And To Think That I Read It On Mulberry Street

Dr Seuss Books

Yesterday, Dr. Seuss Enterprises (the organization in charge of the Dr. Seuss literary legacy) announced that it would discontinue the publication of six iconic children’s books, because “These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.” The six books are And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, If I Ran the Zoo, McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra!, Scrambled Eggs Super!, and The Cat’s Quizzer. The decision was made because Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel) had used racial stereotypes in these books, portraying Blacks and Asians in demeaning ways.

It has been so long since I’ve read any of these books that I don’t really remember much about the illustrations or racial attitudes. But then, I am neither Black nor Asian. I assume that if he had done the same to Jews, I would remember it clearly, because I am a Jew.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” ~ George Santayana

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How the World Food Programme Is Changing Lives

World Food Programme - picture of Villagers in Afghanistan gather food rations. (Photo credit: WFP/ Teresa Ha)
Villagers in Afghanistan gather food rations. (Photo credit: WFP/ Teresa Ha)
The United Nation’s World Food Programme (WFP) is the largest humanitarian organization in the world, known for rushing into danger to feed the hungry. I had the honor of interviewing Lara Prades, the head of the WFP’s geospatial unit, and learning how they manage to be seemingly everywhere at once. It would be an almost impossible management task if it weren’t for the GIS (geographical information system) that Prades runs.
“Saving lives is not enough. We also need to change lives.” ~ Lara Prades, head of WFP’s Geospatial Unit
Please click here to read the article that I wrote for MIT Technology Review.

After 11 Months, Am I Too Feral for Polite Society?

Bulldog by Sally Wiener GrottaThis past Friday, almost exactly eleven months from the day I locked the door of my home against the Covid-infected world, I received my first vaccine shot. I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it isn’t an oncoming train. I have started to imagine what it will be like to be out among other people. Yes, I will still have to be masked and appropriately social distanced. But with some people, like my sister once she has her vaccinations, I will actually be able to share a human touch and loving hugs.

The problem is… well, I’m worried. I think I may now be too feral for polite society.  All signs of civilization have been stripped from me. I’m a wild woman of nature, living out Read More

Guest Post: Facing the Beast by Peggy O’Connor

I received a number of private emails in response to my blog essay Aftermath, which I wrote the day after the January 6th invasion of our Capitol building. A number of my readers wrote about not only their own fears and reactions, but that my perspective had given them some hope. Of course, that pleased me. Still, I hadn’t thought of it as a hopeful essay; it was simply my way of trying to process the frightening events using the one tool I have… writing.

One email — from Peggy O’Connor — was different from the rest. She told a story from her childhood in the “genteel” South and in occupied Japan. It’s a tale of innocence told with love, and yet with a clear understanding also of her ignorance of the worlds in which she lived. Peggy’s email resonated with me, capturing a simple truth that we can take from January 6th. I’m honored that Peggy chose to share her story with me, and has now given me permission to share it with you. (Please read it to the end; it isn’t going to be what you expect.)

“I read your article. It is uplifting. You are describing a moment in time where we must face the beast, and in facing it, overcome our fear of responding to it. The scab has been ripped off, and the infection beneath is exposed for cleaning and healing with care and attention.

“I have a childhood tale, one which informed my world view as a Southerner.Read More

Robotic surgery gives doctors new savvy

Robot Assisted Surgery, article by Sally Wiener Grotta, image from MIT Technology Review
Image from MIT Technology Review
A few months ago, I had the privilege of interviewing innovators, forward thinkers and doctors on the cutting edge (pun intended) of robotic-assisted surgery (RAS). The result was my overview article that covered the current state of the art of RAS in hospitals, plus a look at the future when RAS will become far more common.
“Eventually, there will be a hierarchy of surgical care. Robots will be used for simple, repetitive surgeries. RAS medics will handle the common operations, in which inherent variability requires human judgment. And remote surgeon specialists will be called in for the more difficult, creative procedures.”
Please Click Here to read my article, published in MIT Technology Review.

Envisioning better health outcomes for all

Mapping covid-19 cases across Europe (source: MIT Technology Review)
Mapping covid-19 cases across Europe (source: MIT Technology Review)

I loved doing the interview and research for this piece. So meaningful. This kind of meaty feature piece is why I originally got into journalism. Okay, my name isn’t on the piece, but the information is out there now. That feels good. (Written for MIT Technology Review)

“…According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, compared to the general United States population, African Americans are 1.4 times more likely to contract the coronavirus, and 2.8 times more likely to die from covid-19. Similarly, Native Americans and Hispanics/Latinos are nearly twice as likely to be infected by coronavirus, and 2.5 to 2.8 times more likely to die from it.

“Underlying these statistics are significant structural, social, and spatial issues. But why is this? And how do we begin to quantify and address the nested problems of public health inequality?…”

A cool distribution system powered by a GIS (geographical information system) may be the answer.

Please Click Here to read the full article

New Year’s Newsletter: Reaching for Hope through Art in Difficult Times

Sally Wiener Grotta's January 2021 newsletter
Please click to read the full newsletter

Happy New Year and Welcome to the (soon-to-be, I hope) New Roaring Twenties

What a rollercoaster ride we’ve been on since my last new year’s newsletter. I hope you and yours are well, and finding reasons to smile despite the strange and difficult times we’re experiencing.

Since the initial March lockdown, I’ve been sheltering in place in my comfortable bunker (as I’ve come to call my home), alone with my dog Shayna. While I had some bad spells (who didn’t?), I managed to keep a somewhat even keel by choosing to treat the whole episode as an extended writing retreat. Up until last Wednesday, the words were flowing rather well, including making a decent dent into the first draft of a new novel Women of a New Moon.

Throughout my isolation, I often fantasized about what it will be like once I’m released. I imagined all of us being freed from fear by vaccinations, so that we can safely gather with (and hug!) family and friends, dance to live music, and mix with strangers in theaters, restaurants and art gallery openings. As I had written in a previous newsletter:

I crave the fellowship of artists, writers and all kinds of creative thinkers…. I need them almost as much as I need air and water and chocolate…. It helps me see beyond my here and now, and inspires me to reach deeper and wider in my own work.

It’s this craving that gave me hope. I was sure that others must Read More

Sally Wiener Grotta reads from her new novel “Women of a New Moon”

During this past November’s virtual Philcon, I went back and forth what piece of fiction I should read. For much of the past year, I’ve been pouring all my passion into a new mainstream novel Women of a New Moonand that’s what I really wanted to share with my friends and fans. However, Philcon is a science fiction conference, and I worried that my audience would expect me to read one of my recently published science fiction short stories or a new not-yet-published speculative novel. Uncertain what to do, I asked a number of people who had mentioned they’d be logging into my online reading, and they all wanted to hear Women of a New Moon, even though it is still in its first draft. Decision made.

Women of a New Moon centers on a woman’s Torah study group. We learn about the six modern women of the group – their personalities, histories, crises and story arcs – through the filter of their monthly discussions of women of the Bible (such as Eve & Lilith, Sarah & Hagar, Miriam, and so forth). At the beginning of the book, they are what I call “intimate strangers,” because they know each other only through frequent but superficial schmoozing at synagogue events. They meet once a month, taking turns hosting in their homes, and each chapter is from the host’s point of view as she leads the group for that month. I read portions of Chapter 2 in which Jen (a retired war correspondent and secular humanist) is leading a discussion of Sarah and Hagar.

Unfortunately, the recording of my reading failed. Again, I listened to my friends and fans, and a number who hadn’t been able to join me for my Philcon reading asked me to do another recording of it, and to let them know when it was posted. Of course — how could I resist? So, here it is.

Aftermath

"Old Glory" by Sally Wiener Grotta

Writing is how I process the world into story. When my fingers are on my keyboard, my brain accesses a deeper part of me where fictional characters live out their complex lives and whisper their tales to my subconscious. When I tap that area of my mind, I can create reason and beauty out of trauma, though I’m not always sure how that happens. That’s why one major driving force behind my work is that I write to try to understand what to me is unfathomable.

For instance, hate, cruelty and war might be human nature, but they don’t make sense. Why would any individual or group want to expend precious time and resources on something so self-destructive? Life is too short, too jam-packed with responsibilities, pleasures, needs, hopes, and perhaps, if you’re lucky and you work at it, love. And yet, people waste their lives hating, hurting and killing each other. Some even appear to get pleasure from acts of cruelty, I guess to prove that they have a modicum of power over another’s life. It boggles my mind, trying to understand why. The pain of it slices through to my inner self.

So, I write fiction, poems and essays to try to dig my way through my discomfort and confusion over what I’m told is simply how human beings are built. In my novels and short stories, I create characters I learn to love and, as part of the process of crafting a tale, Read More

Welcome to the (soon to be) New Roaring Twenties

Flapper dancing at 1920s party100 years ago, the world erupted into the mayhem and creative verve of The Roaring Twenties. Given the popularity of gangster and jazz movies, we’re all familiar with the frenzied world of 1920s wild parties and speakeasies. Liberated from the horrors of World War I and the terror of the Spanish flu pandemic, the world went crazy. The sexually charged sights and sounds of what F. Scott Fitzgerald called ‘The Jazz Age” were emblematic of a sense of pure abandon. Social relationships, personal constructs, public behavior and political philosophy became fair game, as people broke through at traditional boundaries and constraints.

The 1920s were also a time of great art adventures and experimentation that altered the nature of creativity not just Read More