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:: Joseph Skibell:: Author and Educator
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Wendy R. Levine Gross
love for making words come to life motivates Joseph Skibell,
author of A Blessing on the Moon and The English
to arise at 7 a.m., down several cups of coffee
and spend the entire day writing.
who is putting the finishing touches on his third novel, traces
his penchant for writing back to his teenage years when reading
works by Edward Albee, Samuel Beckett, and John Steinbeck captured
began his literary career writing plays and screenplays, did
not believe he had the temperament of a dramatist, and changed
his focus to crafting novels. Along the way to settling into
his niche as a novelist, Skibell tried his hand at other jobs
including bread baker at the Mainstreet Bakery in Taos, New
Mexico; copy editor for the Argonaut newspaper, Marina del Rey,
California; screenwriter for the Bryna Company, Los Angeles;
and, as a bartender at the Los Angeles Tennis Club.
in Lubbock, Texas, Skibell grew up “steeped in pop music.”
Conceding that music styles from the Beatles to Bob Dylan have
been an influence on his writing career, Skibell noted that
he is a real fan of Keith Jarrett.
idea of opening up and experimenting and playing what comes
out has been as much an influence on me as anything.”
lost 18 relatives to the atrocities of the Holocaust and the
author is not shy about his deep connection to Judaism or how
it has shaped his writing and world. “Without my sense
of Jewishness I don’t think I would understand the world
fact, his first novel, A Blessing on the Moon, published
in 1997, was inspired by the horrors of the Holocaust. His second
novel, The English Disease, published in 2003, examines
the life of Charles Belski, a fictitious Jewish character who
is guilt ridden after marrying a gentile woman.
third novel which is close to completion (he has been working
on it for the past four years), focuses on Jewishness and assimilation.
In a recent radio broadcast, he commented that the work is a
that the computer provides a sense of endlessness and a temptation
to stray from the story line, when composing his works of fiction,
Skibell writes everything out long hand. Only after the words
are down on paper does he transfer them to a computer.
asked who his favorite author is and why, Skibell paused and
then cautiously shared that during the past few years he has
been immersing himself into the legendary parts of Talmud, an
established record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish
law, ethics, customs and history. “I guess my favorite
writer is the little Jew who wrote the Talmud.” He compares
the genius of the writers to Shakespeare, Sophocles and Tom
Stoddard all rolled into one. Considering that the Talmud is
a compilation of comical and tragic stories penned by many writers,
Skibell's comment is enlightening.
recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant, Skibell
received his undergraduate degree from the University of Texas
at Austin and earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Texas
Center of Writers, now known as the Michener Center for Writers.
first novel, A Blessing on the Moon, which was translated
into several foreign languages including German, French and
Dutch, won the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award
from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Steven Turner
Prize for First Fiction and the Jessed H. Jones Award for Best
Book of Fiction from the Texas Institute of Letters.
writings have also appeared in The New York Times,
Poets & Writers, Maggid and Tikkun.
Currently an associate professor of English in the Creative
Writing program at Emory University in Atlanta, GA, Skibell
has also taught at the University of Wisconsin; the Humber School
for Writers in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; the Taos Summer Writers
Conference and Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel.
his days writing and teaching at Emory University leaves Skibell
with little time to enjoy leisure pursuits. However, if he did
have “free time,” he would like to run and bike.
queried about how he deals with “writer’s block,”
Skibell quipped, “I probably become hostile and aggressive
to everyone around me.” To know how accurate this assessment
is, one would have to confer with his wife Barbara or his 17-year-old
best advice this author and educator has for writers striving
to be published, is to “Think of your writing as an extension
of your life so that getting published is just part of what
you get from your work. Ask yourself not what the muse can do
for you, but what you can do for the muse.”