Anna Levine began her studies at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec
and received her MA in English Literature from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Her YA novel Freefall was awarded a Sydney Taylor Honor’s Award from the American Association of Jewish Libraries, the same year Jodie’s Hanukkah Dig, about a young girl with a passion for the past and archaeology received a notable award from the same association.
Describe the impact racism had on you as a young person.
I grew up in Montreal, Quebec. It was the time of the French uprising. There were violent demonstrations (the 1970 October crisis), but as a young adult growing up in a predominantly Jewish, English speaking neighborhood my experience was more of a pluralistic one. During the summer, on Montreal’s Mount Royal, in the center of the city, everyone would join in an evening of international folk dancing, with Hebrew, Greek, and ethnic music of all types blaring from loudspeakers. Then in June, the streets became chock-a-block with the festivities for Saint-Jean Baptiste Day, Quebec’s national holiday. Expo 1967 was the epitome of how I remember Montreal being a city which celebrated all nations of the world.
How did this experience impact your professional work as a writer?
When I moved to Israel in the 1980s I was living on top of a mountain, a baseball’s pitch away from Lebanon. The closest community beside ours was an Arab village. Growing up in Montreal, I took for granted that communities can get along and interact together positively despite cultural and linguistic differences. If you grow up with intolerance, you learn bigotry and if you grow up with pluralism you practice tolerance. My first YA novel, Running on Eggs (Front Street/Cricket Books) is about two girls, both runners on a track team who become more than running mates, they become friends; one girl is Israeli the other Palestinian.
How can literature combat racism?
I am a strong believer of the power that literature can have as a way of crossing cultural and linguistic borders. As writers, if we can envision and create worlds in which people co-exist then we can plant the seeds of change. My books have connected me with writers in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. But though both are neighboring countries, I am forbidden to enter either. Instead, I am working on putting together an on-line critique group with other writers in my part of the world. Literature allows us to see beyond the present and into a better and more tolerant future.
My most recent young adult novel, Freefall (Greenwillow/HarperCollins), gives an inside view of growing up in Israel with all the universal struggles experienced in adolescence, love, family, and friendships, set within the context of being a teen in Israel and the unique issues faced here. As a YA writer I want to celebrate that which makes each teen experience a unique one, because of their setting and cultural experience, while at the same time stressing an emotional universality. In this way, we may celebrate our cultural differences while recognizing the aspects which unite us. Freefall places these emotions within the context of the reality of living in the Middle East. The environment we wake up to every day affects our lives differently than, let’s say, someone living in the heart of America, and yet we love, dream, and cope with similar challenges.
Anna Levine lives in Israel where she is the SCBWI (society of children’s book writers and illustrators) adviser. She writes, teaches and loves running through the Jerusalem hills for inspiration. Visit her at www.annalevine.org and www.freefallthenovel.com and watch her new book trailer.