Sunday, July 13, 2014

My Year As A Fan: In Memory of Yoram Kaniuk


Although I never talked to him again after that year, the author Yoram Kaniuk  (1930-2013) was my hero. We met in my second year of university; he taught fiction in a  creative writing workshop.  Kaniuk was a well-known novelist in Israel, but not well respected. His style, in the tradition of the stream of consciousness, was frowned upon. His writing was different from the way other Israeli novelists wrote in the 1970s, thus  it was deemed affected and insincere.

To us he seemed old, he was 47 years old at that time (I was 22), but the minute he opened his mouth, we were all smitten. Kaniuk (no one called him Yoram) was very charismatic and kind -- a rare combination. His method was not to shred our writing to pieces and to make us feel bad; quite the opposite, he gave his criticism in an encouraging and helpful way. During the lessons there were no crises; he kept the atmosphere in the workshop positive and productive. 

 We admired the beautiful miniatures which he used to draw on top of matchboxes (it was at the time when most of us smoked) when we read our stories. I kept mine for many years.

But our stories were not the reason for the workshop, Kaniuk was. He was our star and we  became his fans even his groupies. We were experts in his biography,  his writing,  his opinions. We were well versed in his life story: the son of the first director of Tel Aviv Museum, he enjoyed a privileged childhood, and was very talented in art and letters. During the war of independence he fought and was wounded  (he was 18 at the time), he studied art first at Bezalel, the Israel Art Institute, and then in Paris; hence the beautiful  drawings. He had planned to pursue his art in the US  but changed his mind about being an artist and decided instead to become  a novelist. When he returned to Israel some 10 years later he did so with a beautiful American wife.

I felt “chosen” since he was very kind to me and always called me “a fresh flower,” but I am sure that he was just as kind to other young women in the workshop. I was a newly-wed at that time and remember that once the workshop met at my house. My young husband was there as well and Kaniuk  told me later ”your second marriage will be different, then you will keep a respectful distance from each other.”  Needless to say, Tzvi, my husband, did not join our fan club.   

That year I had written a story which Kaniuk believed was good enough to be published; when it finally appeared  in print I was shocked to discover Kaniuk’s voice in my story -- his influence was too great. At the workshop I was writing for Kaniuk, and enjoyed his approval, but after it ended I stopped writing.

It was a privilege to be at Yoram Kaniuk’s creative writing workshop; he was a real mentor and did his best to encourage us to keep on writing and to take chances with our work. But as I found out, hero-worshipping stifled my creativity and paralyzed me. It took me years to lose his voice and find my own. And . . . just to be on the safe side, I made two resolutions and kept them: I never read another book by Yoram Kaniuk and never took another creative writing class..

P.S.  This is a photo of a matchbox drawing by Yoram Kaniuk

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