Author Levitin will share her love of writing at Temple Har Shalom
Classes will run from June 6 to July 25
Author Sonia Levitin discovered books shortly after her family escaped Nazi Germany during World War II.
“I was 6 and my teacher told me that I could go to a library and check out books,” Levitin said during an interview with The Park Record. “I asked how much that would cost, and she said it was free.”
She walked the five blocks to the library and took home 10 books, and went back every two weeks for more.
“I was enamored to discover different worlds because my world was scary and restrictive, having escaped from the Nazis,” she said. “We were very poor and lived in a space too small for the five of us. Books were an entre to the world. I just loved it.”
Levitin’s love for books and writing has led her down a path of penning novels, picture books, anthologies, audio stories and theater scripts.
From June 6 to July 25, Levitin will hold writing classes at Temple Har Shalom. Registration is open. The cost is $250 for the public and $200 for Temple Har Shalom members.
Levitin’s goal is obvious: to get people writing.
“The class, which I call ‘Writing Your Own Story,’ is a way for them to free up and get them to focus,” she said. “A lot of people say I want to write or I’ve been wanting to write, and I know they have thousands of ideas in their heads.”
The class will also give people tools to write stories in more engaging ways.
“They can write anything they want: an article, a story, an opinion piece, an essay or a poem,” Levitin said. “As a writer, you are always writing your own story. Of course you can write a news article, but your experience will reflect in it.”
Levitin believes most of the students will want to write short stories.
“I have found most people want to disguise themselves in a story they want to tell,” she said with a laugh. “So they usually end up writing that way instead of writing a straight memoir piece.”
Levitin starts the sessions by asking students what he or she wants to do and then gives them a basic exercise.
“For example, I’ll ask them what their favorite song is,” she said. “It’s very interesting to me that people will not only tell me the song. They’ll also tell me why it’s their favorite, and go deeper than they thought they would.
“The question triggers something in them and they start to think about when they first heard the song, who they were with, what they felt and if it has something to do with who they are.”
Once Levitin gets a dialogue going, she continues on those thoughts.
“I ask what was it like to be with that person or what were they doing when they first heard the song,” she said. “What a story these make for us who weren’t there.”
Students will also learn how to overcome writer’s block.
“When they say they have writers block, I talk them out of that in about two minutes,” Levitin said with another chuckle. “They don’t have writers block. They just need to sit on the chair. I’ve been writing all my adult life, so what I do is tell myself that a writer writes. Then I sit down and write something.”
The payoff for teaching the classes is fabulous.
“It’s not only that they are able to achieve something, but it’s the look on their faces when they come in to tell me that they sold a piece,” Levitin said.
Sometimes the classes will change lives, as they did for a 60-year old who lived in Northern California.
“She came to class and told me she had wanted to write all of her life, and, now it probably was too late,” Levitin said. “I said, ‘How old will you be in five years?’ and she said 65. I said, ‘How old will you be in five years if you don’t write something?’
“The woman eventually produced three books, and guess who became the teacher of the class when I left? Things like that happen all the time.”
Levitin said it’s important to know not everyone who takes her classes will become a published writer.
“Even if they don’t, they will learn that writing is an art form and through it, they find out how to see the world in a fuller way,” she said. “They get a different perspective. I think the most important thing is they get a sense of clarity about their own selves.”
Levitin’s first true foray into writing came two years after she began checking out library books.
“I decided to create a neighborhood newspaper,” she said. “I borrowed my mother’s typewriter, bought some loose-leaf paper and went around to the neighbors and got subscriptions.”
She typed out the newspaper with carbon paper.
“The stories were mostly about my family’s animals,” Levitin said. “My rabbits used to run across the street to the market and eat the produce.”
The newspaper was short lived.
“Eventually I found I was spending 10 cents on every issue, but only charging 5 cents a copy, so I stopped doing it,” she said.
Levitin, however, still wanted to write and began writing other types of stories and poems.
“I knew I had to get educated, but it wasn’t until I had my first child in 1957 that I took a writing class,” she said.
Levitin’s husband, Lloyd, who was teaching at San Francisco State, suggested she call writer Walter Van Tilburg Clark and take his class at the university.
“I called and he told me to submit four stories, which I did,” Levitin said. “He called me within a week and took me on.
The classes were the most thrilling moments of Levitin’s life.
“The more I wrote, the more I could talk with him, so I made it a point to revise something every week,” she said.
Levitin started teaching on her own in the late 1960s.
“I still had not published a book at the time, but I had written a number of articles and short stories that were published in magazines,” she said. “I was a reporter for our local newspaper up in Northern California. That was so much fun.”
She became a teacher of creative writing and taught at UCLA extension.
Now, she travels to teach.
“I still remember walking the campus with Walter,” she said. “I felt like I was on top of the world.”
Author Sonia Levitin will teach eight writing classes from 3:30-5:30 p.m. June 6 through July 25 at Temple Har Shalom, 3700 N. Brookside Court. For information, call 435-649-2276.
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