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Pamela: I came for college at American University and I actually left after graduation to volunteer for AmeriCorps in California. While California was dreamy, I knew I wasn’t done with DC yet – I love its combo of culture and nature, its Jewish community, its literary and music and food scenes. So I came back and got a stellar job at a nonprofit tech startup dedicated to children’s literacy. I’ve been here nine years now.
Pamela: On a weekend day, I start in my neighborhood. I like to walk around Capitol Hill and get a coffee from Peregrine, my signature bagel from Bullfrog Bagels (goat cheese, honey, avocado on bialey), and some fresh produce from Eastern Market. I’ll stop by my favorite vendors at the market – Ken and Kristi, two woodworkers who run Cedar Branch Crafts and whose art decorates my whole home – to see what new pieces they have that week.
After Eastern Market, I’d head to the National Arboretum to hammock and read or journal on the shore of the Anacostia. I might spend the rest of the afternoon hiking at Roosevelt Island or eating crabs from Fisherman’s Wharf with my roommates. In the evening, I’d grab drinks with a friend at a food hall; Union Market or The Roost are my favorites right now. At night, I’d help cook dinner at a friend’s house – ideally on their rooftop overlooking the city – and end the night playing skeeball at H Street Country Club and getting Jenni’s ice cream.
Pamela: I’ve always been drawn to writing about the specificity of place, particularly the mid-Atlantic where I grew up. I want to see my home state of Delaware and interfaith couples like my parents reflected in literature, so I write that literature myself.
I wrote my first story when I was 8 and my first book when I was 14, so it was never a question of becoming a writer, but instead a question of taking myself seriously as a writer. I studied literature and creative writing in college and was an editor and contributor for a literary magazine and an investigative magazine run by student media, and I got to interview the likes of Dr. Jane Goodall and Clyde Bellecourt (the co-founder of the American Indian Movement), so I took myself seriously as a writer in school.
After college though, unless you’re a graduate student in writing or you’re publishing your third novel, taking yourself seriously as a writer can be quite challenging. It means constantly putting yourself out there and constant rejection. You learn to develop thick skin, to seek out community. I’ve been in the same writing group and book club for over four years now. Taking writing classes at The Writer’s Center and getting my first piece published outside of college (a short story in Furious Gravity, a local anthology of DC women writers) helped me build out my literary community and take myself more seriously. Once I started doing that more, the world reflected that energy back to me: I’ve published four more pieces – poems and essays – this year and I’ve been invited to attend local readings with The Inner Loop. I don’t believe in asking my writing to make me money – I have a career for that – but I have learned to treat it as a second career that I have to invest in and give proper time and attention to.
Pamela: Words are art. Like any art, words can change the world and they can change ourselves. My favorite advice about writing is do not try to change the world; just try to tell the truth and let the readers do the rest. If you write well about a place or a person, it will find the readers who need to read it; it will find the corner of the world that needs to hear its story and discover its transformative power.
I love all writing. I write literary fiction, novels, stories, poems, essays; I was a college journalist too. I will devour anything interesting or beautifully written, including films and tv and music.
Pamela: Growing up, I said I always wanted to be read in a high school classroom. Thanks to being published on CommonLit, that dream came true for me by age 25. My other big dream is to publish novels. I’ve been working on my current novel for all of my 20s and it’s been a long labor of love and learning. My writing has grown along the way, which requires frequent revision of older chapters. But my current novel is a love letter to the mid-Atlantic, so I’m happy to be writing it.
Pamela: Something about Delaware and the Atlantic, I’m sure. Perhaps Where the Loblollies Grow.
Pamela: This is so hard! The most impactful books I’ve ever read were Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell and Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak as a child, Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro and The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver in high school, and Beloved by Toni Morrison as an adult. My favorite poets are Mary Oliver and Li-Young Lee; Rose by Li-Young Lee is the most beautiful book of poems I’ve ever read. When I read Rose, I told everyone “I think my life just changed.”
Pamela: Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson. This nonfiction book dives into the parallels between caste hierarchies constructed in America, India, and Nazi Germany. It is a must-read for activists and academics alike. There’s a reason Oprah called it her most important book club selection ever and sent it to over 500 CEOs and leaders in 2020.
Also The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman. It follows four Jewish women at the siege of Masada during the First Jewish-Roman War. It is witchy and magical and a well-researched peak into the mystical history of Judaism, particularly for Jewish women.
Pamela: I was heavily influenced by photojournalism growing up, which is why I wanted to become a photographer. I think a point-and-click Nikon was the first big purchase I ever made as a teenager, spending two years’ worth of babysitting and birthday money on it. When I turned 18 I bought myself a DSLR and the rest is history.
I enjoy concepts of focus: in photography, you need to choose a focal point. You can’t focus on everything, so what a photographer chooses to focus on is psychologically and creatively telling. Comparing the focal points two photographers will choose when capturing the same scene is fascinating.
These days, I’ve become a hobbyist videographer as well. Videography is an extension of photography, in that you’re capturing not only an image but a feeling. Photography and videography can be realist, but to me, they’re impressionist.
Pamela: Nothing beats Shabbat wine and candlelight among friends. And I love to take a walk to look at the moon. She’s a constant companion.
I also make a mean round of cocktails for my roommates!
Pamela: I played piano for 10 years! And I speak Italian (even though I’m not Italian).
Pamela: My best friend, Mac. To prepare for their conversion (and as a Jewish studies major in college) they dedicated more time to learning about Judaism and Jewish history than I ever did growing up. They’ve helped me stop taking my ancestry for granted and inspired me to embrace my Jewish roots as I got older.
Pamela: Publish a novel. Buy a camper van to explore America. Learn Hebrew. Live abroad again.
Pamela: I’m a huge hobbyist, so I’ve dabbled in so much over the years and could get better at all of it. I want to get better at pottery and wire-wrapping jewelry. I sold my first hand-made pendants this summer, which was thrilling.
Pamela: My writing mentor, Melissa Scholes Young, says it best: “When you don’t know, start.” Too often, we let perfect be the enemy of the good and never chase our dreams or even hobbies because we’re afraid of looking like a fool, wasting money and time, or not being the best at something. Letting go of being the best at something has opened so many doors to me.
Pamela: Writing letters to my future self and reading letters from my past self on Rosh Hashanah. And I like breaking the fast with friends at Shouk after Yom Kippur services at Sixth and I.
Pamela: If they had to be alive, it’d be my best friend, my mom, and Tiffany Haddish.
If it could be with anyone in history? Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Fighter Zivia Lubetkin, RBG, and my great-grandmother.
Pamela: everything feels a little more mystical and magical.
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