Monday, May 28, 2007

Penny Esmarkus, nemesis of Garrulous MacKenzie

As promised, I now present to you my interview with Penny Esmarkus. When I asked Esmarkus for a picture of herself, she emailed me this Queen of Sheba icon:


Penny Esmarkus is a children’s book historian, author and critic of epic proportions. Her book reviews have been featured in Parent Ranting magazine ever since its inception. Her article, “Twenty Books You Should Have Read (But Couldn’t Because They Were Never Published, Thanks to a Certain Prat)” won the prestigious Puyallup Prize in 2003.

Esmarkus was born and raised in a small town outside of New York City, but now considers the entire world her home. When people inevitably ask about her ethnic heritage, Esmarkus replies, “I’m a mish-mosh.” However, she told Saints and Spinners that she is quite proud of the Ethiopian Jewish background on her mother’s side and has an obsession with the Queen of Sheba.

Saints and Spinners: What do you do for a living?
Penny Esmarkus: I write articles, review books, and speak to schools and libraries. On the side, I play electric balalaika for a rock and roll klezmer cover-band called Tsibile Pupik (Yiddish for "Onion Bellybutton"). Our band sounds a lot like Firewater. If Tom Waits decided to team up with the Pogues and form a klezmer band, they’d have Firewater. However, most of my friends prefer Tsibile Pupik because I'm in the band.

S&S: You said in an earlier email that you don’t blog, but that you read a lot of blogs in the kidlitosphere. Which blog do you love so much that you would take it to the prom, marry it, etc?
PE: I’d have to choose Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Those folks are amazing! Truly, I can’t even do one impossible thing before I’ve had my gluten-free toaster-waffle, strawberry-mint salad, two cups of milky-sweet coffee, a cardamom-vanilla almond-milk protein shake, and (only on Tuesdays) bacon. I love bacon.

S&S: Moving on to the literary portion of this interview… You and Garrulous MacKenzie are long-time adversaries. Why is that so, and why did you write a foreword for MacKenzie’s book, I’m Afraid it Won’t Pass the Censors?
PE:The reason why I wrote a foreword for I’m Afraid It Won’t Pass the Censors is simple: Garrulous asked me to write it. “It won’t be flattering,” I warned. “It’ll sell more copies that way,” Garrulous replied. Garrulous and I are literary rivals, much like Germaine Greer and Janet Todd. In the beginning, we would meet for lunch to discuss the books that Garrulous was publishing. Garrulous would tell me how the books originally started out and then how the authors changed the stories after receiving input. I could understand the changes for Make Way For Ducklings (formerly “puggles,” which are baby echidnas) and Angus Lost where Angus the Scottie dog was originally a platypus. However, when I found out that Garrulous was responsible for the travesty we know as The Giving Tree, I was incensed. I’ll admit it—I was the one who hurled the first apple from the fruit-basket. Garrulous had to go to the emergency room. While we are still on speaking terms (I did pay the hospital bill, after all), to this day, no restaurant will allow us to occupy the same room.

S&S: Who are the three living authors whom you’d like to have over for coffee, tea, or champagne cocktails?
PE: I’d definitely have my colleague Leonard Marcus as a guest. Leonard is almost as knowledgeable in the children’s literature field as I am, and is as mellow and gracious as I am high-strung and snippy. We’re invited to many of the same parties, but for some reason, we always just miss each other. The second person I’d invite would be Young Adult author Robin Brande. This summer, Robin is coming out with her first book. Trust me, she is the Next Big Thing (no thanks to Garrulous, who wanted to change the title of Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature to Zank Hyssop and the Outer Space Zombie Invasion). The third author I'd invite would be Sherman Alexie. I have always had a crush on Sherman Alexie.

S&S: I have one last question before we head to the Pivot questionaire. What’s the one thing that most people don’t know about you?
PE: Everyone knows that I love shoes. That’s nothing special. The woman who loves her shoes is a cliché. What they don’t know is that I never own more than three pairs of shoes at any given time. When I find a new pair of shoes I cannot live without, I have to give away one of my previously acquired pairs. I usually give them away to strangers, but every now and then I give a pair to a friend of mine in the hopes that we can trade again one day. The Gospel According to Larry inspired me to maintain this practice.

And now for the Pivot questionaire:

1) What is your favorite word? Crunchy.

2) What is your least favorite word? Moist.

3) What turns you on creatively, spiritually, emotionally? Sipping Lapsang Souchong tea while receiving a foot-rub, a shoulder massage and a manicure all at once. I love Lapsang Souchong tea. If Darjeeling is the champagne of teas, then Lapsang Souchong is its single-malt whisky.

4) What turns you off? The Giving Tree, Love You Forever, and The Rainbow Fish. If not for the tampering of Garrulous MacKenzie, these books would be cultural treasures.

5) What is your favorite curse word? “Pontius Pilate” and (Marcus Licinius) “Crassus.” I like my expletives to have historical context flavored by ancient Rome.

6) What sound or noise do you love? I'm a big fan of the timur komuz and the kyl kayak, two instruments used prolifically in folk music from Kyrgyzstan. I'd like to use these instruments in Tsibile Pupik.

7) What sound or noise do you hate? Garrulous MacKenzie's cackle. The laugh itself is nothing special, but whenever I hear it, I know that MacKenzie has triumphed in our latest literary skirmish. Crassus!

8) What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? I have always secretly believed that I should write and record a few pop-music songs. If Madonna can actually find a publisher for her children’s books, then surely I should be able to do the same with my pop-songs. My anti-war ditty, “Black, Black, Black is the Gold Oozing From My Pores” is just as pedantic, self-serving and mediocre as The English Roses, if not more so.

9) What profession would you like not to do? I would not like to be a school-teacher for the simple reason that I would not be able to keep my job. The first time someone in my class tried to bully someone else, I would knock the teeth out of the bully’s head, reshape his or her nose and banish the bully from the classroom via the window. In a school setting, there would be too much temptation toward violence on the job. Who needs it?

10) If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “Those are great shoes. Are they Manolo Blahniks? Purple is one of my favorite colors. May I try on your shoes? I just know we’re the same size. By the way, Garrulous MacKenzie has been held up in Customs and will not be joining us for Afternoon Tea today. However, Frida Kahlo, Aphra Behn and the Queen of Sheba can't wait to meet you.”

11 comments:

Lone Star Ma said...

Pontius Pilate is a pretty good cuss word. Guano's still my favorite, though.

HipWriterMama said...

You nailed this one. It's awesome!

Tony said...

Where can I get those shoes!

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

LSM: Guano is a good word. It's also an excellent fertilizer.:)

HWM: Thanks!

Tony: I want the shoes, too. And I'm normally not a heels woman.

Lady K said...

No offense, but I'm REALLY glad I was listening to some Pink Floyd when I read this post. xoxo!

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Lady K: Which song was it?

HipWriterMama said...

Tag. You're it!

Lady K said...

alkelda ~ it was "Fearless."

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Lady K: How appropriate! Now, can you get me the shoes?

jules said...

Now, that was fun to read!

And, oh, I'm so flattered that you copied our interview format.

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Jules: I learn from the best.