A Cup of Coffee and Bagel with Ivan Frank
By Sonia Panic
When one thinks of a coffee shop, they rarely think of integration, education and communication, but Ivan Frank does. Frank describes his coffee shop as “the place that integrated me into my community and into my social justice life.” Though he frequents the many coffee shops that line Forbes Avenue, there is one special place where he sets up camp, grabs a cup of coffee and a bagel nearly every day. There he holds many conversations with the variety of people surrounding him, and these were his inspiration for A Cup of Coffee and Bagel: Sharing Life Stories.
Ivan Frank was born in Oakland but raised in the East End. Although he did not live in Squirrel Hill permanently until much later, he frequently visited the neighborhood to attend meetings of the local Labor Zionist Youth Movement. He later earned a scholarship to attend the University of Pittsburgh, and initially sought a double major in Social Science and History. In 1960, Frank quit school just before his junior year to drive out to California because he “wanted to do something interesting for a change.” He did eventually return to Pitt and obtained a BA in Education in 1963.
Frank went on to teach history to students at Westinghouse and Taylor Allderdice High Schools. At Allderdice, he mentored a student-led organization called SHAC, or Student Hunger Action Coalition. SHAC was influenced by Ivan Frank’s work with the Allegheny Food Network in Hazelwood. Though he never set out to be a writer, he would eventually author seven books. Frank’s first books were about his students and how to work with at-risk youth. From there, his writings expanded and he began writing more scholarly works. His most recent academic book is entitled Origins of Democratic Socialism in Israel.
The motivation for A Cup of Coffee and Bagel came from his two children, who wanted him to write something interesting and fun. His daughter mentioned writing about the conversations that he overheard at the coffee shop. It took about a year and four months to complete the book, but the people and the conversations span many years. Some individuals, like the character H.K., he has known for quite some time and had conversed on multiple occasions. Others, like the Friendly Neighbor, were based on a single conversation. He wanted to capture these exchanges like scenes played out in a movie. With that in mind, he wrote in a style very similar to how he speaks. “The chapters and the conversations,” he said, “are more about the relationship I have with that person, if anything”.
Since the early 1980s, Ivan Frank and his family have been active members in their community. They participate in many local Jewish organizations and Frank has even held talks about Israel at the JCC. When asked what he likes about Squirrel Hill, he said, “I love it here. I live close to the business section, the library, the JCC. There is a great sense of community. I also got a great deal on my house.” His high school teaching days have been over since 2010, but he still manages to find time to teach at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh. He teaches students how to work with at-risk youth while combining formal and informal education tactics.
As for new work, Ivan Frank and his partner John Eastman with Redfish Creative are thinking of another book. It will not be the same conversational style as A Cup of Coffee and Bagel and it is still in the creative stage. His advice to young writers is to “start small. Write for the school paper or a local magazine. Just write to write and have fun with it”.
To find more of Ivan Frank’s work, visit amazon.com.