Tilar J. Mazzeo

‘After the war, when Irena made a list of all the people in Warsaw who took part in her network to help Jewish families and save their children, it was fourteen pages long, and the names in fact numbered in the dozens upon dozens. What Irena never forgot was that she was simply one member of a vast collective effort of decency. She did not want the world to forget either.’

This story of the incredible Irena Sendler – born 1910 in Warsaw to Dr. Stanislaw Henryk and Janina Kryzyzanowski – comes to us via Irena’s Children, the 2017 book from award-winning writer, Tilar J. Mazzeo. We learn that Sendler, sometimes called ‘the female Oskar Schindler’, found her way into the Warsaw ghetto through her work as a public health specialist. She and her recruits snuck out 2500 Jewish children – through the sewers, hidden under bulky coats, in coffins.

New York Times Bestselling Author Mazzeo has written a number of interesting books including Eliza Hamilton: The Extraordinary Life and Times of the Wife of Alexander Hamilton, which came out late in 2018. Dr. Mazzeo also produces natural and artisanal wine through the Saanichton-based Parsell Vineyard she runs with her husband, Dr. Robert Miles.

Mazzeo will be one of the featured speakers at the Jewish Book Festival, which takes place from Saturday, February 9th to Thursday, February 14th. As you’ll see in the link at the bottom, she will be presenting A True Story of Courage, a Lunch and Learn on February 11th, and two outreach events on February the 10th. We are delighted that Dr. Mazzeo has completed our Q and A in advance.

i. I work as a:
Writer, professor, winemaker.

ii. I do this creative work because:
People’s lives–the small, lived texture of them–are fascinating.

iii. Personal qualities that help me in my work are:
Self-discipline, a bit of tunnel vision, and the ability not to take rejection or criticism personally.

iv. The greatest challenges around doing this work are:
Writing is hard, and it takes a lot of discipline to keep doing it, day after day, especially when it’s not coming easily.

v. Creative childhood hobbies:
I loved sewing things as a child, especially my own clothing. That probably explains some of those pictures from the 70s where I look like a waif.

vi. Other creators who inspire you:
Some of my closest artist friends are painters, film directors, and luthiers, and I’m inspired by people who tell stories in different media.

vii. Training that has helped me succeed in this career:
Learning how to do tedious archival research in graduate school has been critical to writing about women’s lives and secret resistance movements, where the archives are often hidden away in funny places.

viii. A common trap that can hurt people in this career:
Personally I think going into debt for an MFA is a terrible trap for a writer. If they send you for free, by all means, do it. But not if you have to take on debt, because I’ve never yet had a book editor care whether I have an MFA or not (and I do not). Editors care about the work, that’s it, full stop.

ix. Some proud career moments:
It was a pretty big deal the day my first book hit the New York Times bestsellers list.

x. If you want to work in my field, I suggest that you:
Ditch the TV (it’s a narrative generating machine), carve out two hours a day to write, and write every single day, without fail.

xi. A professional goal I have for the future:
I’d like to write a mystery novel series.

xii. If you want to see my work, go to:

See Mazzeo and other esteemed authors at the:

2019 Jewish Book Festival


Header Photo: Min An


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Elizabeth Newton