2016-02-17 / Arts & Entertainment News

Pulitzer Prize-winning dance critic to speak at Jewish Book Festival


KAUFMAN KAUFMAN “Grace is being at ease with the world, even when life tosses wine down your pants,” Sarah L. Kaufman writes in “The Art of Grace: On Moving Well Through Life” ($24.95, W.W. Norton).

She writes about the wine-down-the-pants incident in her introduction. It happened in 1962 in Paris, when Audrey Hepburn and director Stanley Donen met with Cary Grant at a restaurant to discuss working together on the movie “Charade.”

Ms. Hepburn, nervous about meeting the actor, accidentally knocked a bottle of wine into his lap.

But Mr. Grant, always a class act, just laughed as if didn’t have a care in the world. And the following day, he sent a note and a box of caviar to Ms. Hepburn.

And that, says Ms. Kaufman, is the epitome of grace.

Her book, which is slated to be re-released in paperback in the fall, has been positively reviewed by “Booklist,” “Kirkus” and “Library Journal.” It was also named a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection for Fall 2015.

Ms. Kaufman is one of 23 authors coming to Naples to participate in the first-ever Collier County Jewish Book Festival. Organized by the Jewish Federation of Collier County, events take place Feb. 18-March 14 at various venues in Naples. The Holocaust Museum & Education Center of Southwest Florida is a co-sponsor, along with other local businesses and community organizations, including Florida Weekly. “It’s ambitious, we know it’s very ambitious,” says event co-chair and Florida Weekly book critic Phil Jason.

“The general community has grown, and the Jewish community has grown over the years, and this kind of event was missing,” Mr. Jason says. “This is a very well-educated town with lots of readers and a lot of book clubs.” He co-chairs the event with Ted Epstein, whom he calls “the main instigator.” Mr. Epstein heard all the authors speak at a previous event and selected a number of them to be part of the Naples festival.

Examples of grace

A Pulitzer Prize-winning dance critic for The Washington Post for more than 20 years, Ms. Kaufman says Mr. Grant was the inspiration for her book. She refers to the actor often.

“As a dance critic, I have a very good idea of physical grace, because I’ve been immersed in that world for so many years,” she says, adding she admires Mr. Grant for the way he physically moved in his movies, but also for the way he moved through the world, the way he conducted himself and interacted with others — always with graciousness.

“He pulled together the physical grace with the inner grace, or social grace, in the way he reacted to fellow actors,” she says. For example, when an actor didn’t do so well with a line, Mr. Grant would deliberately flub his so they’d have to reshoot the scene and his co-star could do another take.

“Grace is about ease and acceptance,” Ms. Kaufman says. “I think that essentially, it’s transferring an essence of wellbeing from one person to another.”

She gives various examples in her book. In addition to the Mr. Grant-Ms. Hepburn story, she writes of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Smokey Robinson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Roger Federer, Nelson Mandela, Margot Fonteyn. She writes about Maxine Powell, who taught all the Motown musicians — some of them young people from the projects or the streets — how to conduct themselves with style and grace.

“The people I spoke with about (the late) Maxine Powell said that she built them up on the inside, too, gave them all kinds of confidence to believe in themselves,” says Ms. Kaufman. “That’s grace, too, to believe in yourself.

“Grace is a way of absorbing these incidents, these blows that come at you. If you have a kind of an ease and comfort in your own skin, hopefully you can allow these things to bounce off and move on.”

The Motown singers were taught how to speak and move and dress. They were taught how to behave onstage and during interviews, and even how to respond graciously if they were refused service at a Southern restaurant.

When Martha Reeves (of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas) fell during a recent concert, she told Ms. Kaufman that it was her training with Ms. Powell from 50 years ago that not only helped her keep her poise but allowed her to know how to fall and not hurt herself, to pick herself up and continue on, unfazed.

As for Jackie O, Ms. Kaufman says, “She was very poised. She had a kind of smoothness about her. She was thoughtful, very careful about her behavior and coming across in a refined way.”

Ms. Kaufman writes of the physical grace of dancers and athletes, but also discusses grace in sculpture, painting, restaurants, science and theology.

“Grace is not a frivolous quality,” she says. “Grace helps you move through the world, and move through the most challenging situations. We all have struggles and conflicts in our lives — whether they’re little things like dealing with the person on the subway taking up an extra seat with his bags, or standing up for yourself if you feel you’re being talked down to.” As the Motown artists tried to make their voices heard while the Civil Rights movement roiled around them, she adds, grace helped them to be seen in a positive light. “It helped them handle what was tossed at them.”

A universal approach

Ms. Kaufman looks at grace with a universal scope.

“That’s how I view my dance beat, as universal,” she says. The approach won her a Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 2010. “I’ve always had a big appetite for dance and movement in life off the stage,” she says. “I’ve written about the grace of football players and (athletes in) the Tour de France, as well as the French qualities of aesthetics and approachability and simplicity. I’ve written about movement and YouTube, and athletes’ happy dances after scoring goals and touchdowns. The wonderful thing about writing for The Washington Post is that I’ve had such freedom to explore innumerable subjects.”

For example, she wrote an essay about the grace President Jimmy Carter embodied when he spoke about his cancer diagnosis and how it had spread to his brain. (It has since gone into remission.) “He was so at ease,” she says. “He expressed gratitude for his life, his wife, his friends, the good life he’s been living. It was an example of everyday grace and how we can bring grace to the most difficult situations.”

Grace is a spiritual thing, she says.

“I look at grace as a spiritual practice, because it involves my whole self, my whole relationship to the world, wanting to do right, to be the best person I can be.

“I don’t consider myself an icon of grace at all. But I’m inspired by watching others, by thinking about it and by trying to live it and connect with people deeply.” ¦

Inaugural Collier County Jewish Book Festival

>> When: Feb. 18-March 14

>> Where: Various venues, all in Naples

>> Cost: $25 for special events; others $12 in advance, $15 at the door

>> Info: 263-4205 or jewishnaples.org/majorevents/jewish-book-festival

>> Note: Sarah Kaufman will speak at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 29, at Chabad Naples, along with author Jay Michaelson. Tickets are $11.

Who, what when and where

Go to jewishnaples.org for more information on the authors and their books.

¦ Talia Carner (“Hotel Moscow”) and David Greene (“Midnight in Siberia”)

1-4 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 18
Beth Tikvah, $11

¦ Dani Klein Modisett (“Take My Spouse Please”) and Dr. David Bernstein (“I’ve got Some Good News and Some Bad News: YOU’RE OLD”)

1-4 p.m. Monday, Feb. 22,
Temple Shalom, $11

¦ Chef Rossi “The Raging Skillet”

9-11 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 23
The Hilton Naples, $25

¦ B.A. Shapiro (“The Muralist”), Bob Mandell (“Stroke Victim”), Marc Simon (“The Leap Year Boy”) and Jerry Greenfield (“Secrets of the Wine Whisperer”)

1-4 pm. Wednesday, Feb. 24,
Naples Daily News Community Room, $11

¦ Jay Michaelson (“The Gate of Tears”) and Sarah L. Kaufman (“The Art of Grace”) 6:30-9:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 29

Chabad Naples, $11

¦ Pressman (“50 Children”) and Daniel M. Cohen (“Single Handed”)

1-4 p.m. Tuesday, March 1
Temple Shalom, $11

¦ Mike Kelly (“The Bus on Jaffa Road”) and Jessamyn T. Hope (“Safekeeping”)

1-4 p.m. Wednesday, March 2
Beth Tikvah, $11

¦ Susan Jane Gilman (“The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street”) and Julia Dahl (“Run You Down”)

1-4 p.m. Thursday, March 3
Temple Shalom, $11

¦ Sally Fingerett (“The Mental Yentl”) and Bafna Michaelson Janet (“It’s Takes a Little Crazy to Make a Difference”)

6:30-9:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 9
Beth Tikvah, $11

¦ Powerful Women

Lisa Green (“On Your Case”) and Julia Pimsleur (“Million Dollar Woman”)

6:30-9:30 p.m. Thursday, March 10
The Hilton Naples, $25

¦ Megan Feldman Bettencourt (“Triumph of the Heart”) and Goldie Milgram (“New Mitzah Stories”)

6:30-9 p.m. Monday, March 14
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Greater
Naples, $11

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