All of us are born with a set of skills and talents. Sometimes we recognize them and pursue careers that put them to good use. Other times, we don’t discover them until later in life.
“I never really knew I could write well,” Bob Sachs said. It is a talent he discovered after a long, successful career in law and banking. Now, his short story, “Vondelpark” has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by The Louisville Review, and the author is “feeling good” about it.
“I was an indifferent student in high school and actually flunked out of the University of Illinois after my first year,” he said. To continue his education, he had to petition for admittance to Wright Junior College in Chicago.
“The creative writing professor read my petition and interviewed me,” he continued, “and he said it was very well written.” So Sachs went on to take a course from him and did well. Years later Sachs discover the professor regularly read one of his stories to the creative writing classes “as an example of what they should be doing.”
A number of years later, in 1971, Sachs, now a lawyer, came to Louisville with his wife, Felice. With the exception of a story he wrote for a creative writing class at Bellarmine in the 70’s, he didn’t write another story until after he retired from the Bank of Louisville in 1998.
At that time, he began taking a wide variety of courses at the University of Louisville and chose a creative writing course from Sena Jeter Naslund as one. “I went to her class and she asked how many people had registered,” he recalled. “I had not yet registered and she told me that the class was full, that she doesn’t want to take more than 18 people.”
She allowed him to sit in the class that date and told him, “‘Write down your name and phone number, and if somebody drops out, I’ll call you.’ So I did,” he said. “I wrote that on a piece of paper, but on top of the paper, I wrote in very big letters, please, and I gave it to her at the end of class. She looked at me and said, ‘oh, all right,’ and let me in the class.”
Sachs wound up taking two classes from Naslund, the award winning author of Ahab’s Wife and a number of other novels as well as two classes from poet and playwright Jeff Skiner and one from novelist and short story writer Paul Griner, all at UofL.
In 2004, he also submitted a short story to the Metroversity Writing Contest, and took first place in the graduate division. In 2005, he repeated that feat with “Vondelpark,” a fictionalized version of an experience he had while in Europe.
With those successes, Sena Naslund pushed Sachs to get more serious about his writing and take the two-year low-residency creative writing program leading to an MFA in Creative Writing at Spalding University. The program that she directed is one of the top 10 creative writing programs in the country.
“In 2007, I did that, graduating at the age of 70 in 2009 – a graduation my mother came to,” he said.
“I rewrote ‘Vondelpark’ several times,” he said, “and kept sending it out to literary magazines and no one accepted it.” After letting it sit for a while, “Finally I sent it to the Louisville Review, which is run by Spalding, … and they accepted it.”
The story was published earlier this year, and about a month ago, Sachs learned that they nominated it for a Pushcart Prize in Literature. “The Pushcart Prize goes to best writing among small literary magazines,” he explained, “and many of the literary magazines are run by universities.”
The judging will happen in 2017 and it’s a big field. “The honor is being nominated,” Sachs noted. “I have no pretentions of getting the award.”
‘Vondelpark,’ he explained is about a young Jewish boy who was sent to England on a Kindertransport during the Holocaust who later reunited with his mother in the United States. That person became a scientist for DuPont and traveled back to Europe for a conference at Utrecht, south of Amsterdam.
“One night,” Sachs recounted, “another scientist says lets go for a walk, and he takes him into a large central city park, Vondelpark, and the fellow starts to talk to the Jewish protagonist about how he was involved in the Holocaust.” Vondelpark, Sachs added, was off limits to Jews during the Holocaust.
The conversation in the story “continues through the park until they get back to the conference and reveals some of the characters’ history and present situations,” he said. While fictionalized, Sachs reports that elements of the story are true.
After he learned about his nomination for the Pushcart Award, another of his stories, “A Geometry of Life,” was accepted for publication in the Chicago Quarterly Review.
Sachs continues to write, and now has about 20 published stories. The Spalding program, he said, “changed my life. My focus is now on writing short fiction.”
He is also a member of a small writing group with Mickey Ruby and Rick Neumayer. Joe Peacock, z”l, was also a member. “We’ve become close,” he said, “and support one another.” The group has had several readings at The Bardstown.
In addition to his writing, Sachs is an avid and excellent photographer.
Most of his published stories and a lot of his photography, for which he has also won awards, can be found at www.robertsachs.com.
He also enjoys volunteering in the general and Jewish communities.
Bob and Felice Sachs have two sons, Adam and Joshua, and two grandchildren, William, 5, and Julia, 3, with whom they enjoy spending time.