My newest project: a work of creative non-fiction, The Nine, A true story of nine women and their escape from the Nazis follows the story of my great aunt Helene Podliasky, a twenty-four-year-old engineer who leads a band of nine female resistance fighters as they escape a German concentration camp and make the ten-day journey across the front lines of WWII.
Here's a short video about why I wrote The Hiding Game
This story touches on a little-known moment in American history with elegance, compassion and humanity. The Negro Motorist Green Book comes to the rescue, listing resources for black motorists in every state, and Ruth and her family make their way from safe haven to safe haven until they reach Alabama.
Strauss explores "the theme of metamorphosis in fairy tales" in this stunning collection of 12 dramatic monologues by familiar fairy tale characters at a moment of crisis or confrontation. The voices in these poems are both strong and complex, and the themes the characters explore -- fear, loneliness, shame, jealousy -- are as stark as Browne's evocative black-and-white illustrations that seem to reveal the characters' souls. We see Hansel and Gretel's father seated underneath Edvard Munch's famous woodcut, telling how the pebbles he gave his son "rattle in his dreams." We hear the wolf imagining how Red Riding Hood "will have the youngest skin / he has ever touched, her fingers unfurling / like fiddle heads in spring." Like Anne Sexton's "Cinderella," Strauss's poems are best suited to an adult audience, but they offer readers new wine in old bottles, a fresh view of familiar territory in language that has depth and power. Ages 12-up.
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Reading Kafka's Letters at Sea
"You always want to know, Milena, if I love you, but it is a difficult question."
--Franz Kafka, Letters to Milena
I am in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, at age 18, reading
Kafka's letters to Milena. Letters, he says, are an intercourse
with ghosts. He longs to meet her. He misses her and he is
unworthy of her, both. Our boat is 26 feet long, wooden.
There are only two of us. We navigate by compass and sextant.
When tankers pass, they do not see us. Then, in the next
letter he writes, it is impossible; he means everything: letters,
their meeting, their love, hope, plans. At sea, I hope for landfall.
In port, I long to go back to sea. At age 50, on dry land,
I understand his ghosts. I make promises, elaborate plans.
Next winter, let's to go to India, Patagonia, the Galapagos.
I spend my life cornering myself into cancelations, setting up
disappointments. The book does not contain Milena's answers
to Kafka but I can tell by his letters that she is sometimes strong,
a take-charge gal. She believes enough for both of them, she can
grab him by the shoulders, give Kafka a firm shake. But then
she is miserably depleted, battered by his doubts. Finally,
she ends it. Kafka, complete in rejection, writes that he knew
all along this would happen, better to stay as ghosts in letters.
They met only twice, and only once in Vienna it was bliss,
fragments of four days snatched from the night. I want to strangle
Kafka. I know Milena will die in Ravensbrück after four
years of brutal captivity, only three weeks before the liberation.
They should have met. He should have loved her. My volume
is rippled from the salt spray. I want to be fierce. But sometimes
in the evening drama of dusk, overwhelmed with the coming night,
the rising wind, the way our little boat tucks into her tack, fear
yawns huge swallowing me whole. I am just beginning to see
the shadow of disappointment in his eyes when I ask him
if he still loves me. At that moment I know exactly why Kafka
calls off each meeting before it happens and why he destroyed
her letters, and why we turn from love. Does knowing the future
or the past make us brave? Why did Milena save his letters?
Who found them? Who read them, edited them, published them?
Who owned the bookstore in Galveston? Who shelved them
with the poetry where I find them just hours before the wind
turns and we head out of port, weaving through oil platforms
off the coast. We have entered a ghostly landscape. I am 18
with my eye on the compass as we sail past tankers,
and shooting stars, on a broad reach toward coral reefs,
homesick letters, the Yucatan, good books, childbirth,
marriage vows, shipwrecks, gardens, and disappointed plans.
The poem appeared in Sou'wester Sping 2014