Award-winning author and world-traveling nomad Rita Golden Gelman attempted to inspire students and Madison residents during a visit last weekend.
Gelman discussed her experiences and held book-signing sessions at the Madison Public Library on Saturday and at Canterbury Booksellers on Monday, promoting her recent book, Tales of a Female Nomad.
Fifteen years ago, at the age of 48, Gelman changed her life. She was living in Los Angeles with her husband and two grown children, and she had published over 70 children’s books. Her marriage of 25 years ended, and Gelman saw it as a chance to regain the freedom that she had always craved.
“When we become adults, dreams get buried and forgotten,” Gelman said during an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio on Friday. “I was facing a divorce, and on the flip side, freedom. I didn’t want to do what was expected of me. I dusted off old dreams and thought what I really wanted to do is travel the world, visit tribal cultures, get to know other kinds of life.”
Gelman’s publicist, Jan Goldstoff, said gaining knowledge of the world was part of Gelman’s dream.
“She sought to fulfill a childhood dream of traveling to distant lands and knowing people of different backgrounds, so as to learn more about the common ‘oneness’ of humanity,” Goldstoff said.
Gelman receives $10,000 annually from book royalties, and with this money she is able to travel. In the past 15 years she has lived with people in Borneo, New Guinea, Bali, Thailand, New Zealand, Guatemala, Mexico, the Galapagos Islands and Israel.
Gelman said she is easily accepted into these different cultures because she is not just a spectator.
“I eat their food,” Gelman said. “I pay them a small amount to live in their villages. I live at their standards, which is glorious, because I learn how they live.”
Most are curious as to where Gelman will go next; however, she tries not to put too much thought into her next destination.
“Some of the most fun things that can happen are spontaneous,” Gelman said. “I don’t make a plan. I follow whims. If whims don’t come, then I’ll think about it.”
Gelman works hard to close the gap that exists between her, a rich American, and the poverty-stricken people she meets.
“I spend a lot of time breaking down me and raising them.” Gelman said.
Gelman asks the people to teach her their languages, crafts and songs that create mutual respect and friendship.
“Everyone should be so lucky as to meet someone just once like Rita Golden Gelman in their lifetime,” Goldstoff said. “She gives you hope, and she gives you joy. And today, there can never be enough of either.”
Gelman said she realizes that not everyone can make the drastic life change that she did, but wants people to see the joy in their everyday lives by “stepping out of the box” and doing things differently in their life.
“Basically, all of life is about connecting, whether it’s in another culture or in the supermarket,” Gelman said. “It’s about bonding and experiencing the joy of connecting with others. As you experience, your eyes are open, your ears are open, you’re interacting. You learn how similar all humanity is. You learn how much good there really is in the world, the opposite reaction of how some people feel now.”