It's been almost three years since my last blog post so I'm excited to kick off my True Story series with Rena Glickman, Queen of Judo by Eve Nadel Catarevas and illustrated by Martina Peluso (Kar-Ben Publishing, 2022).
Rena Glickman, known professionally as Rusty Kanokogi, was a Jewish girl from Coney Island who grew up to become a judo master at a time when the sport was strictly for males. Disguised as a man, she entered and won the 1959 YMCA Judo Championship but was forced to give back her medal when it was discovered that she was a woman. Never wanting that to happen to another female, she set out to make women's judo a popular sport around the world. Her fight for equality resulted in the first Women's Judo World Championship and turning women's judo into an Olympic sport.
Since Eve is one of my critique partners, I was lucky enough to be an early reader of this project and so thrilled to see her hard work pay off with her debut book. One fearless, determined woman writing about another fearless, determined woman! Today Eve answers my questions about Rena Glickman, Queen of Judo:
Was there one thing—a specific scene, quote, or image from Rena's Glickman's life—that guided you throughout the writing process?
It was a quote. Rusty (I've always used Rena's nickname) always said, "In life you're either the hammer or the nail. Be the hammer." It doesn't get more straightforward than that!
While researching this book, which fact surprised you?
Rusty was so committed to holding the first Women's Judo World Championships (at Madison Square Garden) that she mortgaged her own home.
Why do you think kids can relate to Rusty?
Girls today are taught to go after what they want. That wasn't a general precept in the 1950s, but that's exactly what Rusty did. Obstacles didn't deter her. Rusty forged ahead.
Which sources were important in creating this biography?
There were no books on Rusty. I used every magazine, newspaper and online article I could find. Thankfully, I found Rusty's daughter. She was invaluable.
How did you select the timeframe for your book?
Rusty's childhood was so rife with drama (a lot of it didn't make it into the book – too dark), I knew I had to start there. The culmination of the story was women's judo becoming, at long last, an Olympic sport.
How did you determine if information should be included in the story or the back matter?
Ooh, that's a good question, Karlin. I can't tell you how often I put in and take out information during the writing process. In one draft it's part of back matter, next draft it's part of the text, and finally it's out altogether. But not really because I'll have a change of heart and back it goes, just written differently. Back matter is where I put elements that are relevant to the subject's life story, but don't serve the story. It's where I house statistics or inroads made beyond my subject's lifetime.
If you could pick the ideal place for a storywalk for this book, where would it be?
The streets of Coney Island where Rusty grew up, the place that helped her become an independent, strong-willed woman who would stop at nothing to achieve her dream – and to encourage others to do the same.
What's your #1 tip for writing true stories?
Ferret out as much source material as you can. Dig, dig, then dig some more. You never know when you're going to come across that stop-you-in-your-tracks quote or anecdote—the one that pulls the whole story together.
What other books would you recommend to readers who love Rena Glickman, Queen of Judo?
Her Fearless Run: Kathrine Switzer's Historic Run by Kim Chaffee & Ellen Rooney and Billie Jean!: How Tennis Star Billie Jean King Changed Women's Sports by Mara Rockliff & Elizabeth Baddeley.
Thank you, Eve, for being the hammer (wink!) and for taking the time to chat about this kick-butt biography!
TRUE STORY TIDBITS:
Spirited and empowering, this book (with its "Kapow!" cover) is on four shelves in my TrueStory Bookshop:
- Women's History
- Jewish Heritage Stories
To take a peek inside the book, checkout my BookTok.
Every day is a good day for a true story! But here are some special tie-in dates for Rena Glickman, Queen of Judo.
- February (first Wednesday in February): National Girls and Women in Sports Day raises awareness about the positive aspects of sports and the continued need to promote gender equality in every way.
- June 23 (1972): The day Title IX was signed into law. Title IX prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or any other education program that receives funding from the federal government.
- July 30 (1935): Rena Glickman's birthday.
- August 21 (2009): YMCA gives Rusty back the medal she was stripped of 50 years earlier.
- September 25 (1988): First Olympic Women's Judo competition (This was a demonstration tournament with no medals. After that, Women's Judo became a full medal Olympic sport.)
- October 28: World Judo Day celebrates the martial art and the birthday of its founder, Kanō Jigorō.
Eve Nadel Catarevas is also the author of Wonderful Hair: The Beauty of Annie Malone, illustrated by Felicia Marshall and published by Creston Books. To learn more about Eve and her work, visit her website.