4 DW-Akademie German-American relations: A portrait of Steven Bloom Januar 2011 International Media Studies
But what Steven fnds evenmore annoying about teachingis the necessity o giving grades.“It’s so artifcial! It’s impossibleto be a air judge. I wouldpreer just to write comments– or example what I liked orwhat I ound superfcial”, theproessor says.Nevertheless, Steven Bloomhas been teaching Americanstudies since 1970 – in the US,Germany, Italy and Poland. Andhe never gets bored with it. “Iread new things, try to thinkdierently. Each class is likea perormance with a certainamount o tension, but nevera routine”, he explains andthem conesses: “Teaching atuniversity is a very strangeproession: in order to bequalifed or it you don’t needto know anything aboutteaching. It’s a proession opeople who mostly like researchand writing”.
The class is over and Stevenrushes back home to continuethe work on his new book. Hekeeps impatiently looking at hiswatch. The only thing he wantsto do right now is writing.Steven Bloom likes to jokethat he lives behind his desk,not in Germany. Nonetheless,the town o Heidelberg, wherehe has spent hal o his lie andcreated most o his books, hasserved as a nice backdrop orhis writing. Big cities no longerinspire Steven, who was bornand raised in New York.Steven writes fve hours aday, but does not expectto get amous or richrom his books.Once he fnishesa book, heautomaticallystarts tothink othe nextone. “I’llprobablyrun outo timebeore I’verun out oideas”, saysthe writerlaughing. Herealizes thatthere is nevera guaranteethat his currentnovel will ever bepublished. And even iit does see the light – there is noguarantee that it will be sold.The scene o his frstpublished novel
No New Jokes
is set in New York in 1949-50. Itscharacters are American Jews –Archie Feinstein, Jack Goldarb,Meyer Wool, Izzy and others.They discuss the Korean War,anti-Semitism, baseball, religionor women and try to reducethe uncertainty in their lives bytelling old Jewish jokes – whichhappens to be the specializationo proessor Bloom.Two actors make Jewishhumor special, he explains: “It’sa social activity, crucial or sucha verbal culture as that o theJews. And: in a hostile world,where one cannot count onGod, jokes can help to eel alittle better or a moment”.The same humorouscharacters inhabit Bloomssecond novel
Stellt mir eineFrage
(Ask me a question).Steven says that he knows thesecharacters well and likes them.“I do hear their voices. HoweverI don’t lose the reality that it isme controlling whatever theydo”, the writer adds.His avorite character isIzzy – a young Polish Jew whoought in the World War II andis constantly seeking personalhappiness. It was Steven’sather, who served as aprototype or Izzy. Hewas a real Polish Jew,who immigratedto the US at theage o 10 andlater went toNorth Aricaand Italy withthe US troops.He never toldhis childrenanythingabout his warexperience,except orthe act thatAmericancigarettes werethe main currencyduring that time.
DECISION FOR LIFE
Neither Bloom’s ather, norhis mother have learned goodEnglish or received highereducation. The best position hisather had ever had was that oa cleaning man at a post ofce.Thereore Steven didn’t have arole model or education in hisamily. Since he played ootballin high school, he decided to geta degree in sports. However,when he saw university teachersstanding in ront o an audience,talking about books, it seemedlike a very pleasant occupationto him. And the decision or liewas made: he was to become auniversity teacher.Steven’s lie as a writerturned out to be tougher. Bloomsays that it is easier or him topush a manuscript through apublisher in Germany than inthe US. But he still tries to sellhis texts in America. “I you area writer, you have to be used torejections and keep trying”, headmits.
MASTER OF DIALOGUE
Bloom’s main weapon is hissense o humor. His speech isinterspersed with jokes. “Themaster o dialogue” – thisis how German newspaperscalled him in their literaryreviews, praising his art o theconversational ping-pong. ButSteven is also a curious listenerwho eagerly asks questionsand expresses lively interest inevery conversation. Maybe he iscollecting material or his uturebooks?“As a writer I don’thave to tell the truth, myonly responsibility is to beinteresting”, he says. Well, somepeople may defnitely have tobeware. In autumn 2011 StevenBloom is to release a bookabout the mayor o Heidelbergand his wie.
Thirty-fve years ago heollowed his wie Sara, anopera singer, who came toHeidelberg to fnd a job. WhiteAmericans arevery privilegedoreigners inGermany, so theBloom coupledid not have aproblem withthat, Stevenrecalls. Andthanks to theirEnglish theycould integrateeasily into theirnew society. Hisnational identityis not principalor him, Stevenadmits. The most vital to himis to be a writer, ather andteacher.
Tuesday. 18.00. The libraryo the German – AmericanInstitute (DAI) closes or regularadmission. Only members othe Discussion group o the DAImay enter now. This club hasbeen run by Proessor Bloom ora quarter o a century. People odierent ages, occupations andorigins come here every weekto practice their English and geta chance to discuss topics like“How patriotic should a citizenbe?” or “Is honesty the bestpolicy?”“This man is rom Taiwan,now he is a citizen oGermany”, Steven says as soonas he sees the frst visitor. “Buthe complains that nobodyperceives him as a German”,he adds. It is obvious that heknows quite a bit about thelives o the people around him,thanks to his inexhaustibleattention and empathy.No trace o the restraint andtension that proessor Bloomrevealed in the morning inclass. His ace brightens up, hegesticulates reely and jokesnon-stop. “These people comehere voluntarily. They haverich experience and unlikethe students are very active indiscussions. The only troublehere is to stop some o themtalking”, Steven says all smiles.These evenings have becomean importantpart o theweek or manyparticipants.“Our leaderSteven is great.I’ve neverseen such anintelligent andentertainingperson as him”,says a nurseTheresa Hartl,who has been amember o thediscussion groupor 15 years. “Weare like a big amily here”.Literally, one may say. Itwas here in the DAI club thatSteven’s daughter Zoe met heruture husband Christoph. Willthis story turn into the prose oSteven Bloom? Well, that couldbe at least one componentin the ormula o his frstbestseller.
“As a writer I don’t have to tell the truth:my only responsibility is to be interesting!”
by Amalia OGANJANYAN