In his second novel, Fred Sokol ’69 picks up the story of two cantankerous friends as they embark on an impromptu road trip to the ocean where they find adventure and a new perspective on life.
Published in August by Bellastoria Press, Destiny follows Morris Kahn and Mendel Greenbaum, the heroes of Sokol’s 2011 novel Mendel and Morris and several plays, who are now nearing their 80s but haven’t lost their joie de vivre. “When they arrive at the beach,” the publisher notes, “their openness to chance encounters leads them to Destiny — a woman, a place, and an opportunity to reimagine the rest of their lives. The two men, facing the realities of aging…nevertheless revel with both exuberance and curiosity in what life offers them — friendship, the natural world, and fried clams.”
For Sokol, a long-time theater professor, director and critic, “writing creatively has been latent because I assigned priority to my dual careers, raising my kids and being a proactive member of my family, but it was dwelling within me.”
After graduating from Hobart, Sokol taught in Brooklyn and worked for New York City Mayor John Lindsay’s office. Later he earned graduate degrees in progressive education and creative arts from Cambridge-Goddard Graduate School for Social Change and Union Institute & University. He joined the faculty at Asnuntuck Community College in Connecticut, where he taught theater for more than 30 years. In addition to teaching and directing, Sokol remains a reviewer of professional theater in Connecticut and the Berkshires for talkinbroadway.com, as well as local periodicals.
After retiring from Asnuntuck, Sokol kick-started the defunct theater program at American International College in Springfield, Mass., and did the same at Bay Path University in Longmeadow before starting an acting workshop at his local library. All the while he has been writing — not only theater reviews, but plays and fiction.
Following the publication of Mendel and Morris — which tracked the two friends on a journey to South Florida for a shuffleboard tournament and unexpected romances — a colleague urged Sokol to expand on the characters in the theater. Since then, he has written two plays featuring Mendel and Morris.
Between the novels and stage productions, Sokol says he isn’t sure “which will become my major form. My strength as a writer is writing dialogue, whether in the construct of a play or a novel.”
With Mendel and Morris in particular, the voice-driven characters were inspired by the Yiddish-inflected conversations the author grew up around. “The voices come from my childhood,” Sokol explains. “My dad was American but his parents were from Russia, so I heard Yiddish growing up. A lot of writers go with what they know, and I know these guys.”
Sokol says he played up the comedy of the characters’ vaudevillian dynamic in their earlier incarnations, and while the dialogue remains sharp and witty in Destiny, this leg of their story lingers more in the pathos of their friendship and the process of aging.
As he worked with his editor on Destiny, Sokol was buoyed through the revision process by his experiences as an English major at HWS, especially with the Shakespeare scholar and Professor of English Katy Cook. “She was absolutely brilliant and if you were lucky enough know her, she’d invite you over for sherry and tear up what you’d written,” Sokol fondly recalls. “What she really taught me in retrospect was that you really have to revise and proofread — you can’t get out of it. I’m now able to bring that to my own work.”
He is beginning that process once again with the novel he recently submitted to his publisher, an entirely new premise focused a college-aged woman in 1965.
As for what’s next for Mendel and Morris, “I tend to leave things open ended,” Sokol says, “so if I ever want to come back to it, I can.”