Recent Reads: Grace Schulman’s First Loves and Other Adventures

Now that I’ve joined Goodreads, I’ve been chronicling most of my “recent reads” over there. Hence, today’s My Machberet post is actually a cross-posting of the write-up I gave earlier this month to Grace Schulman’s First Loves and Other Adventures, a recent release from the University of Michigan Press’s Poets on Poetry series.

Grace Schulman has to be one of the most generous writers out there. I had the privilege of meeting her for a profile I wrote not too long after I began working at The City University of New York, where she is a Distinguished Professor at Baruch College. I left our first meeting with an armful of books, and when we met again a few months back, she asked if she might send me her latest: First Loves and Other Adventures.

I probably can’t be completely unbiased, but having had the opportunity to get to know this author a bit, I find the opening and closing essays in this collection most striking. They are also, arguably, the most personal.

In the first, “Helen,” Schulman describes family history, the experience of growing up Jewish in New York while the Holocaust unfolded across the ocean, and the connections she sensed from an early age with her father’s sister, Helena (“my parents Anglicized it”), who died in the Warsaw ghetto uprising in 1943. The closing piece, “An Uncommon Friend,” recounts the relationship Schulman and her husband had with author Richard Yates. I was in the room at the 2008 conference in New York where Schulman presented this text on a panel honoring Yates’s life and work; I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to revisit it.

In the introduction to this volume, Schulman describes the essays within as being “of two kinds: first, about becoming a writer; second, about some of the books I love.” The book encompasses reflections on May Swenson, Marianne Moore, Octavio Paz, and others. And anything Schulman writes is worth reading. Still, the first and last essays are the ones I’ll remember the longest.