Martin Drapkin’s novel inspired by Jewish Milwaukee upbringing | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Martin Drapkin’s novel inspired by Jewish Milwaukee upbringing

Martin Drapkin has authored a novel inspired by his upbringing in Jewish Milwaukee.  

“Poor Tom” follows the lives of Julius Dickman, who has a boatload of issues and concerns, and his father, Herbert. Herbert is 72 and just finished his career in the theater with the role of Shakespeare’s King Lear. The novel follows the adult relationship of the two men as Julius attempts to understand his father and navigate life’s challenges. 

“I wanted to write a book about fathers and sons, the relationship between fathers and sons and the issues between them… in a serious way, but also a humorous way,” said author Martin Drapkin. “The Jewish aspect and the Shakespeare aspect were two other sorts of themes that I definitely wanted to address and combine.” 

Drapkin was raised in the Jewish community on Milwaukee’s north side around 9th and North avenues. He recalls being inspired and surrounded by a generation of Jewish creatives and authors, and scenes from his childhood that directly inspire scenes in his novel. 

The novel was published in December of 2022 and is now available at and elsewhere.  

When Drapkin, a now Cross Plains, Wisconsin-based author, needed an idea for his novel, he took from his own experience at Congregation Agudas Achim in Milwaukee. 

“The bar mitzvah scene in ‘Poor Tom’ is something which actually happened in my own bar mitzvah, where Julius talks about how he was very, very nervous and threw up before the bar mitzvah,” Drapkin said. 

The novel balances both comedic scenes and serious commentary, according to Drapkin, emphasizing themes specific to Jewish humor.

“It’s a comic novel, which is also a serious novel. I grew up in Jewish Milwaukee so it’s based on a lot of my own experiences,” Drapkin said. 

Drapkin’s memories at Milwaukee’s Jewish delis, Benji’s and Jake’s, also influenced the novel. 

“There are several scenes that … in the Jewish delis, which was one of my favorite experiences growing up in Milwaukee,” Drapkin said. 

“There’s a big tradition from Milwaukee, of Jewish humor and from Milwaukee literary humor. And that was a big part of my life,” Drapkin said. “I just grew up surrounded by Jewish humor… I am glad that I am a part of a tradition in that regard.” 

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Martin Drapkin, a Wisconsin native, has published four novels:

Poor Tom 
Ten Nobodies (and their somebodies) 
The Cat Tender 
Now and at the Hour 

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