Margin: Exploring Modern Magical Realism

a l b u q u e r q u e ,   n e w   m e x i c o

The Dream Library © 1994, 2000 - Zelda Leah Gatuskin - this image shall not be reproduced legally without permission from the artist
"THE DREAM LIBRARY" - Collage by Zelda Leah Gatuskin

Click on any of the following selections from Ancestral Notes ~ A Family Dream Journal

Collage: "From One End Of Time To The Other"

(4 pages)
Collage: "Vandling Un Handling"

(6 pages)
Collage: "Sacred Space"

(6 pages)


Photo by Rose Marie Kern
A B O U T    Z E L D A   L E A H   G A T U S K I N

ZELDA LEAH Gatuskin was born in Wilmington, Delaware; attended Emerson College in Boston (earning a BS in Visual Communications in 1979); and has lived in Albuquerque since 1983. As a visual artist, she is a specialist in the medium of collage. She provides art instruction, literary consultation and editing, and other creative arts services through her business, Studio Z, which also represents her husband, musician Frank G. Johnson. For fun, she folk dances and tends her herb garden.

A R T I S T ' S    S T A T E M E N T

" 'Do you really mean it when you write that the spirits of the dead are speaking to you?' my mother asked when I started showing her my Ancestral Notes. My reply was probably less than satisfactory: 'I don't know if it's the spirits, or the Muse, or inspiration or imagination. But the more I think about the ancestors, the more real they become.'

"Here is the trick of the creative mind. Even when writing my first book, a fantasy novel through and through, I would say, 'I'm not making it up, I'm just writing it down,' because the story began to feel so real to me.

"I did assure my mother that the dreams I wrote about were not made up. Many of the dreams referenced in Ancestral Notes preceded the literary effort by months or years. Did the dreams represent my own questions -- or the ancestors' messages -- working their way into consciousness? I don't see why it shouldn't be both. Dreams have that quality of unlimited potential in which the fantastic has become familiar.

"Ancestral Notes was a process that took place over the course of four years, from inception to publication. But even as the book went to press I knew it was just one piece of a lifelong investigation. I have since written another fantasy novel, Castle Lark And The Tale That Stopped Time, recently published; and assembled another collection of personal writings called Time and Temperature, for which I'm currently exploring publication options. I have a third novel in progress. So I'm alternating between fiction and creative nonfiction, with some visual art projects intermixed. (I also have a two-act play, Before the Immortals, as yet unproduced.) The themes and subjects of these works often overlap, or evolve out of previous efforts. I continue to present Ancestral Notes in public readings and discussions, so really the process is ongoing.

"My artistic affiliation is with the Surrealists: Dali, De Chirico, and most notably René Magritte (who considered himself a philosopher, and painting only a messy necessity). I love the way they use realism itself to challenge assumed reality. Their pictures are at once believable and impossible, very dreamlike. This is what I try to do with my collages. By juxtaposing familiar images I can create surrealist environments, as in 'The Dream Library' and 'Sacred Space.' I also try to compress meaning as dreams do, loading the collage with multiple images which blend or morph from one to the other through their graphic and symbolic relationships, as with 'From One End of Time to the Other' and 'Vandling un Handling.'

"The collages were the last element added to Ancestral Notes. I had been working in this technique for some years, so the art came easily. I set up file folders for the text elements I thought would be illustratable and started collecting images. In some cases there were collages I would have liked to have done but simply couldn't gather the images I had in mind. I also had to make sure the collages, created from color cut-outs, would translate into black and white. For printing, the color collages were reproduced in grey-scale and then touched up a bit with pen and ink.

"My literary influences are harder to pin down, since I did not study writing or literature formally. I've always loved to read and I read a lot of different types of writing, sometimes sampling a genre, sometimes binging on a particular author. Thinking specifically in terms of magical realism, one favorite author of my youth was Daphne DuMaurier. Her novels and stories were compelling for their mysterious undercurrent, some supernatural or psychological element charging the atmosphere.

"Of course each writing project demands its own reading list. When I was working on Ancestral Notes, I studied Yiddish, practicing translation skills on stories by Sholom Aleichem, I.L. Peretz, Avrum Reisen and others. Here I discovered the actual inflections of my ancestors, their irony and wry humor. These tales enlivened my historical reading, which focused on Shtetl life and Jewish culture. Not surprisingly, numerous works about the Holocaust were recommended, but I read only a few. My objective in Ancestral Notes was to vent this poisonous subject from my system, not take in more of it. I've tended to have a been there, done that attitude toward Holocaust material. I'm not alone; there are those who give Ancestral Notes the same reception. It seems that for the very reasons we write such works -- to bear witness, to make peace with history, to assert some personal position within a collective identity -- we may also weary of the genre. Certainly other generations and other cultures will come to this body of work and it will speak to them. I expect the time will come when it will speak to me as well. In many respects the writing of Ancestral Notes was my first step toward being able to approach and appreciate a larger body of Jewish literature.

"I've come to think of Magical Realism as the literary sibling of Surrealism: here the ordinary and extraordinary are portrayed in similar style with equal vividness, so that the line between possible and impossible becomes blurred. Now the laws of reality may be broken without disrupting the suspension of disbelief. The reader is drawn effortlessly into a fantastic, yet believable, experience." -- ZLG


Amador Home Page

Zelda Leah Gatuskin's picture, bio, book list

Studio Z

Ancestral Notes

Time and Temperature (Gatuskin's latest work)

Contact Zelda Leah Gatuskin by e-mail

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