Eduardo Santiago’s popular Idyllwild Author Series will feature a two for one bonus on Sunday, June 17. Amy Friedman and Dennis Danziger, two writers who happen to be married to each other will be the next guest speakers.
Friedman is the author of the long-running syndicated newspaper column and series of audio books, “Tell Me a Story,” teaches writing at UCLA Extension, blogs for the Huffington Post and recently completed “The Murderer’s House,” a memoir of her 7-year marriage to a man in prison.
Danziger, Friedman’s present husband, teaches English at Venice High School in Los Angeles, collaborates with Friedman producing “Stories by Venice High School Seniors,” a PEN In the Classroom Anthology, and also writes about divorce in his recently completed a laugh-out-loud novel, “A Short History of a Tall Jew (Deal Street Press, 2010), Danziger, when asked how Santiago might moderate the conversation given two writers with different styles and genres, laughed and said, “Amy and I have never been at a loss for words. He might just have to ask one question and we’d go from there.”
Before beginning his teaching career, Danziger wrote freelance for television in the decade from 1980 to 1990. His careers have been as he anticipated while at the University of Texas, Austin. When thinking about declaring a major, he wrote down his goals — to be a writer, a high school English teacher and a basketball coach. He’s proud that from barrio high schools at which he’s taught, many of his graduates go on to quality universities such as UC Berkeley, UCLA and UC Santa Cruz and some have been published. “You can still get a good education within the Los Angeles public school system,” he said.
Danziger begins “Short History” with an account of how his character starts each day, since divorcing his former wife. She constantly hounded him to appear again and again in family court, with serious financial consequences. “Every night for the past twenty-some odd months I’ve said the same prayer before collapsing into bed. ‘Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, Creator of it all, please watch over my beautiful but ill-mannered children. And once Lord, just once before Zack and Lily turn 18, please let me win one hearing in Department 18 of Family Court, 111 North Hill Street, County of Los Angeles, Judge Isadore Brownstein, who hates my guts, presiding. Good-night now.’”
Danziger has his students keep a journal to develop their voices. “Whatever they write, they can share or not. It’s their own journal. No pressure, no one looking over their shoulder. Some have told me it’s the only place where they have a safe place and voice.”
Friedman works with Danziger’s Venice High students on shaping their writing, editing and re-editing. The finished pieces, some of which she finds extraordinary, are then published as part of the PEN anthology project. “Dennis sets up the process with the students in the semester prior to my coming in,” she said. “That way they’re prepared. It works very well. They find their voices and write and teach their truths.”
Friedman, like Danziger, an engaging and gifted conversationalist, has also pursued a varied career path involving teaching, writing and in place of Danziger’s basketball coaching, journalism. She left New York and moved to Canada to write a column for a small paper. That job landed a syndicated column that evolved into her widely successful “Tell Me a Story,” now also produced in audio CD with music.
In writing about her 7-year marriage to a man in prison, Friedman’s style is achingly evocative. “I’d never talked with anyone the way I talked with my ex. Never had that kind of time. Nobody does. But he was a prisoner, and for nearly seven years we sat and talked for hours every day, feet sticking to linoleum floors, butts aching from hard-backed chairs, eyes stinging from smoke, hands sweaty, hearts fluttering, limbs aching to touch. … He was paroled, and on parole he tried to combat his depression by building walls, first a sea wall of concrete blocks along the St. Lawrence River, and then he kept going, walling off as much of our property as he could, but in the end it couldn’t keep him in.” (from Friedman’s blog entry,“The Moment I Knew” on Huffington Post.)
Of her teaching, and her experience in co-writing with another, editing and shaping the words of others, Friedman said it began with her grandmother, who had chosen to stop talking. “I knew she had something to say. I started by giving voice, in my writing, to someone who could not speak. I think it is because I’m a natural empath that I enjoy that process [of understanding the circumstances and thoughts of another and helping to shape and present that voice to others].”
Friedman and Danziger appear with Santiago at 2 p.m. at the INK Bookstore on North Circle. The event is free to the public.