Monday, April 27, 2015
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

‘Up the Down Staircase’ writer Kaufman dies at 103

By
From page A10 | July 27, 2014 |

NEW YORK — Bel Kaufman, the witty and spirited fiction writer, educator and storyteller whose million-selling “Up the Down Staircase” captured the insanity and the humor, the pathos and the poetry of the American high school, died Friday at age 103.

Kaufman, the granddaughter of Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem and a vital link to Yiddish culture, died at her Manhattan home after a brief illness, said her daughter, Thea Goldstine.

Kaufman was a middle-age teacher and single mother in the mid-1960s when her autobiographical novel was welcomed as a kind of civilian companion to Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22,” a send-up of the most maddening bureaucracy. Like “Catch-22,” even the title of Kaufman’s book became a tell-all label, shorthand for all the senseless rules students and educators could never quite follow.

“Up the Down Staircase,” a scrapbook of letters, notes and memos, follows a few months in the life of the idealistic young Sylvia Barrett, the new teacher at Calvin Coolidge High School. She is a kind soul staggering under a blizzard of administrative nonsense and student impudence. When she’s not being reprimanded for her kids’ failure to memorize the school’s alma mater song, she faces a crowded but endearing class of misfits and other characters, from rebel Joe Ferone to the brown-nosing Harry A. Kagan.

When the book was released in 1965, The New York Times’ Beverly Grunwald praised Kaufman’s “refreshing way of stating the facts, of breaking down statistics into recognizable teenagers, of making you smile, be contrite and infuriated all at once.”

Kaufman became a heroine for teachers and students worldwide. “Up the Down Staircase” has sold more than 6 million copies and has been translated into 16 languages. It was made into a film of the same name, starring Sandy Dennis, and it helped start a trend of candid education books. Kaufman was delighted to learn that teachers in one of her former schools were warned not to let her see any memos, for fear they would end up in a book.

Decades later, another New York teacher-turned-celebrity, Frank McCourt, would praise “Up the Down Staircase” as one of the few honest looks at the public school system.

“She got all the craziness of the paperwork and the administrators and supervisors,” McCourt, author of the memoirs “Angela’s Ashes” and “Teacher Man,” said in 2005.

She was born Bella Kaufman in Berlin and raised in Odessa, her first language Russian. Her family fled in 1923 to escape the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, and she arrived in the U.S., at age 11, speaking no English. She was forced to begin her American schooling in the first grade, her classmates years younger. The kindness of her teacher inspired her to become an educator, too.

Language was a temporary handicap. She caught up quickly, graduated magna cum laude from Hunter College in 1934 and received a master’s degree in English from Columbia University two years later. Around the same time, she married Sidney Goldstine, with whom she had two children.

Literature was in her blood, not just from her grandfather, but from her mother, Lyalya Kaufman, a popular and prolific writer.

After leaving Columbia, Bella Kaufman wrote short fiction, including “La Tigresse,” published in Esquire with a small but lasting revision: Kaufman shortened her first name to Bel because the magazine only accepted work by men.

During the 1950s and into the ’60s, she taught in high schools and community colleges, never suspecting the good fortune of the second half of her life. The turn began in 1962 when her brief essay “From a Teacher’s Wastebasket” was published in the Saturday Review of Literature. She received $200 and was soon contacted by an editor at Prentice Hall, Gladys Justin Carr, who told her that her article might make a nice start for a novel. Kaufman resisted. Carr offered an advance. Kaufman spent it.

“So I had to write the book,” she recalled.

The novel took nine months and was finished during the “lowest point” of her life. She had left her husband, her kids were grown and her mother was ailing. She was alone and lonely in a two-room apartment and some pages had to be retyped, she said, because of the teardrops on the manuscript.

After “Staircase,” she wrote a second novel, “Love, Etc.,” and was a popular lecturer and speaker, talking about schools, the arts and her famous grandfather, including in the 2011 documentary “Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness.” She received numerous honorary awards, enjoyed tango dancing well into her 90s, and, in 2010, was invited by Hunter College to teach a course in Jewish humor. Her own life was a good punchline.

“In schools where I used to patrol the toilets,” she once said, “I am today required reading.”

 

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

Solano News

 
Paint the Town Purple; and Roxie

By Tony Wade | From Page: A2

 
City Coach hosts first block party

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

Bid Corderos Park, city staff recommends

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A3

 
White minister fought for civil rights in the South

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A3, 6 Comments | Gallery

Farmers markets herald return of summer

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

 
Denim and Diamonds fundraiser set May 16

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A4

 
Crash claims life of Concord teen

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

Biz Buzz: Dutch Bros. plans ALS fundraiser

By Susan Hiland | From Page: B7

 
Biz Buzz: Company schedules pasta class

By Susan Hiland | From Page: B7

 
Biz Buzz: NorthBay offers extended hours for primary care

By Kevin W. Green | From Page: B7, 1 Comment | Gallery

 
Biz Buzz: Retail store helps those with autism

By Susan Hiland | From Page: B7

Biz Buzz: Committee schedules contractors breakfast

By Kevin W. Green | From Page: B7

 
Biz Buzz: Budweiser kicks off new parks campaign

By Susan Hiland | From Page: B7

.

US / World

Picture it: A 1,000-year exposure showing a changing Earth

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
No time to lose: Global response to Nepal quake gears up

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Japan’s prime minister goes to US to showcase close ties

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Israel says airstrike on Syrian border targeted militants

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Family, friends in Baltimore mourn death of arrested man

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
‘Batman’ killer studied brain disorders before mass murder

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Image from the quake: Heavy damage in Nepal ancient city

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Fighting rages in Yemen’s 3rd-largest city, strikes continue

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Mountaineers, guides stream from Everest after avalanche

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Putin accuses US of supporting separatists in Russia

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

Death toll in Nepal quake rises to more than 3,200

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Late spring complicates already perilous amphibian migration

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Quake agony revealed quietly on trip from Nepal airport

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Corinthian Colleges to shut down all 28 remaining campuses

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
.

Living

Community Calendar: April 27, 2015

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

 
Today in history: Monday, April 27, 2015

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

Parenting: How to set boundaries on screen time

By The Washington Post | From Page: B5

 
Horoscope: April 28, 2015

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B5

Horoscope: April 27, 2015

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: A7

 
My husband doesn’t want me to redecorate home he had with first wife

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: A7

.

Entertainment

TVGrid April 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
TVGrid April 28

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

.

Sports

Warriors confident after sweep of Pelicans

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Giants-Rockies game postponed by rain

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Wall, Beal lead Wiz past Raptors 125-94 in Game 4 for sweep

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Paul, Clippers even series with 114-105 win over Spurs

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Ko wins Swinging Skirts for 2nd straight year

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Motorcycle rider from Livermore killed in Nevada race

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Billy Andrade and Joe Durant win Legends of Golf

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Cavs sweep Celts as James scores 27 in 101-93 victory

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

It’s here: Fight week begins with Pacquiao caravan to Vegas

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
American Pharoah completes final pre-Kentucky Derby workout

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Newgarden claims first IndyCar Series win not far from home

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Justin Rose wins in New Orleans for 7th PGA Tour title

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

.

Business

.

Obituaries

Elizabeth Cepeda

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

 
Kirk Noonan

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 3 Comments

Sandra King

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Janis Ruth (Sefzik) Skinner

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

.

Comics

Dilbert April 28

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
B.C. April 28

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Blondie April 28

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Frank and Ernest April 28

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Wizard of Id April 28

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Peanuts April 28

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Baldo April 28

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Garfield April 28

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Beetle Bailey April 28

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
For Better or Worse April 28

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Sally Forth April 28

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Baby Blues April 28

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Zits April 28

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Pickles April 28

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Rose is Rose April 28

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Get Fuzzy April 28

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Cryptoquote April 28

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Word Sleuth April 28

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Crossword April 28

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Sudoku April 28

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Bridge April 28

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Get Fuzzy April 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Pickles April 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Wizard of Id April 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Baldo April 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Rose is Rose April 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

For Better or Worse April 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Zits April 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Frank and Ernest April 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Peanuts April 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Dilbert April 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Baby Blues April 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Sally Forth April 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
B.C. April 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Garfield April 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Beetle Bailey April 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Blondie April 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Cryptoquote April 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7

Word Sleuth April 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7

 
Sudoku April 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7

Bridge April 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7

 
Crossword April 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7