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Remembering acclaimed Israeli author Amos Oz

Renowned Israeli author Amos Oz has died of cancer at age 79. His novels, essays and short stories made him one of Israel’s most widely read writers, and reportedly, a contender for the Nobel Prize in literature. Throughout his life, Oz advocated for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. In 2016, Jeffrey Brown spoke with him about his creative process and the “deep human need” for storytelling.

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  • William Brangham:

    We wanted to take time tonight to remember the renowned Israeli author Amos Oz. He died today of cancer at the age of 79.

    His novels, essays and short stories made him one of Israel's most widely read writers. His work was praised worldwide, and he was said to be a longtime contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

    Oz wrote over 40 books, including "Black Box," "In the Land of Israel," and his acclaimed 2002 memoir, "A Tale of Love and Darkness," which chronicled his tumultuous childhood and his mother's suicide when he was just 12 years old.

    Born Amos Klausner, he changed his name to Oz, which is Hebrew for courage, at the age of 14. Throughout his life, Oz was a leading advocate for peace with the Palestinians, supporting a two-state solution as the best approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    He appeared on the "NewsHour" several times, most recently in 2016, when Jeffrey Brown sat down with Oz for a wide-ranging interview.

    Oz spoke of how characters drive his novels.

  • Amos Oz:

    Always characters first.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Always?

  • Amos Oz:

    And I walk around pregnant with the characters for a long time before I write a single sentence.

    And when, inside my head or inside my guts, the characters begin to do things to each other, what they do to each other is the plot. And then I can start writing.

    What do we do to one another? It's the one and only subject of literature, if you really have to squeeze it in a nutshell.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    What is the job or role of a writer in a country like Israel?

  • Amos Oz:

    I resent the very term role of writers or role of literature. I'm sorry.

    I think the right term should be the gift of literature, not the role of literature.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    The gift?

  • Amos Oz:

    Yes.

    Makes us look one more time at some things which we have seen a million times, and we see them afresh. Or, sometimes, it makes us reconsider things that we were sure we knew or we were sure we were convinced of.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    But is it different in a country such as Israel?

  • Amos Oz:

    I don't think so, no. I don't think so.

    I think literature is based on the deep human need to hear stories and to tell stories. It doesn't have to serve any other purpose.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    You have advocated a two-state idea long before it was a diplomatic solution, right? Is that two-state solution dead?

  • Amos Oz:

    I don't think so.

    I don't see any alternative to the two-state solution. It is 50 years now since I and a few of my colleagues first advocated the two-state solution. Fifty years is a long time in my life, but it's a very short time in history.

    Look, it's very simple. There are two nations rightly claiming the same tiny land. They just don't trust the other. There is a lack of courageous leadership on both sides.

    You know, it's like a patient knowing that he has to undergo a surgery, wanting to postpone it because it's painful. But the doctors are cowards. They don't have the guts to tell the patient, let's do it now. The sooner, the better.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    You still have hope for it?

  • Amos Oz:

    Of course, because I see no alternative.

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