Summer News

makeshift 15

Hi loveys.

I hope you’re having a great summer. I haven’t had time to share all my news of the past few months, so here it is!

First, I had a great review over at the radical, trans-positive feminist magazine Make/Shift by Allison McCarthy. You can find out a lot more about Make/Shift here, but they don’t put their articles online, so here’s a taste from the review: “Far from conventional and always insightful, Minkowitz sets herself apart from other memoirs through sharp language and a clear understanding of her family’s dynamics… I cheered for her triumphant reclamation of self.” Thanks, Allison McCarthy!

Second, here’s a guest post I did over at my publisher Riverdale Ave Books’ blog, on “Why Should Fantasy Writers Have All the Fun?” It’s about how you too can have enchanted dolls and child-eating witches in your memoir!

Third… want to take a free memoir writing workshop in September? I’m teaching one Saturday, September 13 at the Brooklyn Public Library, under the auspices of the New York Writers Workshop. 2 PM at the Windsor Terrace branch, 160 E. 5th Street near Fort Hamilton Parkway. We will explore ways to use emotion, the senses, critical thinking, and storytelling to write relatably about your life. For more information, contact

If you’re really interested in taking a memoir course in NY, I am then teaching an eight-week workshop in Brooklyn, on Tuesday evenings starting September 16 (7 to 9 PM). The class will focus on craft: extensive feedback in a supportive atmosphere. Small class size. Fee is $300. You can use the same email for more info :-)

Finally – live in the Bay Area? On October 30 I’m coming to SF to do a Growing Up Golem book event with Keshet (the organization for LGBT Jews), Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, and the James C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center of the San Francisco Public Library. What do golems have to do with growing up queer, Jewish, and physically abused? Get your Halloween groove on and find out! More later.

Be well – Donna

On Making People Into Things


Do you ever wonder why there are so many stories about things that want to be human (or real), but aren’t? Pinocchio, the Velveteen Rabbit, Data on Star Trek? Caliban in The Tempest, who to my mind IS human, but has been told so often he’s a monster that he believes it?

African-American slaves were told they weren’t persons, and Jews in the Nazi camps were told that they were “vermin.” My recent book, Growing Up Golem, is very much about this dynamic, and I spoke about this curious confluence of fantasy, bigotry, and the psychology of survivors of exploitation and abuse in a recent talk at the New York Society for Ethical Culture.

Ever wonder what golems and physical abuse have to do with Hegel, Marx,  robots and racism? I lay it all out here!  :-) Hope you enjoy.

The Queen’s Phallus


commanding woman

You can think of this as a prose poem, or a “lyric essay,” or whatever you like. It was just published by my friends at City Lit Rag.

I first heard the phrase “The Phallic Mother” in college, and it made my heart and liver turn over. Into my hifalutin lit-crit classes it brought the specter of my own scary mother, who in psychic terms possessed the largest phallus on earth when I was a little girl and well into my adulthood.

Yet I also really appreciated hearing the phrase, and felt grateful to the psychoanalytic writers who’d come up with it, because the words “phallic mother” gave voice to a reality all too frequently ignored in our overly-literal culture: mothers could be phallic, women could possess scary (and appealing) authority, and although our culture was sexist to the bone, that did not mean that individual women did not sometimes exert power in a traditionally masculine way over some men, women and children.

In recent years, though, a slightly different phrase has been — appropriately enough — delighting and consuming me. That phrase is The Queen’s Phallus, and I am so occupied with it because I now have a Queen whose phallus is giant, warm and kind as a summer day is long.

They say that bitterness is easier to write about than fulfillment, starving hunger is more beckoning to a song than being satisfied and given-to:

But I will say: Her scepter deep inside me is the sign and emblem of God’s Grace, the register of enjoyment, entry of the lost lamb in the fold, the salmon leaping in the icy jet, the sweet recorder playing in dark wood, the ear of corn resplendent in the cave.

With Fred Phelps For a Week


Photo: Jamie Leo

Yup, that’s me interviewing the frightening Fred Phelps for Poz magazine in 1994.

I spent a week with Phelps and his family in Topeka, Kansas,  speaking to them and eating cookies served by his wife.  I’ve never been more scared of violence  on one of my reporting trips. You can read my  contemporary account here.

Photo credit:  Jamie  Leo/Poz magazine

Costume (poem)

Here’s a little  poem:

hunting hat

I feel like a superhero in my
Eddie Bauer down coat with its ridged shoulders,
chest piece like a breastplate, protective gear
in my strategic outside pockets:
several Kleenex and a phone stylus.

Wearing my “duck hunting hat,”
flaps over my ears, houndstooth,
warm and waterproof, looking simultaneously
like Elmer Fudd and someone formidable.

Lilith and The Great Chicken Shawarma

shwarma JPEG

I had an emotional experience with some chicken shawarma recently. I’ve never had warm feelings for shawarma before – if you’re curious you can read my piece at Matthew Taub’s lovely new site Local Writeup.

I also had an extraordinarily sweet review this month in Lilith Magazine, which says, “Fierce imagination, fascinating … compulsively readable. Growing Up Golem contains all the power of her earlier work, but it is written without the cloak. Tills new and important ground. Demonstrates Minkowitz’s capacity for personal exposure and vulnerability.” I was thrilled. Thanks, Lilith! If you’re interested, you can read more here.

I was also delighted to get a Kirkus review which said, “Holds nothing back… the same brutal introspection and clever humor [as her first memoir, Ferocious Romance] , but this book is much more personal and sexually explicit … Minkowitz brings a defiant, playful energy to writing about her difficult and dark past. Intelligent but not for the prudish or fainthearted.”

And finally, here are some upcoming readings:

If you’re on Long Island next week, come hear me speak and read from the book at Temple Avodah in Oceanside on the South Shore, Monday, February 24 at 7:30 PM, at 3050 Oceanside Road. More info here.

If you want to find that Ivy League boyfriend or girlfriend, come to the NYC reading I’ll be doing in April with one other author and the filmmaker of “Pier Kids,” sponsored by the Princeton and Yale Gay and Lesbian Alumni Associations! $30 includes Chinese dinner, appetizers, and dessert. Cash bar. Wednesday, April 9, 6:30-9 PM, People Lounge, 163 Allen Street.  Reserve here.

I’ll be reading at this cool church called Not So Churchy and doing a short memoir writing workshop at the same time, on Monday, May 5 at 6:30 PM, 85 S. Oxford St. in Brooklyn. They apparently provide chocolate at every worship.

Thrilled that I’ll be speaking at the Sunday platform of the New York Society for Ethical Culture Sunday, June 15 at 11:15 AM. My subject: “On Turning People into Things.”

And for the really big news… drumroll… the first events on the West Coast for Growing Up Golem, will be 1) at Antioch University in LA on May 20 (details TBA), and 2) next October in the San Francisco Bay Area with the LGBT Jewish organization Keshet, the Hormel Center at the San Francisco Public Library, Congregation Sha’ar Zahav and several other groups. Watch this space for info. :-)

On Luxury Food

cavia-bob-ricard-soho-londonThis is part of a series I am beginning to write on foodie culture, and food and class. You can find the rest of this essay below at Local Write Up (see link):

When I was a child, I had my first bit of education about luxury when I found myself drawn again and again to the same two-page spread of my mother’s New York Times Cookbook, which featured no recipe whatsoever, just a photo and description of the best way to serve caviar.

It was Craig Claiborne’s famous cookbook, and we kept a copy not to cook, but to stare at and get ennobled by through osmosis, by merely perusing the veloutés, the lobster a l’ Americaine, the poached chicken in aspic. Or perhaps my mother actually intended to try and cook some of the things. I do not think she ever made more than one or two of them.

My mother cooked about once every two weeks or so, when she was home from her gigs teaching college philosophy courses at night, and the rest of the time my sisters and I ate cold cuts from the supermarket, scrambled eggs, Campbell’s tomato rice soup, and bread.

My father, it’s important to say, didn’t cook, either, although he did show an example of astonishing gusto in his food by constructing lipsmackingly elaborate sandwiches for himself, not fancy but delicious-looking: roast beef with piles of tomatoes, cheddar cheese, pickles, olives, onion. Mayo on one side, mustard on the other; he never made any sandwiches for me.

My mother, when she did cook, usually made pot roast: flanken, as we called it, with potatoes, carrots, onions, in a brown gravy. It was sustaining, occasionally even tasty, but I wanted more: wanted something different every time, wanted a parent who would cook for me every night, wanted things in different colors, different textures, wanted something expensive, elaborate, that would cram pleasure into the back of my throat, ravish my teeth, and thrust some unimaginable delight behind my eyeballs.

Because nobody had taught me how to cook and almost nobody used the stove in our house, I assumed that any kind of cooking would be as far beyond my ken as piloting a spacecraft. My mother had brought us up with the idea that if we didn’t start out excellent at something, there was almost no chance we’d ever be able to become good at it over time. She wanted us to stick with what we were already good at. The New York Times Cookbook, therefore, was a rather frightening read. But I could look with considerably more ease on my two favorite pages, which I now know almost by heart, over 30 years later. It was there that that gouty gay alcoholic, Craig Claiborne, pronounced the following round and fizzy words: “Appetizers or hors d’oeuvres are the frivolities of a meal, and, like champagne, they are capable of setting a mood. There are several that are almost guaranteed to give a feeling of elegance and richness. These are fresh caviar, genuine foie gras, cold lobster, smoked salmon and thin slices of fine ham such as that of Paris, Parma, Westphalia or Bayonne.”

To read more, click here.

Blonde Jews Unite

Photo: John Morgan

Photo: John Morgan

I just wanted to update you about some lovely stuff that has been going on:

The Collagist published  an excerpt from  Growing  Up Golem about my  arriving at the Village Voice as a 22-year-old newbie. It starts like this:

“I have always understood that I had to use special means to get ahead. I had special deficits, I knew — the very opposite of superpowers.  Don’t ever put me near a flame, because I’d go up like a straw doll soaked in kerosene;  don’t tap me even lightly on a special panel in the middle of my back, because that would turn me off until you chose to turn me on again.  I had to lie as hard as I could so that no one ever found out.

So when I first came down to  try my luck the Village Voice at twenty-two, I took over one of the two “free” computers intended for all freelancers, seized it as my own.  I’d put my files and my coffee cup there, my own guerrilla seizure just like Fidel or Che.   Everything I did felt like a revolutionary appropriation to me then, or some sort of theft.   I was the best freeloader in Brooklyn.  I would sponge $20 from a friend with no intention of paying it back ($20 in Eighties dollars, that is), or bagels and hummus and salad from the buffet of a conference I was not attending.  I used my sister Josie’s credit card, with her permission but no intention of paying her back on time.  Since she made more money than me, I thought it was fine to make her lay it out until I paid her.  If you want to know my mindset, think of my kinsman the Gingerbread Man, running and successfully getting away from all those sets of lips and teeth.”

To read more, click here.

Then Tablet, the Jewish literary magazine,  published a different excerpt that included my mother making me dress up like Haman for Purim and my father  treating me like a variety of sports equipment.  There is a lovely golem-and-child illustration by Emily North.  You can read the excerpt here.

Finally, here is a lovely review in  Gay City News that refers to my “smiling  goy-boy face.”   Well, I am no “goy-boy,”  but I certainly am a blonde.

Memoir Writing Workshop in Brooklyn

Windsor firehouse

Hi you all. Happy New Year!

I just wanted to let folks know that my next memoir writing class in Brooklyn starts Wednesday January 15, and goes through Wednesday March 5 (eight weeks).

If you’re interested, it meets from 7 to 9 PM in Windsor Terrace, and the fee is $300.

This workshop focuses on craft – particularly on using emotion, sensory details, storytelling and imagination to construct a profound and relatable piece of personal writing. Students will get frequent feedback in a supportive atmosphere. The number of participants is limited to eight. Students at all levels are welcome.

The class location is the border of Windsor Terrace and Kensington (near the Fort Hamilton Parkway F and G train stops, close to Park Slope).

If you’re interested, just let me know by sending an e-mail to growingupgolem AT

And here’s some background on me and my my teaching history:

Donna Minkowitz has taught memoir writing and creative nonfiction since 1998, at the 92nd Street Y, The Kitchen, the World Fellowship Center, and the In Our Own Write program of the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center, as well as independently. She won a Lambda Literary Award for her memoir Ferocious Romance, which was also shortlisted for the Quality Paperback Book Club’s New Visions Award “for the most promising and distinctive work by a new author.” A columnist for eight years at The Village Voice, she has also written for The New York Times Book Review, Salon, New York magazine, Ms. and The Nation. She received a 2004 writer’s residency from Ledig House and has appeared on The Charlie Rose Show and numerous NPR segments. Her second memoir, Growing Up Golem, has just been released by Magnus Books.

Many thanks! Donna

Lambda Literary & Me


So excited to have an interview with me today be the main article in the Lambda Literary Review.

This is how Sarah Burghauser’s piece begins:

“This past October, former Village Voice contributor and activist journalist Donna Minkowitz released her hot-blooded new memoir, Growing Up Golem about her struggle with the inhibitive physical condition, RSI, her injurious family history, and the intimacy of abuse.

In an email exchange with the Lambda Literary award winner, Donna discussed the roles of fantasy, identity, and writing sex in Growing Up Golem.

Q: I’d like to start with a quote from your book: “I have never felt particularly Jewish or lesbian. I identify much more, I say, as a sort of sexy, holy kid on a motorcycle. The kid may be male. He’s an effeminate boy with long hair. I think he has pork remnants on his fingers.” When I read these lines I began to wonder if you consider your book to be more of a queer memoir? A Jewish memoir? A disability memoir? Or something else entirely? In other words, is there a particular part of your story that you see as the northern star? A theme more naturally fertile or interesting to you as a writer?

A: The reader should bear in mind that I’m saying these words at a very particular moment in the book; this is not always how I feel. (In the book, I’m saying those words as a member of a panel on “Jewish Lesbian Writers,” and of course I immediately feel the ways I don’t fit in that box.) Actually, I find I’m feeling both more “Jewish” (in terms of culture, not religion) and more “lesbian” as I get older. As to the rest of your question, the book is all of them and more! It’s also a memoir mixed with Tolkien-style fantasy. It’s impossible to separate the different aspects of it…. Which is appropriate, because it’s a book about becoming whole.”

For more of the interview, read here.