Laurie Rubin, is an internationally celebrated mezzo-soprano. Her recent career highlights include a United Kingdom solo recital debut performance at Wigmore Hall in London, as well as her solo recital debut at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. She has just completed a national book signing tour for her memoire.
Q. The Huffington Post wrote a nice review of your book, Do You Dream in Color? Insights From a Girl Without Sight.
A. Yes. It is all very exciting, especially for a first book. I had several readings in Washington, D.C. and New York, and then a Concert at Barge Music – an iconic venue in Brooklyn - and then back to L.A. for a program here at AJU where I sang and discussed excerpts from the book.
Q. Which do you find more challenging, music or writing?
A. Both are difficult. With music it is all about technically creating a color as you breathe while doing pianos (softly) and crescendos (getting louder) and feeling the music. That has its own challenges and rewards. Writing has a similar feeling, but it is a process of having to own the words in front of you: equally challenging. Music is probably easier for me because I have done it for so many years. Even though I have always had an affinity for writing, it is the process of doing it professionally that is new to me.
Q. What was the impetus for the book?
A. I was telling my partner, Jenny, that I was frustrated that people have so many misconceptions about blindness, and she suggested that I write a book. I gave it a lot of thought, and in 2008 I hired a writing consultant.
Q. What was your writing process?
A. I would review childhood memories…what stood out as interesting…things I wanted people to know…the viewpoint from blindness…and how universal our experiences really are. I began to write everything I remembered: both triumphs and challenges. I had to write them all down to see which ones would be most interesting. The structure of the book did not happen right away. It happened over time and, ultimately, when we decided on a title.
Q. The title is lovely. How did you come up with it?
A. I never intended for the book to be called Do You Dream in Color? We went through many funky titles including Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Blind People but Were Afraid to Ask.
A. My friend, who is a composer, asked me to write a poem about my life as a blind person. This was both difficult and interesting. The poem that I ended up writing was an answer to the question people always ask me, “Do you dream in color?” He then set the poem to music for the title track of my Do You Dream in Color? CD. We decided that this would also be the title of the book and I would write about how I see each color by matching it with an experience in my life. Some chapters are introduced by a short poem about how I see a particular color. For example, I wrote a poem about what I think of as red; the last line in the poem is that red was the color of the dress I wore when I sang with John Williams. The next chapter is about John Williams and that experience.
Q. What is the most important thing that you want people to take away from the book?
A. I want them to know that anything is possible and that the sky is the limit for blind people as well. I want people to think bigger for themselves and for other people and not to judge by the surface and assume that a person cannot do A, B, or C. The whole concept of dreaming in color goes to a figurative level, hopefully inspiring people to go after their dreams.
Q. Where did such a positive attitude come from?
A. My parents. When I was born blind, they had no idea what my life would be like. The first thing they did was buy a 1979 Chevy van. That may seem a strange way to be proactive, but they wanted me to experience the world with my other four senses. We went on camping trips, we went skiing and water skiing, and they never said no to anything that I wanted to learn how to do. I never had someone telling me, “No, you can’t do this.” At least no one close to me. Later in my career, I did have people say no and, “You’ve got to be realistic,” but by that time I had pretty healthy self-esteem. The Jewish community was also very supportive of me.
Q. How so?
A. In many ways. I was the first blind bat mitzvah girl at Valley Beth Shalom. I had a normal four-hour service and did what every other bat mitzvah girl does. Usually around 300 people attend, but for my service there were six hundred. People were curious how I was going to do it.
Q. How did you do it?
A. I had the text of the service in Braille and put it on top of the Torah. That is how I did it. What was also very helpful to me was that my parents were friends with leaders in many Jewish organizations, and they would ask me to sing the Star Spangled Banner at high profile events. I sang for famous people like George Burns, Walter Matthau, Alan King, Margaret Thatcher, and Nancy and Ronald Reagan. I sang for Mayor Riordan’s inauguration which was televised, and this all came through the Jewish community. I never ran for office in high school, but in college I ran for co-chair of Hillel and it was the first student election that I won.
Q. Do you think that your positive attitude is reflected in the book?
A. Yes. The first review of the book was in the Huffington Post, and they made reference to my “fizzy and effervescent presence whose unquenchable lust for life is utterly charming and persuasive.” That critique meant a lot to me.
Q. They also called the book an “entrancing memoir.” So when are you going to write another book?
A. I am already working on another book. It is fiction with a bit of fantasy. The main character happens to be blind, but the book does not focus on her blindness. Characters in the book realize she is blind and think, “Oh my gosh. She is blind and she does all of these things.” I want the reader to have the same epiphany as the characters: She can do all of these things and she is blind.
Q. Is the process of this book different from your first book?
A. Definitely. Now I can just enjoy the process. Not that I didn’t enjoy writing my own story, but it was very much about digging into my life and finding what is interesting. My life to me is mundane, but writing about a fictional character and getting excited as you write it is a cool experience.
Q. How much of you is in this fictional character?
A. I do not think too much of it is me at all. At the beginning of the book, almost her entire family dies in a fire and she is trying to find family again, whereas I have always had a very supportive family.
Q. Then where did the idea come from?
A. I do not know. I was at a Unitarian church service, and I caught bits and pieces of a conversation about something spiritual and something about Thanksgiving…and the story came to me. The current working title of the book is Seven Years of Thanksgiving.
Q. Was it the character that came to you first?
A. No, it was the entire story, out of the blue.
Q. Is the character alive in your head?
A. Absolutely, and so are all of the characters around her. I have never had this experience before. The book is writing itself.
Q. I always conclude my interviews with authors by asking them about their favorite books or writers.
A. I love the Harry Potter books and the humanity of all her characters who are amazing and multi-faceted. Over the years her books have become incredible literature. I also love John Steinbeck. East of Eden is one of my favorite books as is A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. It is a beautiful book with great fictional characters and lots of American history. And I love Jane Austin and Charles Dickens.