Childhood experiences shape everyone, but one in particular had a huge impact on writer Linda K. Wertheimer. It put her on the path to her first published book.
Her family moved from New York to Ohio when she was in fourth grade, and Wertheimer and her brothers ended up being the only Jewish students in the school system. A woman came and preached to Wertheimer’s class, she said, and it led to her and her brothers feeling ostracized because of their faith.
“That stuck with me,” Wertheimer said. “People often say what happens in childhood influences you greatly as a writer later on.”
It did for Wertheimer, and it led her to write Faith Ed: Teaching About Religion in an Age of Intolerance. She’ll discuss this experience with her Brown Bag, which will be at 12:15 p.m. Friday on the front porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall.
Wertheimer is the prose writer-in-residence for Week Six at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center. In addition to writing Faith Ed, she also served as an education editor at The Boston Globe. She’s been working as a journalist and essayist for 30 years, and her writing has appeared in The Washington Post and The New York Times.
While Faith Ed was Wertheimer’s first published book, it wasn’t the first book she wrote. She initially began writing about faith with a memoir focused on losing her brother and growing closer to her religion. As she worked on it, however, she found a new angle for what she was writing — one that was connected to her journalistic work.
“What I found was that the story of what I experienced in fourth grade connected to the newer story that I was reporting about: schools teaching about religion, and whether that could reduce bigotry,” Wertheimer said. “So finding my book was sort of this organic process. I think the lesson is to not get stuck on the idea of, ‘This is going to be my book.’ ”
When she put her memoir to the side, Wertheimer started writing more commentaries and op-eds on religion. She said this helped her figure out how to write Faith Ed, which focuses on how different religions are taught in America’s schools.
While that memoir is still unpublished, Wertheimer said she still hopes to put it out into the world one day. Depending on the topic, she said, memoirs can be timeless.
“That still can be relevant 20 years from now,” Wertheimer said. “Twenty years from now, people are still going to be losing loved ones and figuring out how to go from there.”
Wertheimer said she hopes her lecture and experiences will help her audience find motivation to continue with their own writing.
“If they’re a writer, it’s not just about writing one book and sending it out and hoping for a ‘yes,’ ” Wertheimer said. “It can be a long kind of roller coaster ride.”
For her, that ride has been rewarding.
“I hope people get inspiration for pursuing their own projects, and understanding that one ‘no’ doesn’t mean ‘no’ forever,” Wertheimer said. “Writing, to me, is the kind of thing that gets better over time.”