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Interview With Elana Wolff About Her Award-Winning Essay, “Paging Kafka’s Elegist”

elana wolffGuernica author Elana Wolff recently gave an interview with The New Quarterly about the inspiration behind her essay, “Paging Kafka’s Elegist”, which is this year’s winner of the Edna Staebler Personal Essay Contest. Susan Scott introduces the interview by stating “I describe the first-place essays as a gift. I say this less because our eclectic judges see the winners as stand-outs and more because of what such works embody – a voice, a drive, an excursion to a place we think we know”. She goes on to state, “discovery…is the genius of Elana Wolff”.

Elana gives the backstory behind the essay, stating “the essay started percolating in January of 2015, as a continuation of the Kafka-Langer project and the quest for ‘Kafka’s Elegist’ Georg Mordechai Langer”. This quest involved tracking down the apartment in Tel Aviv where Langer had lived for the last years of his life, during which time Elana’s book A Hunger Artist and Other Stories; Poems and Songs of Love received a second printing.

Elana also explains that her choice to write an essay has to do with how she was “looking at the lives and work of real people, seeking to assemble a true picture of what was and what happened from pieces of extant yet disparate, sometimes obscured, writing. A poem, even a suite of poems, could not contain the investigative threads. And investigation is not the work of poetry, nor is it the work of fiction. Fiction is fabrication”.

Besides naming other essayists that inspire her, Elana also describes the thorough revisions her essay went through, as well as a few other prose pieces on Kafka that she has written recently. These include “Kafka’s Death House”, which is published on The Writer’s Drawer, and “Trying to Find the Man in the Hat”.

Elana concludes the interview by stating, “the prize money is going toward a trip to Prague this November. David and I will be staying in the building that housed the Worker’s Accident Insurance Institute, where Kafka served for most of his working life as an insurance adjuster…The prize money is going toward new research, hopefully more writing”.

Elana Wolff is the author of A Hunger Artist and Other Stories; Poems and Songs of Love, a translation of writings by Franz Kafka and Georg Mordechai Langer. She has published four collections of poetry with Guernica Editions, including You Speak to Me in Trees, awarded the F.G. Bressani Prize for Poetry. She is also the author of Implicate Me, a collection of essays on contemporary poems, and co-editor with Julie Roorda of Poet to Poet: Poems written to poets and the stories that inspired them. A bilingual edition of her selected poems, Helleborus & Alchémille (Éditions du Noroît), was awarded the 2014 John Glassco Prize for Translation (translator: Stéphanie Roesler). Elana has taught English for Academic Purposes at York University in Toronto and at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She currently divides her professional time between writing, editing, and designing and facilitating therapeutic community art courses.

Posted in Awards, Contests, Fiction, Interviews, News.

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