Our long gravel drive was puddled and muddy, so there was no way the huge semi carrying my new book, Miriam’s Well: A Modern Day Exodus, could slip-slide to our house without asking for trouble, plus there’s the matter of the power lines it would rip through in the journey. So between ordering bierocks at Free State Brewery with Daniel and going home, we decided to meet the driver in an alley behind a local grocery store.
From there, it was a matter of a whole lot of weight lifting: 200 books x 575 pages each + the weight of boxes and packing materials makes for strong arms, and thank heavens, I had Daniel’s along with mine helping load 20 boxes into the back of the peanut-butter-colored CRV, then unload them onto the kitchen table, then unearth all the books, flatten all the boxes, and behold the great amount of Miriams. Then we noticed the table legs were starting to wobble, and given the weight of the Exodus, who could blame it? When the cat insisted on inspecting and climbing the piles, although she’s only 5 pounds, we started to worry. I’ve seen small kittens knock over big wood dressers before by how much force they exert from their back legs when they jump. We had to quickly haul vast armfuls of books to the shelves where I keep my inventory.
Now it’s time to pack and ship these babies. But first this moment: an overcast next morning, the branches in the distance only moving slightly in pale wind, the promise of spring on the wing, and just in time for Passover, a holiday celebrating the weight of freedom and lightness of liberation, my novel, 14 years in the making, ready to start its journey out into the world.
Okay, a confession: I wander through my days with great anticipation for the next meal. Even if it’s just a hot cup of strong tea and bowl of brown rice cereal, envisioning what I get to eat next is a great motivator for getting out of bed in the morning and getting off the computer in the evening. I just love food and always have, and eating is surely one of the most fun things a person can do sitting down.
No surprise that food looms large in all my memoirs and novels, whether it’s the hunt for the best fried chicken in Kansas (in the memoir, Poem on the Range), or a vivid description of the magical rotating dessert case in a New Jersey diner (in
About a month before the manuscript was to mosey on over to my publisher, I couldn’t sleep at night because the idea of including recipes kept waking me up. Luckily, Steve Semken, owner of Ice Cube Press, said yes, and then so did some marvelous food geniuses in our community: Nancy O’Connor, educator director of our long-standing food co-op, The Merc, and author ofThe Rolling Prairie Cookbook; Jayni and Frank Carey, who have gathered and created many quintessential Midwestern recipes, particularly in The New Kansas Cookbook;Janet Majure, not only my weight-lifting coach, but a cookbook author with an eye for good dishes; and Lauren Pacheco, Kris Hermanson, and owner of the Ladybird Diner, Meg Heriford, who happens to make some of the greatest pie in the cosmos.
Close to 40 pages of recipes later, the cooking and baking in Miriam’s 40-plus-year journey through America becomes recipes for some of our journeys too. Here’s a sneak preview of two recipes, each named for a character in the book: Batty is Miriam’s mother, originally named Matilda, nicknamed Matty, and then called Batty for reasons you’ll see in the novel. The Acadian Dream Inn is a resort on — where else? — Mount Desert Island of Maine where Miriam and her sister-in-law Cindy commandeered the kitchen to the delight of guests.
Batty learned this recipe from her parental grandmother, who died before Miriam was born. It was a dish the whole family, especially Miriam, loved, so Batty made it often. The smell of this baking filled the kitchen with such warmth and comfort that Batty was drawn to keep making on a regular basis long after she moved to the Southwest, and she even brought it to various potlucks, where others fell in love with the dish.
1 large green cabbage
1 lb ground beef
1 cup uncooked rice
1 large onion chopped into large slices
2 large cans stewed whole tomatoes
1 cup water
1/8 cup lemon juice
1/8 cup honey
1/2 cup golden raisins (optional but highly recommended!)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Boil or steam cabbage until soft enough to roll. While the cabbage is boiling, combine the rice and beef, and season with salt and pepper as desired. Lay out cabbage leaves, and roll in the meat/rice mixture, placing the meat at one end, rolling, then tucking in the sides. Place seam side down in casserole dish. For the sauce, brown chopped onions in pot until softened, add in stewed tomatoes and water, and mix well. Coat the bottom of a casserole pan with sauce mixture, place the cabbage rolls in, seam side down, and add in the rest of the sauce and water. Cover tightly with lid or foil. Bake for approximately three-four hours until done to your desire Add in lemon juice and honey and raisins in last half hour of cooking. Note: this dish can also be prepared in a crockpot.
Makes 6 servings.
Recipe by Lauren Pacheco, based on a recipe from Caryn and Lauren’s grandmother, Molly Prusak.
The Acadian Dream Inn’s Chocolate Zucchini Cake
Miriam and Cindy together created this recipe one year at the inn when they had too much zucchini. It turns out that the zucchini made for an especially rich, even sinful-tasting, cake that everyone loved so much that they kept it on the menu until the inn went under. Both Miriam and Cindy continue to make this on a regular basis just because.
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups unsifted, all-purpose flour
1/4 cup dark cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups zucchini, finely shredded
1 (10-ounce) bag dark chocolate chips, divided
Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.
Place the butter, oil, and sugar in a large mixing bowl, and beat with an electric mixer until well blended. Beat in the eggs, vanilla extract, and buttermilk. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, dark cocoa, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the batter, and blend until well combined. Stir the shredded zucchini, and half of the dark chocolate chips (5 ounces) into the batter. Spoon the batter into a greased and floured 13” x 9” baking dish. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Transfer the cake from the oven to a wire baking rack and, while still hot, sprinkle the remaining chocolate chips over the top. Let them melt and spread evenly over the cake. Variation: dark chocolate frosting can be substituted for the chocolate chip topping.
12 to 16 servings
Recipe by Linda Wilson, from Jayni and Frank Carey’s The New Kansas Cookbook
What to call a fictional women’s collective running a potato farm in Moab, Utah in my novel Miriam’s Well? What else but “Mrs. Potato Head” (yes, the Mrs. instead of Ms. is an ironic touch, which fits the women’s sense of humor). Likewise, when naming a L.A. non-profit organization that trains inner-city teens to grow and cook their own food, Miyako the cat and I came up with the name “Eat the Earth.” Because this novel retells a biblical story, that of the Exodus but from Miriam’s point-of-view and set in Contemporary America, I named a North Carolina ecovillage “Garden of Eden” and a utopian Idaho community “New Egypt.”
Such is the thrill of writing fiction: you get to make up all kinds of stuff, and name towns, organizations, and projects, not to mention characters, which is a little like naming our children. Sometimes the name came to me easily, and sometimes in a dream, glimpse, or great suggestion from a pal. Of course, there were also many real places, plucked from travel guides and web searches, because of their names, such as Maine’s Mount Desert Island where I placed the made-up Acadian Dream Inn, and Idaho’s East Hope, sporting a fictional restaurant with the slogan, “Eat and get out!” I even got to dream up an arts parade to benefit a San Francisco hospice at the height of the AIDS crisis, titled “Soul Train,” and stealing heavily from my own experience of once organizing an arts parade in Lawrence which also featured marching existentialists who regularly called out questions like, “What about the children?” and “What does it all mean?”
Along with this, since the book has 35 pages of recipes, I got to make up meals, then track down recipes from wonderful cooks and bakers I know (thanks so much to Nancy O’Connor, Jayni and Frank Carey, Meg Heriford, Kris Hermanson, Lauren Pacheco, and Janet Majure) or write out my own made-up recipes. Of course, this entailed eating real food from fictional impulses, but that’s all for the good.
Now that the book is about to go the printer so it can mosey on out at the end of March, I’m doing another kind of making-stuff-up-as-I-go, organizing readings and workshops in various states and states of mind. Although we live in a time when the real is seemingly far weirder than fiction, it’s nice to know there’s ways to immerse ourselves in fiction that I hope brings new slants of light on more universal truths.
You can see a short video about the book at my Indiegogo page, another way to make things up by selling books in advance to help fund the book tour, right here.
In this modern day retelling of the Exodus, Miriam wanders the political and spiritual desert of a changing America, torn between her roots as the Jewish daughter of a Black father and white mother, her yearning for home, and her brothers Aaron and Moses. Beginning in the middle of the 1965 New York City blackout, when stuck in the pitch-black subway somewhere in the East River, Miriam's family encounters a mysterious rabbi, who persuades the family to go to Israel where the family is caught in the 6-Day War. The losses from the war break apart the family, scattering Moses to western Kansas to live with evangelical Christians, Aaron to New York City to practice corporate law, and Miriam all over America. An astonishing cook and singer, Miriam has a knack for showing up to feed and help people at at landmark events, including People's Park during the Summer of Love, the Wounded Knee encampment in South Dakota, the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco, the Oklahoma City terrorist attack, 9/11, and Hurricane Katrina. As she seeks the promised land, she shows her people, and eventually herself, how to turn the chaos and despair of our times into music, meals, and miracles.
The novel also includes over 35 pages of real recipes from the fictional cooking and baking Miriam does throughout the book, including delicious dishes from Nancy O'Connor's The Rolling Prairie Cookbook, Jayni and Frank Carey's The New Kansas Cookbook, Janet Majure's Recipes Worth Sharing, and Meg Heriford of the Ladybird Cafe.
Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg's retelling of Exodus is a sprawling tapestry, woven of all the threads of a modern-day Miriam's ancestors, and her own present and future. From the Badagry Point of No Return and a sukkah in the Sinai Desert to a series of camps, communes, and cafes all across America, Miriam's Well delves into the mystery of how we find our place in the world, within our families, even within ourselves. ~ Bryn Greenwood, New York Times bestselling author of All the Ugly and Wonderful Things
I fell in love with Miriam’s wisdom and her sweet engagements with the people she meets along her lush and vibrant travels. I was plunged to the depths of her nightmares, soared with her song, and emerged blessed to have made the journey with her. Miriam’s Well is the latest terrific book by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg. ~ Jocelyn Cullity, author of Amah & the Silk-Winged Pigeons
Miriam’s Well is truly a hearty feast, and a song of life’s bounty, of its “fragile miracle,” of its sorrows and its cycling, its joy, its mystery, its sorrows, its journeying. The vibrantly moving and compelling storytelling is immediate, intimate, and resounding; bringing us into a complex weaving of tales, told and untold, from the Biblical epic to the painful legacy of United States, which frame the story of one brave woman with an inexhaustible well of caring. Daughter, sister, lover, neighbor, friend, mother, Miriam is one extraordinary ordinary woman whose life is emblematic of our absolutely interdependent web of relationships, physical and metaphysical, over the seasons of a lifetime and the histories of our own time. In Mirriam-Goldberg’s rendering of the web of story that is Miriam’s, Aaron’s, Joseph’s, Moses’, and our own, we are brought into the gift of tenderness and compassion in heartening human response to our historical conundrums. The work is big hearted, embracing, and wonderfully embodies love’s plenty and the power and the beauty of the story, the song, the telling, to remember and transform us. ~ Gale Jackson, author of Put Your Hands on Your Hips and Act Like a Woman: Song, Dance, Black History and Poetics in Performance
Miriam’s Well is a page-turner that gently pulls the reader into the heroine’s quest while also chronicling the country’s cultural revolutions, gastronomic recipes, political causes, women’s communes, spirituality, the AIDS crisis, Oklahoma and Twin Tower terrorist attacks. A compelling writer, Mirriam-Goldberg’s Miriam’s Well captures a quintessential American story, its multitude of nations, of immigrants and indigenes, in the quest towards a meaningful national identity. ~ Omofolabo Ajayi-Soyinka, Professor of Theatre, and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, University of Kansas
This startlingly insightful and quietly confrontational novel by poet Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg courageously inserts the biblical prophet Miriam into many of the most daunting and provocative ethical conflicts since the early 60's civil rights revolution, as though we are Israel after the Exodus from slavery and before the Promised Land. Mirriam-Goldberg’s story calls on readers to consider "Have I done enough?" and "What is it that the Lord requires of you?" A surprising page turner featuring multiple plot twists and turns, the moral challenges and clarity deserve more than attention, they demand debate. Do yourself a favor and share it with friends. ~ Rabbi Mark H. Levin, author of Praying the Bible
Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg brings back the charged days of the 1970's revolutions and their aftermath in the decades to come in her novel Miriam's Well. For those of us who lived through those times, the book is a reminder of their importance.” ~ Thomas Pecore Weso, author of Good Seeds: A Menominee Indian Food Memoir.
With this novel, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg has extended her considerable poetic talents to the narrative form, giving us sustenance for the body (her character's recipes) as well as inspiration for the spirit and the mind. A masterful adaptation of Biblical wisdom to the challenges of the modern age, entertaining while informing all along the way. And the storyline provides a marvelous overview of the cultural inflection points in 20th century American history along with an unforgettable character experiencing them. This is one not to be missed! ~ Mark Scheel, author of A Backward View: Stories and Poems
Here's the list in progress of events that will take place over the 18 months of the book tour. Please visit my events page for details. All events are open to the public. Want me to come to your community?Please contact me here.
July 8: Prairie Village, Kansas - Miriam's Well Reading & Brunch: Cafe Ohev at Temple Ohev Shalom, 5711 W. 75th St., Prairie Village, KS 66208. Brunch and a reading. More here.
July 13: Minneapolis, Minnesota - Miriam's Well Reading and Party: 7 p.m., Mojo Coffee Gallery -2205 California St., Minneapolis, MN 5541. Reading with delectable treats made from the novel.
Aug. 3: Lincoln, Nebraska - Miriam's Well Reading and Reception: 5:30 p.m. at the Burkholder Project, 719 P Street Haymarket District, Lincoln -- part of First Fridays.
Sept. 13: Topeka, Kansas - Visiting Writer & Miriam's Well Reading at Washburn University. Details tba.
Sept. 20: Atchison, Kansas - Visiting Writer & Miriam's Well Reading at Benedictine College. Details tbs.
Sept. 27: Basehor, Kansas - Miriam's Well Reading and Dinner Featuring Recipes from the Book: 6:30 p.m., Basehor Community Library, 1400 158th St., Basehor, KS.
Oct. 3: Kansas City - Miriam's Well KC Launch at Function Junction: 5-8 p.m. featuring short readings from the novel at 5:30, 6:30, and 7:30. The event features Susan Hancock singing some of the songs Miriam sings and friends of Function Junction baking and cookies some of the recipes from the novel, plus there'll be wine and a 10% discount on Function Junction goods and Caryn's books.
Oct. 10: Burlington, Vermont - Miriam's Well Reading & Writing Midrash Workshop: 7 p.m., Congregation Ruach Hamaqom, a renewal movement synagogue, 168 Archibald St., Burlington.
Oct. 11: Montpelier, Vermont - Miriam's Well Reading: 7 p.m., Kellogg Hubbard Library, 135 Main St., Montpelier, VT. Sponsored by the library, Temple Beth Jacob, and Bear Pond Books.
Oct. 21: Lawrence, Kansas - Writing Jewish Symposium: Sponsored by Jewish Studies at the University of Kansas, Lawrence Jewish Community Congregation, 917 Highland, Lawrence, KS. part of a day-long symposium featuring multiple speakers and recipes from Miriam's Well.More here.
Oct. 23: Kansas City, MO - Read Local at the Plaza Library: 6:30 p.m. 4801 Main St., KCMO - reading and discussion of Miriam's Well.
Oct. 27: Madison, Wisconsin - Miriam's Well Reading & Havdalah Service: 7:30 p.m., Beth Israel Center, 1406 Mound St., Madison, WI. Please join us for a reading from Miriam's Well followed by a short Havdalah service (to welcome in the new week) and reception. More here.
Nov. 15: Lawrence, Kansas -- Special Event: Osher Institute, University of Kansas: 7 p.m.: Sponsored by the Osher Institute, a reading, discussion, and reception featuring recipes from the book.
April 28: Lawrence, Kansas -- Book Launch sponsored by the Lawrence Jewish Community Congregation, Lawrence Public Library, The Merc, and the Raven Bookstore.
For Book Clubs
Would your book club like to read Miriam's Well? If so, just have your club buy six or more books (free shipping!), and Caryn will visit your club via video or phone conferencing or, if you're near where she is, in person. contact Caryn here.
Edited by Roy J. Beckemeyer and Caryn Mirriam-Golberg. Published by Little Balkans Press, 2017. Available at Little Balkans Review, and at Amazon
Explore this collection of Kansas as a place, state of mind, dream and reality, and center of the heartland. In over 230 pages of poetry, this collection brings to readers the best from the collectively edited website, 150 Kansas Poems.
Strongly anchored by wonderful and memorable poems from veteran poets Kevin Rabas, Frank Higgins, Stephen Hind, Laura Lee Washburn, and Myrne Roe (“Udall, Kansas” is a standout here), this anthology shows us the wide range of talent and sensibility of poets currently writing in Kansas. ~ Jeff Worley, author of Driving Late to the Party: The Kansas Poems
I've been gone from Kansas for nearly 30 years but reading Kansas, Time & Place: An Anthology of Heartland Poetry, returned me quite viscerally to a place I once called home: the seasons, the landscape, the night sky and persistent wind and punishing weather, but more than that, the people, the voices of heartbreak, of struggle, of nostalgia, of mystery. “I've always felt that/ late at night in the bed of the truck,/ in a Kansas field: we were/ at the center of the universe.” Throughout these poems run the appreciation of silence, reverence for what outsiders perceive as “nothingness,” and the timelessness of prairie life, its ancient fossils found alongside abandoned demolition derby cars and plastic cups. Here, “Nothing is lost, but so many things have to be found.” Memory is a powerful force in Kansas. In Kansas, there is always another story to tell. ~ Anita Skeen, author of The Unauthorized Audubon
We nominatee the following six poems for consideration for 2018 Pushcart Prize awards:
"Phone Call from a Movie Set Somewhere in Kansas," by Pat Daneman
"Good Housekeeping," by Melissa Fite Johnson
"Bright River," by Stephen Meats
" I Try to Write It for You in My Head," by Julie Ramon
"How It Is," by Wyatt Townley
"After a Snowless Winter," by Patricia Traxler
My car’s radiator broken, the engine overheat light on,
we pull off the road and look at the ocean,
two young Kansans on vacation, nearly to New Orleans.
Bea says, “Look at those birds,” and our eyes swift
to the grey-tipped terns, their wings lazy Vs,
they drift on the winds above the white-capped sea.
They float, and our hands come together, clasp,
as if taken together by wind, and our troubles dissolve,
like sugar into water, and I tell Bea, if the radiator
catches on fire, I’ll take our patch-work quilt, douse
it in our jug of water, smother, and, like that,
the fire of our lips is doused with a kiss.
~ Kevin Rabas, 2017-19 Kansas Poet Laureate
An Introduction: What is Time + Place?
For many years, I thought I was mostly writing poems about place. As a Brooklyn-born, New Jersey-raised Kansan, I've been drawn all my life to the talismans that convey sense of place, from the Maple tree outside the Brooklyn triplex where I learned to play “Red Light, Green Light, 123,” to the vast brome field morphing into native prairie outside my window now, where I live just south of the Wakarusa River.
Yet in recent years, looking at the poems I love by other writers and what I'm drawn to write, I see how much there is to say about time, which seems to me more like a vertical sense of what seems like horizontal views of place. We live in time, or as poet Stanley Kunitz writes in his poem, “The Layers," “Live in the layers,/ not on the litter.” In a sense, I think we're like trees, the heart wood our birth, and each year adding new ring of experiences, perceptions, realizations, losses, and loves.
But trees are rooted in real ground, and place also holds within it the seeds and signs of time: we can sometimes find remnant of shark's teeth on the high plains, reminding us of the inland ocean that once whipped up its own wild weather in this part of the world. The stars—burning and burning out in the ultimate infinity of space—might seem to be on an even playing field, but they bring us light that both as old as 200 million years and, in the case of our sun, as young as 8 minutes old. Likewise, our ways of inhabiting the spaces and places of our days and nights are composed of insights, wounds, memories, joys, and questions from the first time we tasted dirt as a toddler to yesterday's glimpse of the blazing orange around the setting sun.
This anthology, lovingly edited by Roy Beckemeyer, explores who we are from the angles of history, geography, personal and community stories, traditions and innovations, and the spirit of life from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
We can best find the poetic at the core of our lives through community, and so I'm deeply grateful to all the guest editors who brought poets and their poems to the three years of Kansas Time + Place: Roy J. Beckemeyer, James Benger, Dan Bentley, Annette Hope Billings, Maril Crabtree, Pat Daneman, Dennis Etzel, Jr., Jose Faus, Kat Greene, Melissa Fite Johnson, Kelly W. Johnston, William J. Karnowski, Denise Low, Lori Baker Martin, Eric McHenry, Stephen Meats, Ronda Miller, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Al Ortolani, Kevin Rabas, Thomas Reynolds, Tyler Sheldon, William Sheldon, Cody Shrum, Ramona Vreeland, Diane Wahto, Laura Lee Washburn, Israel Wasserstein.
Many thanks to Roy for his insightful and caring editing and book and cover design, Stephen Locke for the very time+place cover photo, and Little Balkans Press for bringing this book to life.
Dear reader, I hope this book will give you a wider perspective on both your sense of place and time, and through that perspective, deeper and more enduring vision of the possibilities, even miraculous ones, for your lives and for Kansas as its own state of mind as well as a state of surprises over miles and minutes.