Feb. 22 Jewish BookFest goes virtual
By Deb Silverthorn
Author Pam Jenoff, a Dallas favorite, returns to the Margot Rosenberg Pulitzer Dallas Jewish BookFest at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 22. The J partners with Central Market in presenting Jenoff’s virtual BookFest and conversation, with fellow author Elyssa Friedland; there is no cost.
“We’re so excited to share the screen and visit with Pam and Elyssa. Pam has been here before and she’s a good friend to the Dallas community. They are both compelling authors with much to share about their journeys to success. We look forward, of course, to in-person opportunities in the future, but we are so thrilled to open our ‘doors’ to as wide a community as our virtual events allow,” said Rachelle Weiss Crane, the J’s director of Israel engagement and Jewish living and BookFest producer.
Jenoff, who has four times before visited BookFest, has published her 12th novel, “Code Name Sapphire.” Earlier publications include “The Woman with the Blue Star,” “The Lost Girls of Paris” and “The Diplomat’s Wife.”
The author comes to her historical-fiction stories with a background of boots on the ground in the places of which she writes.
Raised in Southern New Jersey, the daughter of Marsha and the late Eugene and sister of Jay, Jenoff attended Temple Emanuel (now Congregation Kol Ami). Since she was a child, she remembers wanting to be a writer. In fifth grade she dreamed of becoming the next Judy Blume; it was a dream come true when, in 2019, she gave a reading and did a book signing of her “Lost Girls of Paris” at Blume’s bookstore in Key West, Florida.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from George Washington University and a fellowship at the University of Cambridge, Jenoff spent a year working at the Pentagon as special assistant to the secretary of the U.S. Army and later two years in Krakow, Poland, as a diplomat for the State Department handling Holocaust-related issues. It was, she says, a time of blessings, luck and profound experiences she could not have then imagined, now playing out on the pages of a dozen books.
“When I was there, it was a half-century away from World War II. I was halfway around the world from home before cellphones and the internet,” she said. “I was in Krakow with a mostly aged population and so many there became like grandparents to me. My books aren’t based on any one person or any incident per se, but certainly many of the characters and stories I write about were inspired by the very special people of the Jewish community I spent so much time in.
“I had so many meaningful experiences during my time there,” said Jenoff, who remains in contact with some of those with whom she worked at the consulate. “A lot of that absolutely finds its way into my work.”
Jenoff returned to the U.S. and, after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, began practicing in Philadelphia on Sept. 4, 2001. A week later, while praying after 9/11, she didn’t have forever to write the novel of her dreams.
“I wanted to realize my dream, I wanted to write. I began writing from 5 until 7 in the morning, I went to a ‘write your novel this year’ class and I got started. It took 39 rejection letters before my first book, ‘The Kommandant’s Girl,’ was published in 2007 and 10 years before I hit the New York Times bestseller list,” said Jenoff.
Jenoff didn’t leave the legal life behind; in addition to writing, she has taught the profession full-time at Rutgers Law School for 14 years.
“Code Blue Sapphire” stands on its own among Jenoff’s works, inspired by stories she heard while in Poland.
“I’ve learned, for instance, there was an attempt to stop a train bound for Auschwitz,” she said. “Who would stop it, what happened and why didn’t more of that happen?”
Although Jenoff has been on a book-a-year cycle, her other activities — including raising three children, teaching full-time and being there for her husband and the family’s six pets — often have readers waiting 18 months for her next novel.
“I hope to be back in Dallas in-person soon. But a virtual conversation, especially with Elyssa — whom I’ve known for many years and whom I really respect as a writer — is going to be great.”
Friedland, who last year had published her sixth book, will share the conversation with Jenoff. The women are mutually respectful friends on the writing circuit.
In her novel “The Most Likely Club,” Friedland tells the tale of a milestone high school reunion and how a group of friends make a pact to finally achieve their high school superlatives one way or another.
“What I do takes a village. I so appreciate my family and friends, my whole team and certainly the readers. I couldn’t do any of what I do without everyone,” said Jenoff. “I’ve won the lottery; I love what I do and I’d step back and do every bit of it again.”
For more information, or to RSVP for the Feb. 22 event, visit jccdallas.org/special-events/bookfest.