the OQ EXCHANGE
an interview with & nonfiction by MOSHE SCHULMAN In “The Wise One,” Moshe Schulman writes about his childhood growing up in an Ultra Orthodox Jewish community. His childhood was hardly ordinary, and Moshe presents his story in an equally unique way. With a great combination of seriousness and humor, Moshe crafts an engaging story that is accessible to readers of all backgrounds.
— jessica christiansen, oq nonfiction editor ORANGE QUARTERLY: When did you get started writing? MOSHE SCHULMAN: I started writing horrible songs and poems as a freshman in yeshiva high school. I had recently discovered non-Jewish music and was fascinated that people made their livings by expressing their raw emotions. I wanted to do that. Plus, I thought I could become a rock star and escape from the community. OQ: How did you get interested in writing nonfiction? SCHULMAN: My junior year of high school, when I switched from yeshiva to public school, I started writing prose, but I don’t think I even understood the difference between fiction and nonfiction. I just started writing about growing up in the community and never stopped.
OQ: What do you like to do when you’re not writing? SCHULMAN: When I’m not writing, I’m working. Rent is high in New York City. When I’m not working, I’m in my therapist’s office, complaining that I work too much and can’t catch a break.
OQ: How did you choose the topic for “The Wise One”? SCHULMAN: “The Wise One” is a condensed chapter from my memoir-in-progress about leaving the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Monsey, New York. Throughout my childhood, my “As a child, I always stood as close father reminded me of my blessing as I could get to bris ceremonies. It to become the next great rabbi of fascinated and haunted me that an eight-day-old baby was stuck on a my time. Still today, in the secular pillow while some strange man stood world, that pressure to excel weighs over him with a knife. I couldn’t beon me. The memoir is my attempt lieve that it had happened to me, and to reconcile those expectations, that congregants had looked on like especially since realizing that I can’t spectators at a ballgame.” live up to them. — MOSHE SCHULMAN
OQ: How did you choose the opening OQ: What is your writing routine? image for this story? SCHULMAN: I write every morning for a few hours SCHULMAN: As a child, I always stood as close before I head out to wait tables. I also run a lot to as I could get to bris ceremonies. It fascinated and clear my head. haunted me that an eight-day-old baby was stuck on a pillow while some strange man stood over him with OQ: What are you reading right now? a knife. I couldn’t believe that it had happened to me, SCHULMAN: The Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard. and that congregants had looked on like spectators at a ballgame. With that scene, I want to convey OQ: What (or who) inspires your writing? the nonchalant, “here we go again” attitude that SCHULMAN: Curiosity. Discovery. People. Knowing accompanies such a barbaric ritual, and to show my that somehow through writing I’ll make sense of the frustration about having joined the covenant when I world I came from and the world I’m a part of now. was too young to have a say in the matter. VO L U M E I • N U M B E R I 14