CHAPEL HILL At 87, Norman Weinstein has lived a life that many only dream of. From becoming a playwright and moving to Europe, to fighting segregation and military governments, he has had a wide variety of experiences.
Recently, he put those experiences into “First Love & Other Poems: Metrical Moments for the Most of Us,” chronicling his life’s memories, big and small. It was published in April and can be purchased in local bookstores and online.
Writers Jaki Shelton Green and Lucia Peel Powe are reading from Weinstein’s book across the Triangle. Green was the first Piedmont Laureate in 2008, and Powe founded Kidznotes, which gives poor children orchestral training. Although Weinstein will attend, he will not read any poems himself because he has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which makes breathing difficult, and is in hospice care.
“His pulmonologist said he’s never seen lungs this bad before,” son-in-law Marc Alperin said. “It’s just doggedness, stubbornness. He’s not going to give in.”
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Weinstein joined the Air Force and U.S. Maritime Service, worked in journalism, taught in multiple states, volunteered at the Bronx Zoo, and opened an antiques business. Emily Eve Weinstein, his daughter, described him as an “adventurer.”
He began writing, mostly plays, as a teenager. He wrote poems for this collection because “writing a play, even a short play, takes a very long time.”
Poetry and plays limit writers because they “don’t have room to waste,” Weinstein said. “(They) can’t wander very far. … (The poem or play) has to do what it’s supposed to do.”
“First Love & Other Poems” has four sections, with poems about first love, family and reflection, animals, and opinions. Many tell stories that are easy to follow.
“I too often feel that a lot of people are afraid of poetry,” Weinstein said. “They feel maybe rendered stupid because they don’t understand it. I think sometimes poets tend to be … deliberately obscure. I really don’t like that.”
One of the poems included in the family and reflection section, titled “Mystery,” asks what has happened to some of the places that the speaker knew in his childhood, such as “the shaded spring house” and “cool dark barns.” It describes how the landscape has changed since the speaker’s youth, then ends with the lines “all gone, and the child who won’t return.”
Tiny airplanes float from strings, and hardcover books fill shelves that reach to the ceiling in Weinstein’s condominium in The Cedars.
“My grandfather is the smartest person I’ve ever met – and that’s really not hyperbole,” said granddaughter Maddie Weinstein. “I used to think he had a photographic memory, but he insists that he doesn’t. ... He also is a fiercely moral person, and has been so his whole life – volunteering with the NAACP in the ’60s to desegregate housing, working with the underground anti-junta movement in Greece in the ’70s, and giving to charitable causes his whole life.”
Daughter Emily’s brightly colored art hangs on every wall. The painter, who has always been fascinated by her father’s spontaneity, says he taught her to be herself.
“My father was always more of a friend than a parental figure,” she said. “He’s always been very supportive of this crazy career I have… That was a good influence. I never tried to do or be anything I wasn’t.”
“First Love & Other Poems” is Weinstein’s second print book, and it means a lot to him as he holds the paperback in his hands, gently tracing the garden painting by his daughter that graces the cover.
After finishing the collection, Weinstein said he hopes readers will feel “joy and (want) to go back and read it a second time.”
Alperin said his father-in-law has a strong desire to leave his mark.
“It’s very important for him to leave something behind,” he said. “I think he’s put his whole heart and soul into this so that there is this thing that we all have… as a testimony to who he was and his passion.”
If you go
You can hear Norman Weinstein’s poetry at several readings:
June 21 at 2 p.m. at Womancraft Gifts, 370 Main St., Carrboro
June 28 at 2 p.m. at Flyleaf Bookstore, 752 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in Chapel Hill
July 1 at 2 p.m. at Cedars of Chapel Hill Club House in Chapel Hill
July 2 at 7 p.m. at Fine + Folk Art Carolina, 116 W. Clay St. in Mebane.
For more info call 919-942-2607.