Who the Folk?! Rebecca Kanner

Local author, Rebecca Kanner, talks to us about giving a voice to the women of the Torah, her latest book, Esther, and why she’s in serious shape.

Are you from the Twin Cities?

I’m from St. Paul and still live there. I love St. Paul. I was looking at living in Uptown, but decided that I can’t be in that much traffic.

How did you get into writing?

I was very shy and liked to read. I started to think; maybe I could write a book since I like to read so much? I tried to basically write White Fang when I was 11, but I got bogged down in details.

Then, I wrote a novel in grad school that I loved. It had multiple, plural first-person points of view. I tried to get an agent for it and got five nice rejections, but I decided it wasn’t going to work as is, so I tried to make it more palatable by turning it into a mystery. My writing group finally told me it just wasn’t good. It was so nice of them to tell me instead of letting me suffer.

How did your eventually find success with your first published book, Sinners and the Sea?

After giving up on the other novel, I started working on Old Testament tales. I went to Talmud Torah in St. Paul when I was growing up. The women of the Bible were familiar friends sand role models. It was natural to go to them for inspiration.

My teachers at Talmud Torah were mostly women and they emphasized the importance of the women in the Torah. But years later, when I looked at the text on my own, I realized women didn’t have an equal role at all, so I wanted to go back and tell their stories. I was interested in Noah’s wife because so little is said about her and she’s never even named. I wanted to forge an identity for her outside of wife and mother and that’s how I started Sinners and the Sea.

I queried the same agent that published The Red Tent, and she liked the book which was eventually published by Simon & Schuster.

Your newest book is out November 3rd and chronicles the life of Queen Esther. What drew you to her story?

I always liked the story of Esther, but I felt that some of the story was missing. There had to be more than just her beauty to winning the king’s heart and more than just Mordecai’s plotting to saving her people. I wanted to write a story where Esther was more intelligent and cunning. She had to arrive in the palace and maneuver through a minefield of manipulative people. I also thought there had to be a really good reason for her delay in telling the king she was Jewish.

What’s your favorite holiday?

I guess I should say Purim, but I actually like Passover. I’ve always loved it. I like the Seder. I always invite non-Jews so I have someone to explain all the rituals to and ask questions.

What’s your favorite food?

I really like latkes. Anything I can salt, brisket and matzo ball soup.

What makes you folkin’ awesome?

I’m very fanatical about working out. I get up and work out for an hour every morning. I’m certified to be a personal trainer, too.

To meet Rebecca Kanner and hear her read from her latest book, Esther, check out her author events in both Minneapolis and St. Paul in November!

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