Joseph Krausman of Albany, Mainstay in Local Literary Circles, Releases ‘Parabolic Dishes’


There’s a certain irony in the radar antennae pictured on the cover of Joseph Krausman’s forthcoming book “Parabolic Dishes.” First, because it’s a physical book after all, not an over-the-air e-doc. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just that 86-year-old Krausman is so actively dedicated to sharing literature in person. A resident of Albany, he is a reliable presence and a thoughtful participant at author conferences, poetry readings and writing workshops, and all sorts of other cultural events in the Capital Region.

“It’s a good thing writers hear from other writers,” Krausman said in his Brooklyn accent. “I am a new professional. I started when I was a child, I made friends and I had good teachers.

Krausman’s titular use of the word “parabolic” is a poetic play on what is contained in his book, which is 20 short parables, most of them only about one page long, plus three stories. The stories are fairly recent, but he wrote the parables for his master’s thesis at the University of Massachusetts Amherst 50 years ago. Krausman characterizes the form as “a loose story that implies something. It’s another way of communicating. I send a verbal message instead of an electric message.

There are choice spoonfuls of humor and wisdom in Krausman’s puzzling vignettes. Its themes are intimate and universal – the search for love, the need to earn money, the urge to create and leave a mark on the world while there is still time.

In “Why am I not Marc Chagall? by Krausman. of the new book, a lexicographer considers his options after sustaining a head injury. He tries and fails in love and passes the time counting grains of rice. A shrink tells him to pursue the arts so he becomes a drummer and joins an orthodox rock band, The Sons of Purim. Written in the first person, the play concludes: “My trunk is ready and my clothes ironed. I’m not looking for the boat. When it comes, it comes. Meanwhile, the music must be made in this beautiful agony and this dream: my life.

Krausman grew up in the East Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. He joined the army at 18 and served two years on active duty in domestic assignments, mostly in the South. Then he got a bachelor’s degree from Brooklyn College, thanks to the GI Bill. A summer visit to Northampton, Mass. convinced him to continue his studies in New England. He first took classes at Mount Holyoke, then earned a master’s degree in playwriting at Smith College, where he also held a prestigious scholarship. Finally, he earned a master’s degree in fiction from UMass Amherst.

Also in Northampton, Krausman served for three years as artistic director of the Pines Theater Festival, which presented a full range of outdoor concerts and performances each summer. Among the productions was his play, “The Ice Cream Parlor”, which became the centerpiece of his collected stage works, published years later. Another of his plays, “An Air of Truth”, has already been presented on Off Off Broadway. He also has a poetry book, “Monkeyshines”.

During this same period, Krausman performed twice in plays alongside Spalding Gray, which led to a lifelong friendship. Gray became famous for his public readings and the 1987 film “Swimming to Cambodia”. “I helped him get a job and so he was always nice to me and gave me tickets,” said Krausman, who once drove Gray to Caffé Lena in Saratoga Springs where he had a reservation. Twice, Krausman threw parties in Gray’s honor after appearances on The Egg. “We became friends and I knew him quite well. Such a sad ending,” Krausman said, referring to Gray’s suicide.

After Krausman graduated from UMass, one of his professors wrote a letter of recommendation outlining a style of writing that can be seen in the parables that made up his dissertation as well as in his larger works. recent years: “He writes in a piquant and caustic style, crisply eloquent and ironically modern. He has an excellent ear for contemporary idiom and expression and is a keen observer of modern society. His writing is intelligently entertaining without being controversial or valuable.

With three degrees and a few clippings in hand, all Krausman needed was a paying job. During a visit to Brooklyn, his politically active brother introduced him to Stanley Fink, a rising member of the New York State Legislative Assembly and its future Speaker.

“I need a job,” Krausman told the lawmaker, “and I write fiction.”

“Well, that’s exactly what we do in the Legislative Assembly,” replied Fink, who helped him find a job in public service. The job was with the State and Local Relations Committee and he brought Krausman to Albany in 1981. As a senior research analyst, he wrote books on fire and police departments. He retired in 2000.

In retirement, Krausman recalled once as a child telling his father that he was bored. “You don’t have to do anything, so read a book,” her pop replied. Joe took the advice and over the decades became the library’s consummate hound. In addition to being a loyal patron of the Albany Public Library, he is also a board member of Friends and the PLA Foundation. The group hosts book talks at noon every Tuesday at the Washington Avenue branch and annually honors a local writer as author of the year.

About 10 years ago, Krausman wrote a short article for a retirement newsletter that gently reprimands people who complain that nothing is going on here. “The Capital District is so eventful that the issue is not that there is nothing to do, but what events should I go to,” he wrote. Along the way, he built a strong network of allies and kindred spirits.

“Joe is an all-around good guy, with a million stories about celebrities and lesser-knowns, a city man who can be found at most literary events in the area, such as Writers Institute programs . Although he never lost his Brooklyn accent and mannerisms, he is a true Albany character. I love it very much,” local poet and peace activist Dan Wilcox wrote, via email. On Thursday, Aug. 18, Krausman will be the featured reader for the monthly poetry open mic hosted by Wilcox at the Social Justice Center in Albany.

Also on the horizon for Krausman is a new collection of poetry, “My Heart Is An Onion.” Its catalog of poems is deep, with a number of award-winning pieces, and the poems are cataloged by subject. This allows Krausman to participate in contests and participate in readings on specific themes. “If I get an invitation to write, I already have something – food, religion, games, snakes, death. I have a lot about death,” he said .

Producing the new book “Parabolic Dishes” has Krausman looking back on his writing as a graduate student and observing, “I think I wasn’t nice enough. There’s a little upside. But maybe someone will have a little fun.

There are nuggets of Krausman’s life in these early parables. In “My Literary Heritage”, a 20-year-old aspiring writer learns from his mother that a cousin named Bienstock wrote a book of poetry, but it was entirely in Yiddish. He leaves to find this shriveled cousin at the restaurant where he is known to be a regular. The two discuss the motivations and rewards of the writer’s life and Bienstock gives him a copy of his book.

In real life, an uncle was the family writer and he lived in Argentina. One of his three books was in Yiddish, a language Krausman heard in fragments from his parents and in every sermon at the synagogue. Still a student, he took advanced language courses at Oxford University (of all places). “I went all the way to Oxford and got a degree,” he said with a bit of wonder.

The aspiring young writer in this story leaves the meeting with his cousin disappointed that he hasn’t learned any secrets of the writing trade (there are no secrets), but nevertheless happy to own a copy of the book and to to have glimpsed a life immersed in literature.

“I went home on the dirty subway, clutching the incomprehensible volume. Glittery metaphors danced in my head. I knew the way back and felt deep within me a clenched fist beating against my heart.

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