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Fund-raiser for Ogden schools to feature author of `The Chosen'

Internationally acclaimed author Chaim Potok will speak at an Ogden School Foundation fund-raising event, Wednesday, Nov. 5. Author of eight books, three plays and two children's books, Potok will also meet with 1,036 Ogden School District and 100 Weber State University students.

Potok's undergraduate degree is in English literature, and his doctorate is in philosophy. He received his rabbinic ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.In preparation for his visit, Ogden high school students have participated in an essay and short story contest. Four winners from each high school will attend the Ogden School Foundation dinner and receive a signed copy of one of Potok's books.

Sponsors of "An Evening with Chaim Potok" are Jim and Jodee Hoellein, the Joseph and Evelyn Rosenblatt Charitable Trust, Sylvan Learning Center, Radisson Suite Hotel and several anonymous donors.

In a telephone interview from his home in Pennsylvania, Potok answered questions about his last work of fiction, "I Am the Clay," a novel set during the Korean War. The book follows an elderly Korean couple fleeing the invading armies. "The book was received quite well, critically," Potok said. "War is a pretty universal experience."

Asked about the title, Potok explained that it was from a Protestant song, with the verse, `He is the potter, you are the clay.' "It's from Jeremiah 18," he said. Potok was a chaplain in Korea in 1956-57."I heard a Korean sing it," he noted. As in the Asher Lev stories, where he used crucifixion as foundational icon, Potok is unafraid to step outside Judaism for religious symbolism. This literary device has not endeared him to some fundamentalist Jewish groups. "They have enormous influence, and they don't hesitate to use the influence," Potok said.

"But there's a whole world out there I want to understand. Joyce's `Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man' affected me because of the struggle, not the Catholicism. I've been doing this all my life - (going) outside my culture to straighten myself out. I need it, to make maps inside myself," he continued.

Potok's latest work is nonfiction - "The Gates of November: Chronicles of the Slepak Family." The Slepaks are a Russian dissident couple who were allowed to leave the former Soviet Union in the late '80s. "My wife and I met them in 1985 and know them rather well. It was really fascinating writing their story. You could really dig into it," Potok said.

Last in Utah in 1988, Potok said much of what he will say to the students will depend on what he sees when he gets here. But there is one message he is prepared to deliver. "I will tell them what opportunities await those who keep trying and do not give up."

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Evening with Potok

What: A dinner and reading by Chaim Potok, the author of "The Chosen," "My Name Is Asher Lev" and "Davita's Harp." The event will benefit the Ogden Schools Foundation in its work with the predominantly inner-city schools that have three of the four areas in the state where children are considered "extreme risk."

When: Wednesday, Nov. 5. Reception and book signing, 6 p.m., dinner and reading 7 p.m.

Where: The newly renovated Ogden Egyptian Center, 2415 Washington Blvd., Ogden.

Cost: Tickets are $60 per person, call 801-627-7661 by Wednesday, Oct. 22, for reservations.