The Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington will hold its 44th annual Lessans Family Book Festival starting Friday and running to Nov. 17. The festival features book signings, children’s programming and more than 20 author events.
Author and media mogul Ann Kirschner will hold two talks on Nov. 14, one at the JCC in Rockville and the other at Leisure World in Silver Spring, about her book “The Lady at the O.K. Corral: The True Story of Josephine Marcus Earp.”
Kirschner is the university dean of Macaulay Honors College at the City University of New York. She earned a bachelor’s in English from the University of Buffalo, a master’s in English from the University of Virginia and a Ph.D. from Princeton University. She’s also an entrepreneur in the media and technology world, having launched NFL.com for the National Football League and Fathom, Columbia University’s online education company.
In 2006, Kirschner published “Sala’s Gift,” the story of her mother, a Holocaust survivor, and her rescue of letters from Nazi labor camps. The book is available in multiple languages including Polish, German, French and Chinese. Kirschner has continued her theme of the impact of Jewish women in history with her latest book, “The Lady at the O.K. Corral,” available now.
“I realized that’s a theme that really intrigued me, so when I heard about Wyatt Earp being married to a Jewish woman and buried in a Jewish cemetery and [that] all the myths that I grew up with about the American West were basically turned on their head, I was enormously drawn to it,” Kirschner said. After receiving an email from a friend about Earp’s burial in a Jewish cemetery in California, Kirschner said she was immediately intrigued.
“I had that sense of glorious obsession when you’re on fire to understand something,” she said. “I wanted to learn how she ended up in Tombstone and how she ended up with Wyatt for 50 years.”
Earp was a deputy sheriff known for the infamous 30-second gunfight in Tombstone, Ariz., the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, in which he and his two brothers killed two outlaws. Earp was married twice before meeting Marcus Earp.
The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral has become a cultural touchstone in American history, often used as a metaphor for standoffs in contemporary America, most recently in regards to the federal government shutdown earlier this month.
“We would love things to be black and white; simple solutions to really thorny situations,” Kirschner said. “We’re going to end this once and for all. The heroes are going to kill the villains.”
For Kirschner, who grew up in the 1950s watching shows about the American West, her favorite of which was “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp,” Earp became the face of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. But it was his common law wife of 50 years who later fascinated Kirschner.
“The Jewish dimension of this story of a frontier woman really grabbed me,” Kirschner said. “If you read the histories of the West, you would think that there were no women there ... if you leave women out of the picture, you’re not really understanding the true history of the time. My motivation was to put the women back in the picture.”
Beyond Marcus Earp, Kirschner said she was also intrigued by the Jewish communities that settled in the American West.
“I was fascinated by early Jewish communities in places like Tombstone and Nome, Alaska,” Kirschner said. “It struck me as fascinating; these untold stories of the settling of the U.S. Who knew they were celebrating the Jewish New Year in Tombstone?”
Marcus Earp’s Jewish identity will be a major focus of Kirschner’s talks on Nov. 14.
“[She] raises interesting questions about Jewish identity and when it’s easy to have a Jewish identity and when it’s difficult,” Kirschner said. “Some people think Josephine was a negative role model because she was so indifferent.”
The author said she hopes readers and listeners will also consider their own identity in reading “The Lady at the O.K. Corral.”
“We think about the Jewish community we grew up in and I’d be interested in having a conversation about when it’s difficult to be Jewish, how are you Jewish?” Kirschner said.
“It’s a very important time to think about how we define being Jewish and ... how do we pass it on to the next generation.”