Al Filreis

On Primo Levi's 'Gold'

At an event we called "7 Up on Gold" — featuring seven people speaking for seven minutes each about gold, the color or the element — I chose to speak about the chapter entitled "Gold" in Primo Levi's brilliant book, The Periodic Table. I've taught the book a number of times in my course on the Holocaust.

My podcasts

I happily host two podcast series. One is PENNsound podcasts and features recordings from that vast archive of poetry recordings. The other series, Kelly Writers House podcasts, presents excerpts from various sorts of programs, events, seminars and discussions at the Writers House. Please listen and let me know what you think.

The very first news article about the Writers House (1995)


My former student Randi Feigenbaum was a big-wig at Penn's student-run daily newspaper, the Daily Pennsylvanian at the time the Writers House at 3805 Locust Walk was just forming. It was in those weeks and months known as one of the "pilot" projects of the "21st Century Project for the Undergraduate Experience" at Penn. Randi's news piece was published in the December 7, 1995 issue of the DP. It gives a pretty good sense of what we were trying to get started there. To this day, Randi is a big supporter of the Writers House.

Is 'Filreis' Portuguese?

The hazy geneaology of a Sephardic family

In 2003 I corresponded with the cultural director of a Portuguese foundation. He responded to the possibility that my family's name is indeed Portuguese. I'm not sure what the origin of this family assumption is — perhaps it's been passed down to my father's older brother through his father or his brother who passed through western Europe on the way to Brooklyn twice in the 1910s and '20s (once before WW1 and once again after). Western Europe — France, we assume — where one of these Filreises made contact with French or Spanish/French Filreises and learned of the ancestral connection to Iberian peninsula. We put that "news" together with the clear sense that the families were part of a Sephardic community in Warsaw and have assumed that they were part of the exilic migration away from Spain to northeast Europe in the late 15th-century and early 16th. It is very difficult to track this but since Jewish families typically bred very closely within the Jewish community, there is probably a way of following the lineage. I haven't figure out how yet. I suppose first would be to find out definitely where the members of the Warsaw family were killed during the Holocaust; I'm 99% sure it was at Treblinka, the killing camp that destroyed Warsaw's Jews in 1942 and '43.

'I am the very model of a member of the faculty...'

I maintain a deep and eleborate web site about the culture of the 1950s — with an emphasis on the cold-war and literary politics. Recently I posted to that site a verse parody written in November 1949 by an anonymous member of the faculty of one of the California colleges. It's based on Gilbert and Sullivan and was given the title "Ode to Hysteria: University Division." Of course it's a response to the anti-communist loyalty oaths of that moment: here's that poem.