Albany’s Joseph Krausman, mainstay in local literary circles, comes out with “Parabolic Dishes”.


There is an irony to the radar dishes featured on the cover of Joseph Krausman’s forthcoming book, Parabolic Dishes. First, because this is a physical book, after all, not an electronic document transmitted over the air. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just that the 86-year-old Krausmann is so actively involved in personal literary exchanges. As a resident of Albany, he is a reliable presence and attentive participant at author talks, poetry readings and writing workshops, as well as all manner of other cultural events in the capital region.

“It’s a good thing that writers hear other writers,” Krausman said in his Brooklyn accent. “I am a professional novice. Started as a kid, made friends and had good teachers.”

Krausman’s titular use of the word “parabolic” is a poetic play on what is contained in his book, which consists of 20 short parables, most of which are only about a page long, plus three stories. The stories are rather recent, but he wrote the parables for his master’s thesis at the University of Massachusetts Amherst 50 years ago. Krausman characterizes the form as “a loose story that implies something. It’s a different way of communicating. I’m sending a verbal message instead of an electrical one.”

Krausman’s enigmatic vignettes contain well-chosen dabs of humor and wisdom. His themes are intimate and universal – the search for love, the need to make money, the urge to create and make a mark on the world while there is still time.

In Krausman’s “Why Am I Not Marc Chagall?” from the new book, a lexicographer ponders his options after suffering a head injury. He tries and fails in love and whiles away counting grains of rice. A shrink tells him to pursue art, so he becomes a drummer and joins an orthodox rock group, The Sons of Purim. The piece, written in first-person language, ends with the words: “My suitcase is packed and my clothes are ironed. I’m not looking for the boat. When it comes, it comes. Meanwhile music must be made in this beautiful agony and dream: my life.”

Krausman grew up in the East Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. He enlisted in the Army at the age of 18 and spent two years on active duty at domestic posts, mostly in the South. He next earned a bachelor’s degree from Brooklyn College, compliments of the GI Bill. A summer visit to Northampton, Mass., convinced him to continue his education in New England. He first took courses at Mount Holyoke and then earned a masters in drama from Smith College, where he also held a prestigious scholarship. Eventually, he earned an MFA in Fiction from UMass Amherst.

Also in Northampton, Krausman was Artistic Director of the Pines Theater Festival for three years, which presented a slew of outdoor concerts and shows each summer. Among the productions was his play The Ice Cream Parlor, which years later became the title play of his collected stage works. Another of his plays, “An Air of Truth,” once made Off Off Broadway. He also has a book of poetry, Monkeyshines.

During the same period, Krausman was twice cast in plays alongside Spalding Gray, leading to a long friendship. Gray is best known for his public readings and the 1987 film Swimming to Cambodia. “I helped him get a job, so he was always nice to me and would give me tickets,” said Krausman, who once wrote Gray drove to himself Caffé Lena in Saratoga Springs, where he had a booking. Twice Krausman threw parties in Gray’s honor after performances at The Egg. “We became friends and I knew him pretty well. Such a sad ending,” Krausman said, referencing Gray’s suicide.

After Krausman graduated from UMass, one of Krausman’s professors wrote a letter of recommendation, in which he described a style of writing that can be seen in both his thesis parables and his more recent work: “He writes in a sharp, caustic style, crisply eloquent and ironically modern. He has an excellent ear for contemporary idiom and expression and is a keen observer of modern society. His writing is intelligently entertaining without being polemical or precious.”

With three degrees and a few newspaper clippings, all Krausman needed was work that paid. During a home visit in Brooklyn, he was introduced by his politically active brother to Stanley Fink, a rising member of the New York legislature and its future speaker.

“I need a job,” Krausman told lawmakers, “and I write fiction.”

“Well, that’s what we do in the legislature,” replied Fink, who helped him find a job in the civil service. The job was with the State and Local Relations Committee and brought Krausman to Albany in 1981. As a senior research analyst, he wrote books on fire and police. In 2000 he retired.

Retired, Krausman recalled telling his father once as a child that he was bored. “You have nothing to do then read a book,” his pop replied. Joe took the advice and over the decades became the consummate library dog. In addition to being a staunch supporter of the Albany Public Library, he is also a board member of the Friends and Foundation of the APL. The group hosts Book Talks every Tuesday at 12:00 p.m. at the Washington Avenue branch and annually honors a local writer as Author of the Year.

About 10 years ago, Krausman wrote a short article for a retirement newsletter that gently rebuked people who complained that there was nothing going on here. “The capital district is so rich in events that the problem is not that there is nothing to do, but what events to go to,” he wrote. In the process, he has built a strong network of allies and like-minded people.

“Joe is an all-round good guy, with a million stories about the famous and not-so-famous, a man of town who can be found at most literary events in the area, such as the Writers Institute programs. Although he has never lost his Brooklyn accent and manner, he is a true Albany character. Love him very much,” wrote local poet and peace activist Dan Wilcox via email. On Thursday, August 18, Krausman will be the key reader at the monthly Poetry Open Mic hosted by Wilcox at the Social Justice Center in Albany.

Still on the horizon for Krausman is a new poetry collection, My Heart Is An Onion. His catalog of poems is extensive, with a number of award-winning pieces, and the poems are cataloged by subject. This makes it a breeze for Krausman to enter competitions and attend readings that have specific themes. “When I’m asked to write, I already have something – food, religion, games, snakes, death. I have a lot about death,” he said.

The production of the new book, Parabolic Dishes, caused Krausman to look back on his writing as a graduate student and state, “I don’t think I was kind enough. There’s a small benefit. But maybe someone will enjoy it.”

There are nuggets of Krausman’s life in these early parables. In My Literary Heritage, a 20-year-old aspiring writer learns from his mother that a cousin named Bienstock once wrote a book of poetry, but it was entirely in Yiddish. He sets out to find this shriveled cousin at the diner where he’s a known regular. The two discuss the writer’s motivations and rewards in life, and Bienstock gives him a copy of his book.

In real life, it was an uncle who was a writer in the family and lived in Argentina. One of his three books was in Yiddish, a language Krausman heard in fragments from his parents and in every sermon in the synagogue. As a student, he took advanced language courses at Oxford University (of all places). “I went all the way to Oxford and got my degree there,” he said, a little puzzled.

The aspiring young writer in this story leaves the meeting with his cousin disappointed at not having learned any secrets of the craft of writing (there are no secrets), but nonetheless delighted to own a copy of the book and to have been given a glimpse of life in the literature immersed.

“I rode the dirty subway home and recorded the incomprehensible volume. Glittering metaphors danced in my head. I knew the way home, and deep down I felt a clenched fist pounding against my heart.”


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