Shelly Oria Tells Us About Her Debut Short Story Collection, New York 1, Tel Aviv 0

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Courtesy of T Kira Madden

Over 100 world-class writers are in Toronto this week for the 35th annual International Festival of Authors.  This includes Israeli-American author Shelly Oria, whose debut novel, New York 1, Tel Aviv 0, is to be released next month. 

Oria grew up in Tel Aviv, Israel, and moved to New York when she was 25 to attend Sarah Lawrence College.  After graduating with a master’s of fine arts in fiction writing, Oria now lives in New York and teaches at the Pratt Institute.

Her upcoming book is a collection of 18 short stories exploring themes of sexuality, nationality and the limitations language imposes on identity.  Real Stlye spoke with Shelly Oria about her book.

Real Style: How does it feel to be one of the authors invited to this year’s International Festival of Authors?

Shelly Oria: So wonderful, I’ve met some awesome people.  I think every time you take a bunch of writers and put them together… there’s something energetic and kind of exciting that happens and you start to connect.  So that’s really, really fun to be a part of.

Real Style: Explain the meaning behind the title New York 1, Tel Aviv 0.

Oria: That’s the title story of the collection.  It’s about three people living together in a committed relationship.  The narrator is an Israeli-American who just moved to New York and the man is Israeli-American who’s been in the states for many, many years.  The other woman is American.

One thing that runs through the story is this little game they invented that’s sort of comparing things between Tel Aviv and New York… but the narrator keeps forgetting to keep score.  Most of the time New York seems to be winning in her internal contest so it’s always, New York 1, Tel Aviv 0.

Real Style: Why are the two Israeli-American characters constantly comparing the two cities?

Oria: It’s the idea that there’s this inherent comparison going on when you have a dual identity of any kind.  There is this instinct to ask, “Is this better or is that better,” and that’s what that game sort of captures.  There’s an underlying desire to not have that contest and to just be.

Real Style: Before you moved to New York, you wrote only in Hebrew.  Was it a difficult transition learning how to write in English?  Did anything ever get “lost in translation’?

Oria: Translating is the hardest thing in the world.  In my first semester I had such a major freak out and I almost dropped out of the program.  I would write notes in Hebrew and then try and translate them and I ccouldn’tkeep up.  I realized I had to start writing in English.  To lose language and have to start over in another language is one of the scariest things and I do think that if I had let that understanding sink in, I would not have done it.

Real Style: A longing for identity is greatly explored in your collection.  Is this recurring theme inspired by your own dual identity being both Israeli and American?

Oria: The themes and the duality of identity are definitely from my own life.

Our brains are so wired towards dichotomy and towards choice.  It’s such a Western idea to ask, “Who are you, what are you?”  My journey both as a human and as a writer is to change the language around that and the thinking around that…and to think both. I’m not either Israeli or American—I am both.

Real Style: Looking forward, what are your plans for the future?  Any new projects we can look forward to?

Oria: I am working on two different projects.  One is top secret and I can’t talk about it. The other…started from the idea of taking the title story from the book and expanding it to a novel. It’s still the situation between the three of them but the Middle East is not the Middle East as we know it.

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