By GABRIELLA BOCK | Reporter
In 2009, Bob Dylan wrote a ballad for the soundtrack of filmmaker Olivier Dahan’s “My Own Love Song.” It led to one of Dylan’s most popular recent albums, “Together Through Life.”
Asked why he recorded an album that nobody had expected, Dylan replied, “Inspiration is hard to come by. You have to take it where you find it.”
For Palisadian Mary Kinzelberg, the inspiration to pen her first novel also arrived wrapped in music.
“I didn’t know I was going to write a book until I heard this song on the radio,” Kinzelberg revealed to the Palisadian-Post. “But with each passing note, I began to see a story unfold inside my mind, and by the end, I just knew that I had to write it.”
The tune that struck Kinzelberg’s chord was “Who’s Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet” by the British guitarist Richard Hawley, a modern blues arrangement that reminded the writer of an era she had long forgotten.
In Kinzelberg’s “Glove Her Hands,” readers are transported back in time to Jim Crow’s final days in St. Louis, Missouri, where they meet Rachael, a kind and thoughtful Jewish teenager struggling to make sense of a world still clinging on to past prejudices.
Kinzelberg, who spent seven years drafting the novel, told the Post that the story, while a work of fiction, draws on her own experience of growing up in 1950’s St. Louis.
Much like the book’s young protagonist, the novelist had an upper middle-class upbringing staffed with African American housemaids and handy workers who were commonly referred to as the “help.”
The author’s parents, like most parents, tried their best to shelter her from the evils of the world, and while water fountains and bathrooms were still designated by race, Kinzelberg didn’t fully understand the real world implications of racial prejudice until she experienced it for herself.
“We just didn’t talk about it,” she said. “Racism felt very far removed from where we were, but looking back, I realize I was just very naive.”
At the time, the conditions African Americans in the Northern cities were improved over their Southern counterparts, but still yielded hardships that were dutifully hidden away from the rest of white society.
And although Northern schools—like Kinzelberg’s, which only had two black students—were technically integrated, discriminatory government practices, like redlining, kept African Americans out of most white neighborhoods and school districts.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t until Kinzelberg’s family relocated to California in the early 1960s that she began to fully understand what prejudice looked like first hand.
For many of her new friends, Kinzelberg had been the first Jewish person that they had ever met in real life, a situation that often revealed her peers’ learned aggression toward her heritage.
“The other kids would often make cruel jokes about Jews,” Kinzelberg recalled. “It felt like the flu holding me down in my own bed.
“I remember wishing I had been born as someone else.”
In her book, Kinzelberg stitches a similar worldview into her protagonist’s identity: With her innate understanding of the human spirit, Rachael is gifted an insight that transcends the ethos of her era.
During the 1950s and early ’60s, American attitudes about Jewish people were just beginning to shift after a long and dark history of antisemitism, racism and ethnic bigotry.
Such discriminatory practices included Jewish quotas, which limited the number of Jews in various establishments to a certain percentage, a norm that is highlighted in the novel when Rachael discovers that her uncle has been debarred from practicing medicine because of his ethnicity.
But it is through her newfound friendship with Ethel, the family cook, that Rachael becomes acutely aware of the boundaries that both race and cultural identity can hold over a person, and with this knowledge she becomes a young crusader for social change.
“I wrote this book to teach young people that they should never hide who they truly are,” she explained.
Although “Glove Her Hands” is Kinzelberg’s first novel, the author has been a lifelong advocate for music and literacy. A former elementary and special education teacher in schools across Southern California and Boston, Kinzelberg continues to collect books and musical instruments for students in under-served communities.
Always eager to learn, Kinzelberg, who has lived in the Palisades with her husband Jay since the 1990s, retired from teaching so that she herself could become a student again.
“I had no idea you could go to school and study art,” she revealed with a laugh. “So I enrolled in Pierce College and began taking design courses.”
An artist of many hats, Kinzelberg began experimenting with a wide variety of mediums, including painting, jewelry and silk flower crafting and, yes, even millinery.
Some of those hats have even made their way into Saks Fifth Avenue and onto fashion runways, others were donated to patients at St. John’s in Santa Monica.
And while Kinzelberg will humbly tell you that she is “just having fun” with her artwork, the fiery redhead has created quite a successful art career in her retirement.
Her paintings, mostly abstract contemporaries, were displayed at Cafe Vida and Palisades Branch Library in 2016, and have now found a new home at the Spa on Rodeo in Beverly Hills.
When asked if she plans on writing any more books, Kinzelberg told the Post that while she had no immediate plans for another novel, she definitely wouldn’t rule it out.
It may all just depend on who’s playing on the radio.
Kinzelberg’s “Glove Her Hands” is available on Amazon; artwork can be found at marykinzelberg.com, the Spa at Rodeo or at home in her Alphabet Streets studio.
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