Saturday, October 22, 2005

Interview with Judah LeBlang: A Storyteller with a Universal Tale to Tell.

Judah LeBlang is a writer, teacher, storyteller, and a former Somerville resident. In fact he used to have a column with that “other” paper in out fair burg. His stories have been published in “Northern Ohio Live Magazine,” and have been featured on radio. His most recent CD of stories is “Snapshots,” that takes place in his native Cleveland Ohio, and the Boston area where he now resides. His stories explore universal themes: the meaning of names, the trails and travails of being a Jewish gay man, and his mercurial love affair with the Cleveland Indians. He currently works at Lesley University and performs in the area.

Doug Holder: Why have you chosen to work in the medium of storytelling as opposed to poetry?

Judah LeBlang: I don’t differentiate from being a writer and being a storyteller. I think writing, the writing I like, tells a story, has a lot of sensory images and details. It also has a strong sense of place. I have written short fiction that takes place in Cleveland. I feel like when I am thinking of specifics from my life that connect with other people, then I am writing well. I feel that the memoir and the personal essay have the strongest voice. I usually talk about something I experienced, but it usually is something other people can relate to. Even if you are not a Cleveland Indian fan, as a Red Sox fan you know what it is like to suffer. One of the ideas that interests me is the idea that we all have multiple identities. I carry the identity of a Midwesterner even though I have lived here for eighteen years. I have other identities as well. Everyone has a mix. This all informs our voice.

Doug Holder: You do have a good voice. Have you been told this?

Judah LeBlang: I have been told that I have a good voice for radio. Better than being told you have a good face for radio. I have been working on getting some pieces on NPR. There is something to be said about a distinctive voice, and having something to say.

Doug Holder: Most of your stories are about your life. What makes you interesting?

Judah LeBlang: The feedback I am getting from my readings is that people are relating to my specifics. If I was just getting up there and venting about my life, I don’t think that would be interesting. To me great writing is about specifics.

Doug Holder: You talk a lot about getting older in your work.

Judah LeBlang: In my CD “Finding My Place,” I talk about my last name ’Le Blang.” In the old country it means “live long.” It is a little bit of a joke... My father died at 61. Seeing what my father went through with his heart condition I know there are no guarantees. As I grow older I become aware of the preciousness of time, and I want to use it. For me, the writing and storytelling are ways to leave something behind, and impact some people. I think that is a human desire. I think we are wired for storytelling. I want to touch some people through this life.

Doug Holder: Why did you change your name from Bruce to Judah?

Judah LeBlang: Bruce is a Scottish name and there is no Scottish blood in my family. It was an interesting process for me. “Bruce,” carried the story that I carried for 40 plus years, and “Judah,” felt to me like a marker. I didn’t run into a lot of resistance. It wasn’t an intellectual decision, it came from my gut. I feel the name suits me more.

Doug Holder: You had a lot of transitions in your life. You left a good job at Boston University, you left your hometown of Cleveland. Were these transition worthwhile?

Judah LeBlang: When I was in Ohio, I was working in Columbus at the Ohio School for the Deaf. If I knew how hard it would be to adjust to Boston ( it took me 10 years), I might not have had the gumption to do it. But now I have a good life here. I probably wouldn’t be the person I am now if I hadn’t made the move.

When I was at Boston University I was teaching, and I was a career counselor. When I left I spent a year working at a Yoga center. It wasn’t a vacation--it was hard--but I learned a lot. It gave me a broader frame of reference. As you get older you have more material to work with. Up until the time I was 35, other than being gay, I had lived a fairly conventional life. I didn’t realize how many choices were out there. After living “outside of the box,’ my frame of reference became broader. This has helped my writing life. Looking back I am glad I did it. At the time I wasn’t so sure.

Doug Holder: Is it hard to keep an audience’s attention?

Judah LeBlang: I don’t have a lot of formal training. You need material that is engaging. Sometimes I will employ a call and response with the audience. I invite the audience in. Often at the readings I know people in the audience. So it is almost like I have plants, which helps. It’s a matter of putting some energy into that connection. I use my voice and movement.

Doug Holder: You worked with Robert Smyth of Somerville’s “Yellow Moon Press,” a publishing house that specializes in storytelling books. Can you talk a bit about this.

Judah LeBlang: Robert recorded my first CD: “ Finding My Place.” I went into his store, and asked him how I can get my work on the radio. Robert explained to me how the process works. He got me well-prepared.

Doug Holder: Are your stories as good on paper as they are spoken?

Judah LeBlang: I don’t write with the idea of how it sounds. I focus more on the writing. Sometimes I will massage things to get maybe a little more alliteration or rhythm. I want my stories to be as strong on the page as it is vocally.

Doug Holder for more info on Judah go to:


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