Albany’s Joseph Krausman, mainstay in local literary circles, comes out with “Parabolic Dishes”

There’s a certain irony to the radar dishes pictured on the cover of Joseph Krausman’s forthcoming book “Parabolic Dishes.” First, because it’s a physical book after all, not an e-doc transmitted over the air. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just that the 86-year old Krausman is so actively devoted to the in-person sharing of literature. An Albany resident, he’s a reliable presence and thoughtful participant at author talks, poetry readings and writing workshops plus all manner of other cultural happenings in the Capital Region.

“It’s a good thing, writers hearing other writers,” said Krausman in his Brooklyn accent. “I’m a professional neophyte. Started as a kid, made friends and had good teachers.”

Krausman’s titular use of the word “parabolic” is a poetic play on what is contained in his book, which is 20 short parables, most of them just a page or so in length, plus three stories. The stories are rather recent, but he wrote the parables for his master’s thesis at the University of Massachusetts Amherst 50 years ago. Krausman characterizes the form as “a loose story that implies something. It’s another way of communicating. I’m sending a verbal message instead of electrical.”

There are choice dollops of humor and wisdom in Krausman’s puzzling vignettes. His themes are intimate and universal—the search for love, the need to make a buck, the urge to create and leave a mark in the world while there’s still time.

In Krausman’s “Why Am I Not Marc Chagall?” from the new book, a lexicographer considers his options after suffering a head injury. He tries and fails at love and spends the time counting grains of rice. A shrink tells him to pursue the arts so he becomes a drummer and joins an orthodox rock group, The Sons of Purim. Written in first-person voice, the piece concludes: “My trunk is packed and my clothes are pressed. I don’t look for the boat. When it comes, it comes. Meanwhile, music must be made in this lovely agony and dream: my life.”

Krausman grew up in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn. He joined the Army at age 18 and was active duty for two years at domestic postings mostly in the South. Next, I have earned a bachelor’s degree from Brooklyn College, compliments of the GI Bill. A summer visit to Northampton, Mass., convinced him to continue his education in New England. First, he took courses at Mount Holyoke then earned a master’s in playwriting from Smith College where he also held a prestigious fellowship. Finally, he took an MFA in fiction from UMass Amherst.

Also in Northampton, Krausman served for three years as artistic director of the Pines Theater Festival, which every summer presented a full slate of outdoor concerts and shows. Among the productions was his play, “The Ice Cream Parlor,” which became the title piece for his collected stage works, published years later. Another of his plays by him, “An Air of Truth” once made it to Off Off Broadway. He also has a book of poetry, “Monkeyshines.”

During this same period, Krausman was twice cast in plays alongside Spalding Gray, which led to a long friendship. Gray became famous for his public readings of him and the 1987 film “Swimming to Cambodia.” “I helped him get a job and so he was always nice to me and gave me tickets,” said Krausman, who once drove Gray to Caffé Lena in Saratoga Springs where he had a booking. Twice Krausman hosted parties in Gray’s honor after appearances at The Egg. “We became friends and I knew him pretty well. Such a sad ending, ”said Krausman, referring to Gray’s suicide of him.

Upon Krausman’s graduation from UMass, one of his professors wrote a recommendation letter describing a writing style that can be seen in the parables that comprised his thesis as well as in his more recent work: “He writes in a pungent, caustic style, crisply eloquent and wryly modern. He has an excellent ear for contemporary idiom and expression and is a keen observer of modern society. His writing by him is intelligently entertaining without being controversial or precious.

With three degrees and some clippings in hand, all Krausman needed was work that paid. During a visit home to Brooklyn, his politically active brother of him introduced him to Stanley Fink, a rising member of the New York state Legislature and its future speaker.

“I need a job,” Krausman told the lawmaker, “and I write fiction.”


“Well, that’s just what we do in the Legislature,” replied Fink, who helped him find a position in civil service. The job was with the Committee on State and Local Relations and it brought Krausman to Albany in 1981. As a senior research analyst, he wrote books on fire and police departments. I have retired in 2000.

In retirement, Krausman recalled once as a kid telling his dad that he was bored. “You have nothing to do, then read a book,” replied his pop of him. Joe took the advice and over the decades he has become the consummate library hound. Besides being a loyal patron of the Albany Public Library, he is also a board member of the Friends and Foundation of the APL. The group hosts book talks at noontime every Tuesday in the Washington Avenue branch and annually honors one local writer as Author of the Year.

About 10 years ago, Krausman wrote a short article for a retirement newsletter that gently chastises those folks who complain that there’s nothing going on around here. “The Capital District is so rich in events that the problem is not that there is nothing to do, but which events should I go to,” he wrote. Along the way he has built a strong network of allies and kindred spirits.

“Joe is an all-around good guy, with a million stories about the famous and not so famous, a man about town who can be found at most literary events in the area such as the Writers Institute programs. While he has never lost his Brooklyn accent and manner, he is a true Albany character. I love him dearly,” the local poet and peace activist Dan Wilcox, wrote via email. On Thursday, Aug. 18, Krausman will be the featured reader at the monthly poetry open mic hosted by Wilcox at the Social Justice Center in Albany.

Still on the horizon for Krausman is a new collection of poetry, “My Heart Is An Onion.” His catalog of poems is deep, with a number of award-winning pieces, and the poems are cataloged by topic. This makes it a snap for Krausman to enter contests and participate in readings that have specific themes. “If I get a prompt for writing, I already have something — food, religion, games, snakes, death. I’ve got a lot about death,” he said.

Producing the new book “Parabolic Dishes” caused Krausman to look back on his writing as a grad student and observe: “I think I wasn’t nice enough. There’s a bit of an edge. But maybe someone will get some fun out of it.”

There are nuggets of Krausman’s life in those early stops. In “My Literary Heritage,” a 20-year-old aspiring writer learns from his mother that a cousin named Bienstock once wrote a book of poetry, but it was entirely in Yiddish. He goes off to find this wizened cousin at the diner where he’s known to be a regular. The two discuss the motivations and rewards of the writer’s life of him and Bienstock gives him a copy of his book of him.

In real life, it was an uncle who was the writer in the family and he lived in Argentina. One of his three books by him was in Yiddish, a language Krausman heard in fragments from his parents and in every sermon at the synagogue. Ever the student, he went on to take advanced courses in the language at Oxford University (of all places). “I went all the way to Oxford and earned a diploma,” he said with a bit of wonder.

The aspiring young writer in that story leaves the meeting with his cousin disappointed to have not learned any secrets of the writing trade (there are no secrets), but nevertheless pleased to own a copy of the book and to have gotten a glimpse of a life immersed in literature.

“I rode home in the dirty subway, clutching the incomprehensible volume. Spangled metaphors danced in my head. I knew the way home, and I felt from deep within, a clenched fist pounding against my heart.”

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