MY SIXTH GRADE TEACHER TOLD ME I WAS WRITER. I LEARNED WHAT KIND WHEN I WAS IN MY FIFTIES.
By Harriet Rochlin
I was born in 1924 in Boyle Heights, and spent my first twenty years in a house my parents built on newly converted ranchland. By the time I was four, the street was lined with residences, all occupied by Jewish families. Playmates abounded; a few became lifelong friends. Radically different, and no less influential in forming my lifelong views, were the thirteen years I spent in public schools in Boyle Heights.
All served a wide ethnic and racial mix—Jews, Mexicans, Japanese, also some Russians, Greeks, Armenians, Italians, as well as a smattering of American Blacks and Anglos. Trained to forestall prejudice, our teachers enjoined us to honor our families' beliefs and customs and to acquaint ourselves with those of our classmates. Additional inducements included multicultural goodies, stories, songs, plays, and native costume parades.
In 1965, as the ethnic history movement grew, someone asked me what I knew about Jews in the early West. "Nothing," was my response. In the next thirty years, I published 18 articles on the subject, delivered 152 speeches, and co-produced the landmark illustrated social history, Pioneer Jews: A New Life in the Far West, published by Houghton Mifflin from 1984 to 2010. I wrote the text; Fred Rochlin gathered the photographs. The 11th printing is scheduled for republication by the Authors Guild in Fall 2013. The review on the cover reads: “Social history at its best—entertaining, engaging, and filled with little-known information about famous and not-so-famous Jewish pioneers.” San Francisco Chronicle
Last, and most intimately imagined, is my fictional Desert Dwellers Trilogy. Rewarding as it is to have my facts accepted and my opinions endorsed, when it comes to fiction, I’m truly touched when readers and critics are emotionally stirred by the characters and the background I’ve created. The following includes three reviews, one for each of the novels:
The Reformer’s Apprentice: A Novel of Old San Francisco. “Rochlin is a superb interpreter of Jewish types and Jewish activities in the West…but best of all the juices of life flow in every man and woman.” C.L. Sonnichsen, Journal of Arizona History
The First Lady of Dos Cacahuates. “The author serves up enough period charm, crackling storytelling and priceless details to satisfy devotees of both wild west lore and Jewish history.” Publishers Weekly
On Her Way Home. “Rochlin offers a fascinating tale of the Old West from a Jewish perspective that is not often found in books, while her expertise in early Arizona life will appeal to all western aficionados.” Booklist, American Library Association