Local author Judith Fein has been busy, to say the least. Along with the production and release of her new book The Spoon from Minkowitz and all that comes with a book’s release, the travel journalist recently recorded a TEDTalk and has dealt with what she calls an unexpected flood of reactions.
“The response has been absolutely amazing,” she says, referring not only to positive critical reviews, but also the personal connections that have been formed with readers.
By way of quick, graceful language, The Spoon from Minkowitz covers Fein’s lifelong fascination with and eventual journey to the Russian (now Ukrainian) shetl her grandmother left at age 17 to move to America, and the six clues—all the knowledge she had of her grandmother’s village—that led her on a journey into her own ancestry.
To celebrate the release of Fein’s third book, two events have been planned in Santa Fe: the first is dubbed “Calling in the Ancestors,” and involves a short discussion about the book. Fein hopes the afternoon doubles as a chance for attendees to share stories behind their own photographs and other heirlooms. The event also has optional writing and visual art components, as well as the “ancestor potluck,” for which visitors are invited to bring a family dish of any kind to share (but please, no pork or shellfish).
“It’s definitely not a reading: I want it to be an interactive event,” Fein says.
The second happening, called “Bone Voyage: Traveling Back to Our Ancestors,” is a gallery show combined with a book signing, and will feature work by several Santa Fe artists exploring their own ancestry and heritage through their crafts. Among the artist roster is Paul Ross, Fein’s husband— whose photography is found throughout The Spoon from Minkowitz—and Fein herself. On a recent trip she found herself drawn to elk and bison bones scattered on the ground. She’ll be presenting the art pieces she’s made from the bones alongside the works of other visual artists.
“The events will be very different,” Fein shares.
“Different audiences, different emphasis, different everything. But I want them to be parties; I want them both to be fun.”
Part of their purpose is to create a little space in our modern American culture for what Fein calls “emotional genealogy,” when people explore and share their unique roots and family lore.
“It’s about the story of your family and how you’re a part of it,” Fein explains. Ancestorhonoring traditions like the Day of the Dead, which are found in many other cultures, allow opportunities to celebrate the lives of your ancestors and, in that sense, keep them alive. “I was fortunate to walk on the land of my ancestors,” she says, and these events are a way to help others experience same thing through their own ancestry.
The book itself has already become a natural catalyst for dialogues about people’s ancestors and heritage. After the book was released on Jan. 7, it immediately ventured onto three bestseller categories on Amazon and Fein began to receive emails from readers, people trying to reach out to her with stories of, problems with, and questions about their own ancestries—and hers.
Days after the book’s release, a reader emailed Fein to inform her that not only are her ancestors from Minkowitz, but Ross’ ancestors are, too. The reader, fascinated by Fein’s story, researched the couple’s genealogy herself.
“Can you imagine how I felt, unable to sleep at 3 am, stumbling out of bed and discovering that in my email?” the author gushes. That bit of information helped to solidify the idea that she was born to do this book.
“It is the work of my life,” Fein says. “I didn’t write this book with my head. You have to be borderline criminally insane to write a book, but this wasn’t the sort of thing where I said, ‘Oh, I want to sit down and write a book.’ I had to write this book.”
CALLING IN THE ANCESTORS