A Conversation with Molly Antopol
By Eva Jason
Molly Antopol, a graduate of the UC Santa Cruz class of 1991, released her debut collection of short stories this past February.
Her stories take place in cities around the globe—New York, Los Angeles, Jerusalem, Kiev, and Tel Aviv. Her protagonists range from rugged Israeli soldiers to young Jewish women.
Molly’s inspiration for writing her latest book, The UnAmericans, came from investigating her family’s own history.
While living in Israel after college, she was invited to a dinner party in Haifa. Not knowing anyone in attendance, she retreated to the kitchen, figuring she would make herself useful by helping clean up.
There, she encountered an elderly woman who was in fact from Antopol, the same small town in Belarus where her own grandparents were born.
While Molly Antopol’s family was so reticent to tell stories about their hometown, the old woman told many. She even directed Molly to her son who had compiled a whole book on the history of the Jews of Antopol.
Molly took her advice and picked up the book. She was entranced; she read about the culture, families, parties, weddings, and scandals of the fabled Jews of Antopol.
After reading all these stories, Molly felt as if “the quietest house on the street” suddenly became the loudest.
Molly told Leviathan that she had never learned about her family’s heritage because “that part of Europe sounded so off limits.”
While the firsthand accounts were mesmerizing, she realized that the stories had very little historical evidence. One person’s experience seemed to contradict another’s experience.
“Memory is never an exact duplicate,” Molly reflects. The further she read into the narratives, the more discrepancies she found. There was a “focus on feelings not facts.” From there, her stories for her book, The UnAmericans, were formed. Some are in first-person, some are in third-person, and others are told by a nameless narrator. All are in media res.
While the stories jump locations, time periods, and narrators, Molly reveals that there is a uniform theme, taking the form of a question: “What are the complicated and devastating effects we have when we try and fix the world?”
Presently a professor of creative writing at Stanford, Molly has found that being a teacher has been “necessary” for her growth as a writer. For her, writing used to be a solitary task—now she works to engage with her peers and students.
Molly admits that “all of the things I was the most afraid about in life were the things I was the most sad about.” When she writes, she is able to bring clarity to her current situation and shed new light on it.
“The minute I took writing class that’s all I wanted to do.” Through her first classes at UCSC with Professor Micah Perks and her Jewish Studies classes with Professor Murray Baumgarten, she realized her desire to be a writer. Yet it wasn’t until reclaiming her Jewish roots that she was able to manifest her passion.