Shalom Life | April 20, 2014

EXCLUSIVE: Interview With Orthodox Jewish Author & Poet, Matthue Roth

Roth discusses his upcoming children’s book “My First Kafka”, inspired by Franz Kafka’s greatest works.

By: Ashley Baylen

Published: April 17th, 2013 in Culture » Books » Interviews

EXCLUSIVE: Interview With Orthodox Jewish Author & Poet, Matthue Roth

Matthue Roth is a Hasidic author, slam poet, and screenwriter. He is the editorial director of G-dcast.com, a website providing fun animations of Torah stories, and currently a full-time grad student in Brooklyn College's fiction program. Did we mention that all of these endeavors are done in his “spare time”? Roth works a full-time day job as a video game designer.

His first book, ‘Never Mind the Goldbergs’ was named a Best Book for the YA market by the New York Public Library, nominated as a Best Book by the American Library Association, and named a Popular Paperback in Religion by the ALA. It tells the story of 17-year old Orthodox Jewish girl, Hava Aaronson, as she spends a summer in Hollywood- her first experience living outside her Jewish community in New York City.

After the success of ‘Never Mind the Goldbergs’, Roth penned a memoir entitled ‘Yom Kippur a Go-Go’, exploring his journey from punk rock kid to Orthodox Jew. He’s also written supermodel spy caper ‘Candy in Action’ and a cover of ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ starring Russian Jewish immigrants titled ‘Losers’.

‘My First Kafka’, Roth’s upcoming book due for a June release, is a beautifully illustrated (by artist Rohan Daniel Eason) adaptation of Franz Kakfa’s classic stories for children of all ages.

Roth and his wife, Itta, live in Brooklyn with their children. He keeps a secret diary at www.matthue.com.

ASHLEY BAYLEN (AB): Congrats on your upcoming book ‘My First Kafka’! Making Franz Kafka’s works accessible to children is definitely an intriguing concept. What inspired you to adapt his stories for younger minds?

MATTHUE ROTH (MR): Thank you! My kids -- who are otherwise totally normal girls, and really into princesses and dolls and stuff -- have an incredible fascination with dark stuff. Fear and monsters and what's hiding in the dark. I started to read Kafka stories to them, and they really loved it. He writes parables, really, like Aesop or the Talmud. But he also has a dark side, like Neil Gaiman or the Frog & Toad books, that a lot of children's books today shy away from. He's the children's author. I'm just the middleman.

AB: Which Kafka stories are included in ‘My First Kafka’?

MR: “Metamorphosis” is the big one -- I sort of had to include that, or else we wouldn't know where to start- and my daughters would be disappointed, because they're really into bugs. Then there's a story called "Excursion into the Mountains," and "Josephine the Singer, or, The Mouse-People," which might be my favorite short story. It's really beautiful and scary. People say Art Spiegelman decided to draw the Jews in Maus as mice because of that story.

AB:Can you give a sample line from the book? I’m very curious to see the kind of language used to describe Kafka’s timeless stories to young kids.

MR: The truth is, I didn't change much. It's more like a found poem: I took the words, moved them around, pared them down, tried to figure out a way of telling the story that was different than Kafka's original, but brought out his ideas in a different way. Here's part of "Excursion":


I’ve done nobody any harm.

Nobody’s done me any harm.

But nobody will help me.

A pack of nobodies

would be rather fine,

on the other hand.


...and then this girl turns her fear into, literally, a bunch of monster playmates. They're called nobodies.

Read more about the multi-talented Matthue Roth on page 2!

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