Friday, August 27, 2021

Creative Adirondacks: Writer Yvona Fast

yvona fast

I’m probably not the only person who clips and saves Yvona Fast’s superb articles about food and recipes from the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.   I still have her recipe Leek fritters are a traditional Sephardic Hanukkah Dish [1] that I hope to try this winter.

But there is much more  to know about Yvona’s writing and accomplishments, and interviewing Yvona in Lake Clear, I have been captivated by her life experiences, living on three continents and speaking multiple languages.

My favorite story of Yvona is how she came to write her first published article, Happenings in Siberia, but that comes later……

Yvona’s perspective has been influenced in part by her close relationship with her mother, Dana Fast, who began her life in Poland [2] as Lilka Miron. Along with her family, Dana was forced  to live in the notorious Warsaw ghetto [3] before being smuggled out. She was hidden by Polish families as well as by nuns, often risking their lives in doing so.  After the war was over in 1945, Dana remained in Warsaw and became a chemist.  Her memories of the war and returning to the city after the Germans left, destroyed by systematic dynamiting, were shared in My Nine Lives, A Memoir, edited by Yvona. Her mother’s memory of the moment she returned to Warsaw, still a child, but looking upon a city that was completely devastated, is expressed in Yvona’s poem titled, Szwolezerow Street (reprinted at the end of this article.).

Yvona has told me that “words are her world,” and she was already reading in early childhood, stealing glances at the neighbor’s newspapers. While growing up Yvona did not know that she would become a writer, and while she wrote some poetry as a child, it was only  later in life that her writing career began. She first earned a Masters Degree in Library Science, and worked for libraries in the US in New York State, before taking a position in Yugoslavia.

This was 1989, and the next years were tumultuous as the nation of Yugoslavia ceased to exist and violence broke out in the region. Yvona crossed the border to Hungary and then took a train to Warsaw. She had started writing portraits of the students at the school  in Yugoslavia for the organization that was sponsoring her, and it was while living and working in Poland, that she wrote about seven Polish missionaries who traveled by train to Siberia to help those suffering dire conditions.

Her article was published in Christian Single (1993) and it was the beginning of what has turned into a 30 year writing career, including a book that is a unique look of how adults experience a condition known as nonverbal learning disability (NVLD.)   With NVLD, the individual needs words rather than images to understand the world.  She laughs a little about how the book came to be published by the Jessica Kingsley Publishing Company of the United Kingdom. She had sent a query to only three publishers!

Employment for Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome or Non Verbal Learning Disability, (JKP 2004) is still being sold today.  Before writing the book, Yvona discovered the condition almost as a fluke, while answering a question as a research librarian. She then recognized that her own limitations were consistent with those endured by those with NVLD. Learning more what others described, and then writing about it was a major turning point in Yvona’s life, and she has since spoken on issues re employment and disabilities to various groups.  As Yvona explains, she was not only driven to write the book, she “couldn’t not do it.”

Yvona certainly has found inspiration within her childhood, first in Poland, Israel and later in the States for her writing and poetry.  Not only did she have a mother who worked outside the home at a university, something out of the norm in the 1960’s, but she found it difficult to “fit in”  with children her own age.  She now believes that it was her neuro-divergence as well as her cultural differences that led to her being ostracized, rejected and even bullied.   Her recent publication of poetry, speaks to just those feelings of being Different,  (FootHills Publishing, 2017.)

garden gourmet by yvona fastYvona has explained to me that it was only when she discovered a spiritual connection and commitment, that her life made more sense and gave her a purpose. “It was Jesus Christ who broke the chains of rejection that bound me.”  As a result of her spiritual beliefs and devotion, she is more at peace with the world. She is also a big part of the creative community of the Adirondacks. She has been successful with her writing and spoken word, and is a big supporter of her colleagues’ work.  She found that the shared experiences of writers groups in Rochester, Malone and later in Saranac Lake, helped her with professional development as well as providing feedback that she welcomed in her own creative process. Yvona was particularly motivated and encouraged by the well known Saranac Lake writer and poet Randy Lewis.  [4]

She is also proud to explain how some of the pivotal moments in her life came out somewhat serendipitously, but also sourced in her relationship with God.   For example, the article for the food column in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, only came to mind while she was on the phone with the Editor.  Her column has now run in the Enterprise since 2004, and she has since published a cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your North Country Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market (Bloated Toe Publishing, 2013.)  Yvona is often at Saranac Lake’s Saturday market, where this photo was taken by Skip Murray.  Considering the wide range of Yvona’s interests, it is hard to know what Yvona will write about next?  Who knows, it could be about you!

Szwolerzerow Street   (reprinted with permission of Yvona Fast)

Yvona Fast ©2015

The neighborhood is gone.

All is still. A waning moon shines above.

Look left. Look right. A field of broken stones,

Like craters on the moon.

My city is no more.

 

Where are the streets? The homes?

Extinguished, block after block.

Torn down, stone by stone.

They are no more.

 

Liberated skeletons

Where have they gone?

The people are no more.

Shattered lives. Few survive

The devastation of war.

 

[1] https://www.adirondackdailyenterprise.com/opinion/columns/2020/12/leek-fritters-are-a-traditional-sephardic-hanukkah-dish/

[2] Dana’s family lived at 16 Freta Street. The building now houses the Maria Skłodowska-Curie Museum.

[3] For more about the Warsaw ghetto and the deaths that occurred, go to Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warsaw_Ghetto

[4] For more about Randall “Randy” Lewis, see, https://www.adirondackdailyenterprise.com/obituaries/2014/06/randy-lewis

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Linda Friedman Ramirez is a resident of Saranac Lake. She previously owned an art gallery in St Petersburg, Florida, and appreciates how art is integral to a community. She's contributing these artist profiles on behalf of ArtWorks, of which she is a member.




4 Responses

  1. Stephanie J. Banks says:

    I know Yvona; own her cook book; and was a member of the poetry group which met (still meets?) at the Saranac Library along with another famous resident, Caper Tissot. I have always admired her and Dana’s commitment to environmental and healthy food issues. Wonderful article!

  2. Thank you for this article about Yvonna Fast – I enjoyed it so much. Previously I had only known of Yvonna through her Facebook posts, which were links to her food articles (which I love). So good to read about the depth of this remarkable survivor, and about NVLD (Asperger’s) which is a subject close to my heart. I will look for the book. My best wishes to you, and thanks again.

  3. Bobbie Leamer says:

    Thanks, Linda, for this great article. I have always thought Yvona amazingly talented, and her mother has been a long time friend I met working on the library book sale who has many talents as well. I never knew the details of her wartime experiences, and your story makes me admire Dana even more than I did before.

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