She’s an iconic Jewish storyteller. She’s a widely acclaimed professor and folklorist. She’s the one and only Peninnah Schram, and Peninnah’s World: A Jewish Life in Stories is her authorized biography, told through individual stories.
What is a biography told through stories? Because Schram’s art form is storytelling, Peninnah’s World dramatizes in vivid scenes her extraordinary trajectory from the New London, Connecticut-born child of immigrant parents steeped in Jewish tradition in the 1930s and ‘40s to award-winning, New York-based performer, writer and scholar. The book features landmarks such as the old Mohican Hotel in New London and Stern College for Women in Manhattan. Along the way, Schram enjoys close encounters with such luminaries as Noble Laureates Elie Wiesel and Isaac Bashevis Singer, as well as famed Yiddish-theater actress Molly Picon, actor Jeff Goldblum, singer/ethnomusicologist Ruth Rubin and others.
Written by storytelling studies professor and performer Caren Schnur Neile, the stories are in a form tailor-made to enjoy and share aloud. At the same time, they serve as models for all those interested in creating their own life and family stories, whatever their background, whether on the page, on the stage, or among neighbors and loved ones.
Welcome to Peninnah’s World. Prepare to explore your own.
Caren Schnur Neile has taught storytelling studies at Florida Atlantic University for more than two decades. A performance storyteller, she co-hosts The Public Storyteller on South Florida public radio WLRN.
“The Storyteller” by Peretz Kaminsky
Introduction: Telling the Human Story
Part I: In the Beginning… 1934–1952
Chapter 1: The Pearl
Chapter 2: The Elijah Story
Chapter 3: Piano Lessons
Chapter 4: The Book of Leaves
Chapter 5: The Farm
Chapter 6: Onstage
Chapter 7: The Only Jews
Chapter 8: What Joe Wants
Part II: A Woman in the World 1952-1967
Chapter 9: Shooting Star
Chapter 10: Higher Learning
Chapter 11: Tallulah Bankhead and Other Fallen Women
Chapter 12: Leaving Home
Chapter 13: Paris, By Way of Manhattan
Chapter 14: Coming Home
Chapter 15: Peklach of Joy
Chapter 16: Peklach of Sorrow
Part III: A Woman of Valor 1967-present
Chapter 17: Those Who Can…
Chapter 18: Kaddish
Chapter 19: The Storyteller
Chapter 20: The Joy of Teaching
Chapter 21: The Station That Speaks Your Language
Chapter 22: In Print
Chapter 23: Strengthen Yourself
Chapter 24: Here I Am
Chapter 25: Ever After
“My Storyteller’s Prayer” by Peninnah Schram
Glossary of Yiddish and Hebrew Terms
Selected Publications and Recordings by Peninnah Schram
About the Author
Through her dedicated scholarship, compelling performances and irresistible charm, Peninnah Schram single-handedly revived the Jewish oral storytelling tradition in America. This touching, intimate biography offers an album of vivid anecdotes conjured from Schram’s recollections. Like Peninnah’s name, it is a precious string of pearls.
Caren Neile waves a magic wand over interviews with the much-loved doyenne of Jewish storytelling, transforming them into story: scenes rendered in sharp prose that make the events walk right off the page into the reader’s heart. Peninnah’s World uses a novelist’s technique to recreate Peninnah Schram as vividly as if she had stepped out of a Jewish version of Little Women.
This nimble biographical writing offers an authentic view into the inner and outer worlds of one of our most important contemporary storytellers. Peninnah’s World is a compelling reading experience, rich with intimacy and vivid dialogue. Neile’s illumination of Peninnah’s artistic journey to becoming an esteemed leader in her field is inspiring and adds pivotal detail to stories of the early days of the American storytelling renaissance.
11/15/21, Yeshiva University Blog: Penninah and the book are featured in this article about how the book came to be.