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8 Questions for Emma Morris: Jewrotica editor, writer, archivist, astrologer

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8 Questions for Emma Morris photo 1

Photo credit: David Safran

You can talk about sex – and images of women in the media and throughout history – with Emma Morris. Although she works as a library assistant at the University of Chicago by day, Morris is the managing editor of Jewrotica.org, an online community, resource, and forum for Jewish sexual expression through articles, essays, fiction, poetry and more.

But not one thing (or two things) defines who she is. A native of East Lansing, Mich., Morris received her degree in English Literature from the University of Michigan, and after considering a PhD in film studies, got her master's in library and information science. She volunteers at the Leather Archives and Museum and has written horoscopes for Jewcy.com, vegetarian restaurant reviews for Examiner.com and an unpublished novella (you can read part of here) that she describes as a "supernatural noir/detective/murder mystery/love story that revolves around literature, ideas and libraries."

With a cornucopia of interests and talents, it wasn't hard to determine that Emma Morris is a Jew You Should Know. 

1. You seem to really like old things. What draws you to archives and artifacts and what excites you most about working with them?
What draws me to books, heirlooms, antiques and other objects is their history. It excites me to imagine who owned, touched, wore, or meditated on them before me. Sometimes you can actually feel energy radiating from a book or piece of jewelry. Even just the materiality itself, the decomposition of film, the wear and creases in paper and notes in the margins, the evidence of its connection to human touch and care: each object has its own life stored within it. In some ways, I think of objects as conduits, a way of communing with spirits. 

2. What subjects or issues interest you most in the areas of gender studies and sexuality? How has this influenced your career path?
A year ago, I joined forces with Jewrotica. Learning about how Judaism has shaped many of our writers' and readers' lives has been fascinating; it has both taught me about Jewish tradition and revitalized my interest in how people understand – and celebrate – themselves in the context of gender and sexuality.

What interested me most while pursuing my bachelor's degree was the way that women are depicted in literature, film, mythology and popular culture – all of which have been largely produced by men. I perceived these works to be projecting and appropriating and perpetuating images of ideal femininity that tend to bear only a passing resemblance to actual women. At the same time, storytelling, writing, or artistic creation can be a way to sublimate erotic impulses, to exorcise demons. So there's an unconscious sex game between creators and readers/viewers in which what we experience informs our identities and sexualities.

3. In your mind, are Jews mostly afraid to discuss sex in a religious context? What role does Jewrotica play in this discussion?
In my experience, when Jews discuss sex in a religious context, they are careful to stay within prescribed bounds. In more religious circles, those bounds are of course the normative legal strictures of halachah (Jewish religious law). Religious discourse on sex and halachah focuses on modesty, marriage, and the ways that sex relates to the divine. In some cases, pleasure is validated, but religious Jews tend to strongly resist modes of thought that are independent of "halachically"-ordained sexual categories and norms. Secular Jews, on the other hand, often use irony and humor to resist seriously confronting both religion and sexuality.

Jewrotica is educational and all-embracing. Our role in this discussion is to provide an outlet for Jewish sexual expression, a forum for meaningful learning and conversation, and an opportunity for Jewish engagement …the goal is to move beyond fear, shame, and guilt through learning and connecting while embracing a positive attitude toward love, romance, sexuality and eroticism. 

4. Astrology has its own kind of spirituality. How does that mesh with your Judaism?
Astrology meshes with my Judaism by bringing me closer to the past. It also connects me to family members, friends and historical figures toward whom I feel a particularly strong bond. Astrological affinities, such as sharing a sun sign, cut across time and space and even religion. I've always been drawn to mystical, enigmatic and intuitive forces. When I discovered last summer that I share a birthday with Sydney Omarr, Jewish astrologer to the stars, I felt that I was somehow fated to further pursue my interest in astrology.

8 Questions for Emma Morris photo 2

Photo credit: David Safran

5. If you could get your hands on and study any original Jewish document or artifact, what would it be?
It would be great to get my hands on some of Houdini's personal collection of magic or illusion books, original photographs, letters, maybe a straitjacket! A rabbi's son, Houdini's myth influences, transfixes, and seduces people to this day. What I find so exciting about Houdini is that he's this towering, magnetic, nearly supernatural person who captivates people nearly 100 years after his death. There's a whole legend and industry built up around him: movies and graphic novels are made about his life and museums are dedicated to his work. The Secret Life of Houdini: The making of America's first superhero by Larry Sloman and William Kalush is an outstanding biography that I would recommend to any Houdini-lover. 

6. What are your favorite vegetarian restaurants in Chicago? Any hidden vegetarian gems?
My new favorite Chicago vegetarian restaurant is Uru Swati. It is a recent addition to Devon's strip of Indian restaurants, and has the most amazing, unique dishes. Other not-so-hidden favorites are Dharma Garden, Chicago Diner and Native Foods. 

7. What do you love most about having so many diverse interests and talents, and what would you say ties them all together for you?
In many ways, writing ties all of my interests together: trying to make sense out of things, distilling and connecting meaning, exploring unknown forces and the weight of history, organizing and preserving artifacts or ideas, following the mind in motion, which sparks and fuses and forms into words that can take on a life of their own. 

8. How do you Jew in Chicago?
Séance Seder! This isn't a real thing, as far as I know, but it's been a long-standing fantasy of mine. I'd invite Sigmund Freud, Peter Falk, Saul Bellow, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Houdini, Bea Arthur, Estelle Getty, Lou Reed, Edward G. Robinson, Walter Matthau, Maurice Sendak, Theda Bara, my grandfather and other ancestors I never got to know ... the possibilities are endless!

Looking for love in Chicago? Or have you found it?

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Beshert in Chicago photo large

There’s nothing like love, whether you’re surrounded by it – or looking for it. And although Chicago might not be the romantic capital of the world, it has for so many people been the backdrop of their most treasured love story. Whether your Chicago love story has been written, whether it’s written in the stars, or whether you keep having to throw out the first chapter, Oy!Chicago wants to publish your story for our upcoming blog series, “Beshert in Chicago.”

All week from Feb. 10-14, we are hoping to publish stories about love in the Windy City, whether that’s past, present or future tense. Whether you’re a writer, an occasional writer-for-fun, or you know someone who might want to contribute to this blog series, here’s how to submit: write a paragraph describing what your piece is about and send it to info@oychicago.com by Friday, January 24. The only requirement is that the post should in some way relate to the theme, however you interpret it. We will review your submission and let you know if we are interested in running in your piece in full on Oy!Chicago the week of the blog series.

We look forward to reading your awesome stories and sharing your talent with the entire Oy!Chicago community! Please note that Oy!Chicago is a volunteer-run website, so we are unable to pay for published submissions at this time. If you have any questions, email them to info@oychicago.com.

Stef & Steven

An interview with Lauren Weisberger

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An interview with Lauren Weisberger photo

Author Lauren Weisberger

Bestselling author Lauren Weisberger made waves with her first book, The Devil Wears Prada—the 2003 book inspired by Weisberger's experience working at Vogue as an assistant for Anna Wintour was made into a popular movie of the same name in 2006 featuring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway. Ten years and four books later—including Chasing Harry Winston and the recently published sequelRevenge Wears Prada—Weisberger will visit Chicago this month to speak to JUF's Young Women's Board.

In an email interview with Oy!Chicago, Weisberger talked about her strong Jewish identity, her love of planning travel, and how her personal life inspires her writing.

Oy!Chicago: Can you give us a preview of what you'll be speaking about in Chicago this month?
Lauren Weisberger: I'm so excited to visit Chicago, although I'm not going to lie—I do wish it was in July and not January. But seriously, I'll be talking about what it was really like working atVogue, how The Devil Wears Prada came about, and what it was like being on set while they made the movie. I'll also touch a bit on trying to find a balance between work and motherhood, which is a topic important to so many women.

What was your Jewish upbringing like? What role does Judaism play in your life today?
In Scranton, where I was born, we belonged to a Conservative synagogue. I went to Hebrew school three or four days a week and Sabbath school on Saturday mornings, which was taught by the rabbis' wives. Once we moved to Allentown, right before my bat mitzvah, we joined a reform synagogue with a really wonderful, progressive congregation. Israel is important to me: I went for the first time in high school (on Alexander Muss High School in Israel), studied abroad at Tel Aviv University in college, and have been fortunate enough to visit half a dozen times in the years since college graduation. My daughter attends a Jewish preschool, and it's important to both my husband and myself that our children will be raised to understand and value our Jewish traditions.

How, if at all, does your Judaism influence your writing? Do you consider yourself a Jewish writer?
Of course I consider myself a Jewish writer—I am one! All of the protagonists in my five books have been Jewish, and I wouldn't be surprised if all my future main characters were as well.

Your time working at Vogue inspired The Devil Wears Prada and all of your books have young, female protagonists—how much of your own experiences motivate you as a writer?
So much of my own life inspires what I write. Whether it's work, family, friends, motherhood, I am a writer who tends to write what she knows. In Revenge Wears Prada, a great deal of my own life finds its way into the book. Andy and I may have had divergent career paths since the first book, but we both still make a living by writing; we both still have passionate love affairs with New York City; we both struggle with trying to strike the right balance between excelling at work and being good mothers. And naturally I mine my girlfriends' lives for good anecdotes and stories—so many of their experiences find their way into my books.

What is one interesting thing about you not many people know?
I am obsessed with planning travel! Not just traveling, which I love, but the whole planning process and all the details that go into it. I subscribe to all these travel blogs and airline forums and research hotels and activities and destinations for hours on end, and I volunteer to plan trips for everyone I know. Little is more exciting to me than figuring out a way to use frequent flier miles on a blackout day. If I had another life to live, I'd probably come back as a travel agent.

What's next for you?
I'm working on my next book! This one is a little different than the others I've written, and I'm having such a great time with the research. I'll tell you all about it in person.

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