many years. My most recent work includes a book about Annie Oakley (A Shooting Star, Holiday House 1996) and one about Louisa May Alcott and the utopian attempt at Fruitlands (Little Women Next Door, Holiday House 2000).

    On Monday, December 19, 2005, TWO wonderful things happened. Publishers Weekly ran the first review of Every Mother is a Daughter. I am impelled by joy to quote the final line: "This is a treasure for any generation."

    And then my agent phoned to say that Henry Holt Publishers had bought my latest manuscript, The Solitary Rider, a historical novel about Deborah Sampson, a young woman who, disguised as a man, fought heroically in the American Revolution.

    At seventy-eight I am having the literary life!

    Perri and I will be talking about our book at Barnes and Noble, 2289 Broadway at 82nd Street, Tuesday, May 9th at 7 p.m. It would be a great pleasure to see old friends.

    Subject: Joel paints again
    From: Joel Isaacson

    Here goes:

    By my second year at Brooklyn I had begun to divide my time between the Vanguard office and the hidden sanctuary that was the Design Department on the fifth floor of Boylan. I would come downstairs to the office in my paint-stained dungarees and sweatshirt and take my turn at copy desk (or whatever).

    These days I no longer wear dungarees; I wear jeans, instead, along with the sweatshirt (not the same sweatshirt). After thirty-one years of teaching and writing art history at Michigan, I have been driven back to my roots at the top of Boylan Hall. When Helen and i retired and left Michigan for Berkeley, it was to seek the sun. I was going to be an outdoor landscape painter (my main research field was Impressionist painting), and in California I could do that all year round.

    I started working in watercolor on a small scale, but I didn't last very long outdoors. Soon enough I went back to my painting room, I gave up watercolors, and began to work once again in oils. Immediately, I was back on the fifth floor, an abstractionist (as was nearly everyone in the Design Department), and my principal models were the same painters who had been my teachers fifty years ago. That is not necessarily a good thing. Now, in the early twenty-first century, I am decidedly derriere-garde rather than avant-garde, but nevertheless I take from it a certain comfort that helps to sustain me. I hope you have been successful in getting others to feed the website. Good luck with it and thanks for calling.


    From: Helen Goldberg Isaacson

    Ten years ago, when Joel and I retired and moved from Ann Arbor to Berkeley, California began to spend more money on incarceration than on education. I volunteered to teach at a women's jail in San Francisco since the number of incarcerated women was growing and there were very few program directed to their needs.

    I now teach a course called "Family Literature." There is no money to buy multiple copies of books, so I duplicate poems, short pieces, and sections of novels and plays that deal with a variety of family problems, and the women take turns reading the material aloud and discussing the issues they find in the works and how they relate to their own family situations.

    For fun I take a tap dancing class, play with the two grandchildren who live nearby, and visit my son and his child in Chicago. To keep alive the political skills I learned on Vanguard, I rejoined the last remaining chapter of Women for Peace (I was a member as a graduate student in Berkeley).

    It's nice to be back in touch. Helen

    By Henry Grinberg

    I'm delighted to report the publication this spring of my first novel, Variations on the Beast (Dragon Press, N.Y.) The book relates the life of a great musician during the Nazi era. A conductor and pianist and a man of towering gifts.,Hermann Kapp-Dortmunder is magnetic, gifted, and charming, but at the same time a despicable, hopelessly divided human being.

    The novel explores the "Good Germans," those who didn't actually commit atrocities, but remained in Germany and were proud to participate in the rewards of military aggression, and benefit from the disappearance of the hated Jews. Told in Hermann's own voice, the story does not attempt to justify, but rather to comprehend the incomprehensible.

    Ultimately, the book deals with a question that has no valid answer: How did the German nation, acknowledged the most cultivated and educated on earth, come to commit—and countenance—atrocity?

    I was drawn to this project for four reasons. First, I have for most of my life been a student of the Nazi era, and have read widely in the field. Second, I love and am quite knowledgeable about music. Third, I am a practicing psychoanalyst with a profound interest in socio-political mental illness. Fourth, I am a former professor of literature and writing. This novel is a synthesis of all my obsessions and passions.

    Born and raised in London, I was nine years old when World War II started. Just as nothing speaks to me more deeply than music, nothing haunts me, as a Jew, more than the atrocities committed by the Nazis durimg that war.

    When the war ended I undertook the task of learning what had happened to the Jews of Europe under the Nazis. Members of my family, whom I knew through letters and photographs, perished in Poland and Ukraine. After the Germans invaded, there was only silence. To this day, even with my grounding as a psychoanalyst, as a student of abnormal behavior, and extensive research into the lives of German intellectuals, artists and musician, I am unable to account for the conduct of the "Good Germans."

    For forty-two years, I taught literature and writing in college and have been fascinated by the complex varieties of moral responsibility.

    Variations on the Beast is my attempt to explore and explain three troubling questions. First, how can one claim to be an artist, to express feeling, without possessing a profound humanity? We have sad examples of these contradictions in the persons of Richard Wagner and Ezra Pound. Second, on a larger scale, how can a nation be both highly cultivated and deeply depraved? Third, can an orchestra "cleansed" of its Jewish members make music that inspires joy and transcendence?

    From: Betty Gomory


    It all began during World War II when I was 18 or 19. I was recruited to be an air raid warden in my Queens Neighborhood. One night when I was patrolling my assigned section, in my air raid warden helmet, I was reminded of a demented woman I had observed on visit to a high-class mental institution in Connecticut. Three friends were working there as aides and they invited me to spend the Weekend. Believe it or not, I walked around the "campus" with my good friend and her patient and nobody noticed me. The woman was eerie. She kept saying over and over again, "I don't know what to do, I don't know what to do, I don't know what to do. " At the time I observed Her with great curiosity and more than a little repulsion.

    Back to Queens. I was making my rounds, blowing my whistle at all the people to pull their shades, etc, when all of a sudden I found myself singing a melody to the words of "I don't know what to do" and made a whole song out of it. Up to that time, I had never in my life composed a song, although I loved to sing popular songs of the day. Since I had studied piano, I knew how to write the song down.

    After that, i didn't think much about songwriting until I had a sad love affair, which inspired 5 or 6 songs. The songs usually came spontaneously without planning. Words and music came together. I wrote the songs in my head, employing a technique knows as "composing by numbers" to fix them in my memory, then later entered them on music manuscript paper.

    I sang the songs to my friends, who mostly liked them. My hustand of forty years was a great source of inspiration. Over the years, I collaborated with a couple of lyricists and found that I could compose melodies to someone else's lyrics. I found professional singers to sing my songs, in a public concert venue and in clubs. (Many of the songs lent themselves to cabaret performance. But mostly, they were sung at meetings of the Sunnyside Music Society.

    I obtained membership in ASCAP on the strength of public performance in the Thalia Spanish Theater.

    Unfortunately, full-time teaching and caring for a son and husband prevented me from devoting time to promoting my songs. Since my husband died about thirteen years ago, I have written only two songs – the inspiration is missing

    Betty Gomory
    40-95 48th Street
    Sunnyside, New York 11104-1028

    About Brandon Bain

    Brandon Bain was the first winner of the Vanguard Prize, in 2004, "for raising the journalism standards of the student newspaper, Kingsman, and for (his) timely and successful defense of the First Amendment on the Booklyn College campus." As the editor of Kingsman he editorially defended the rival campus newspaper , Excelsior, against the threat of suspension for administrative reasons.

    After graduating, he was employed at the New York Times as a clerk on the Metro and National desks as well as a freelance reporter/editor for am New York (which he still does every once in a while). Last February, he won the New York Association of Black Journalists' essay contest, and in March, he was offered the Howard Simons Graduate Fellowship – which he declined. Currently he is working as an Intern at Long Island Newsday. He reported on the Nassau County government through the November elections, and is now on general assignment,– also covering the town of Babylon, where he lives. Mr. Bain also produced a brief video (Title to come)about Brooklyn College veterans who returned from the war in Iraq which can accessed at (Website to come)

    Brandon Bain Comments

    I'm currently a 2-year Intern at Long Island Newsday. I started last August covering Nassau County government through the recent election in November. I now cover general assignment and the town of Babylon, where I live. Before then I was a clerk at the New York Times on the Metro and National desk as well as a freelance reporter/editor for amNewYork (which I still occasionally do). Last February, I won the New York Association of Black Journalists essay contest and in March I won the Howard Simons Graduate Fellowship (which I declined). I'm also the youngest member of the Brooklyn College Alumni Association Board of Directors and chairperson of the Internship committee.

    Brandon's Prize

    Vanguard Prize

    This is the certificate that was awarded to the winner of the (first) Vanguard Prize. And as everyone knows, the incentive for this award was sparked by a certain event fifty-five years ago!!

    As I tried to tell you, Harry, 'Don't Mess With Those Vanguardians!!!'

    Hernandez Letter

    Ms. Grace Hernandez
    Editor, Kingsman
    Brooklyn College

    Dear Ms. Hernandez:

    It is my pleasure to inform you that as the editor of Kingsman your crucial role in protecting First Amendment rights on the Brooklyn College campus has earned you the 2005 Vanguard Prize. The honor is accompanied by the practical award of $500.00.

    This year, as in the committee's inaugural deliberations in 2004, we were struck by the high caliber of candidates for the prize and the range of significant First Amendment issues that they brought to our attention. And as veterans of earlier battles for campus press freedom we were vividly reminded of the pressures college journalists face. This year, however, acute pressure on First Amendment freedoms also arose from an unexpected direction: reporting on student government by two hotly competitive student newspapers.

    As you described the conflict in your essay, "Being Heard," the competing student newspaper included staff members who were active in one political party, "…so I made it our number one priority, when reporting student government issues, that our articles were never swayed or biased…I tried my best to make sure that the final edits on all student government articles [were] fair to both political parties...The whole point was…not to make either party look good or bad but to inform the student body…"

    That same objective governed your choice of op-ed articles on other subjects. Namely, that the First Amendment not only protects the expression of controversial opinions, but implies the obligation of news media to disseminate those opinions as widely as possible. As you wrote in your essay, "A lot of times…I would read the op-ed submissions and articles and wouldn't want to run them for fear of offending people. Now, looking back, I'm extremely proud that I made the decision to run everything because if we didn't we would have been taking away the public's right to know and the public's right to speak."

    For repeatedly putting those sentiments into practice, confirmed by examples from the pages of Kingsman, you have demonstrated steadfast support for the First Amendment in its most vital, widest meaning. Your actions have thus earned the committee's deep appreciation for upholding the principles embodied in the Vanguard award.

    Mitchel Levitas

    Herb's Thanksgiving

    By Herb Dorfman

    Did you have a nice Thanksgiving? This is about a Thanksgiving some time ago, but no less strange for that.

    First, a prelude. For the first seventy or so years of my life, I was an only child. That is, I had no siblings. That was the result of my parents separating when I was very young. My mother didn't re-marry, my father did, but had no children with his second wife. Being an only child brought no special handicaps, except that later on my daughter had no uncles or aunts on my side. On the positive side, I had plenty of cousins, since my father was one of six brothers and a sister. After my father died in 1965, I tried to keep in touch with the whole family, but they slipped away, some further away than others.

    Now the event around which the last few years pivot. In 2001, I was presented with the news that I actually had a (half-)brother, born of a liaison between my father and a woman he met and loved. It couldn't go any further because of personal complications.

    But a son was born (during World War II). The son, Walter Anderson, grew up to be a very prominent figure in the world of communications, was for 20 years the editor of "Parade" magazine and is it's CEO and publisher. I, however, knew nothing about him until he presented himself in 2001. The bonding between us was very successful, and he decided to write a book about his life and meeting me and what happened after. The book – "Meant To Be" -- was published this past Fall. There was a great deal of reaction and response – and among the responses were phone calls and e-mail from people in the Philadelphia, Pa., area saying they thought they were related to me and Walter – and their clue was a picture of my father on the cover of Walter's book!

    And they were right. For one of my father's brothers had moved to Philadelphia and brought up a family there. I am embarrassed to say that I had completely lost track of that family. But when they saw the book they got in touch and I agreed to come down to Philadelphia with wife (Esther Gold Dorfman, you know) for Thanksgiving. (You do remember how this article began, don't you?)

    Well, they all turned out: parents, children, children of children. And here's the punchline: At one point in the evening I looked around and realized that in that large room with me were four (4) generations of Dorfmans... that I had never met before!

    Yes, it was an extraordinary Thanksgiving, with many happy people.

    Just thought my friends of Vanguard would like to know.


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