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A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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Dreams power ‘New Yorker’ cartoonist’s new book

New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast will discuss her new book, ‘I Must Be Dreaming.’ in St. Louis on Nov. 13. Photo: Bill Hayes

A few times a month, Roz Chast takes the train from Connecticut to her pied de terre on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where she lived for many years before moving to the suburbs to raise her family. 

“It’s still where I feel most at home, even though I’ve lived in Connecticut now for 30-plus years,” the artist says.

Cartoons emerge from her drawing board about contemporary American angst. Chast doesn’t think she’s anything special, but how many people have published a No. 1 New York Times best-seller and 15 other books, and have been a cartoonist at The New Yorker for 45 years? She sold her first cartoon to the magazine at the age of 23. Every week since then, she submits a group of six or eight cartoons to the magazine and, if she’s “lucky,” they buy one, but often they buy none. Perhaps, twice a year, they’ll choose two. Ninety percent of what she submits is rejected, she told the Times.

Chast’s latest book, “I Must Be Dreaming,” is in bookstores. She’ll discuss it Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. at Clayton High School Theatre. Also in the bookstores this month is “Tired Town,” a children’s book written by Patricia Marx and illustrated by Chast, which is about a little girl who doesn’t want to go to bed.

“I Must Be Dreaming” contains mostly Chast’s illustrated dreams and is divided into various chapters including Celebrity Dreams, Body Horror Dreams, Nightmares and Everyday Dreams. The dreams include common ones, such as losing one’s high school schedule — similar to the blue book nightmare in which today is the final, you haven’t gone to class all semester, and you haven’t a blue book — and ones about the loss of teeth.

Chast offers a brief tour through “dream theory land” with the usual suspects, Freud and Jung, as well as the dream theories of the ancient world, plus scientific explanations as to why we dream. 

She told the Times that out of all the theories about why we dream, she leans toward Carl Jung and his theories of the collective unconscious. One might say that common dreams are part of the collective unconscious.

Chast developed her observational skills as a child watching the high drama in her parents’ four-room apartment in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, N.Y. Her mother was a screamer, her father nonconfrontational. She emotionally detached herself by drawing.

 “My parents, a teacher and an assistant principal, were glad I had a passion,” Chast said. “I was allowed to take art classes at the Art Students’ League in Manhattan on Saturdays. At 13, I realized I wanted to be a cartoonist.” 

As soon as she graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design, she escaped Brooklyn for the Upper West Side.

“I was very aware that I was Jewish when I was growing up,” Chast said. “We observed the High Holidays most of the time, but I wasn’t bat mitzvahed. My mother lit candles Friday night, and she often prepared a Shabbos dinner. We always did the Passover seder.” 

She was surprised to hear that some Jews celebrate Christmas and was very surprised to learn many Jews in St. Louis decorate their trees. That may be because roughly 50% of St. Louis Jews are intermarried. So is Chast, to humor writer Bill Franzen, who is from Minnesota. 

One of Chast’s cartoon topics is Jewish-Christian unions in a series called “Mixed Marriage,” which ran in The New Yorker. In “Mixed Marriage, Episode 3,” a couple is at the breakfast table with the TV on. The newscaster says “irregardless.” The wife angrily labels him “a cretin.” Her Midwestern husband mildly suggests that perhaps he might be “emotionally intelligent,” which causes his wife to explode. 

Chast’s graphic memoir, “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?” continues to be wildly popular nine years after publication. Photographs and drawings tell how Chast, an only child, had to navigate her aging parents through the end of their lives. It’s poignant and heartbreaking, yet she makes unbearable grief bearable with her insights and humor. The book won the Kirkus Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award. 

Chast’s memoir concludes with drawings of her mother dying. 

“The book was a way of remembering, of not wanting to forget,” she said. “Writing and drawing is a way of remembering.”

In addition to drawing cartoons, Chast loves hand embroidery, a skill she learned in sixth grade. The teacher had the entire class, boys and girls, embroider a map of the United States. During the pandemic, she returned to the craft. 

“There was a giant bag of thread, 12 shades of green, 12 shades of red, at a church rummage sale,” she said. “I was in heaven being able to paint with thread.”

Chast’s colorful embroidered cartoons are hilarious. One is the common dream of flying, with five people in orbit. In another, a bird sits in a comfy chair watching a bird on television. 

Chast also makes Pysanky eggs, or Ukrainian Easter eggs, in her recognizable cartoon style. 

Her original cartoons and New Yorker covers, her embroideries and Pysanky eggs, are for sale at Carol Corey Fine Arts in Kent, Conn. (online at https://carolcoreyfineart.com).

Cartoonist Roz Chast

WHEN: 7 p.m. Nov. 13
WHERE:  Clayton High School Theatre, 1 Mark Twain Circle
HOW MUCH: $35 single; $45 for two, includes a copy of Chast’s new book, “I Must Be Dreaming”
MORE INFO:  Visit left-bank.com/event/roz-chast-i-must-be-dreaming

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