Aspen man ensures his grandkids a good story
July 14, 2009
ASPEN – When Stuart Brafman retired a decade ago, after a successful life in the insurance industry, he vowed he would not serve on corporate or nonprofit boards. He was going to focus on his grandchildren, and, when he was in Aspen, where he spends half the year, on cycling and skiing.
Brafman has mostly kept that promise; he has limited his business involvement to serving as chairman of the board of Spellbinders, the local group devoted to the art of oral storytelling, and board member of the Aspen Writers’ Foundation and the Aspen Institute’s Society of Fellows advisory board.
But Brafman didn’t say anything about becoming an author/publisher of children’s books. Maybe he should have. Brafman, known to his five grandkids as “Pata” – and as a fine storyteller – has found himself, at 73, knee-deep in copies of “The Adventures of Jack the Owl,” his book of children’s stories set on Aspen Mountain.
“The last thing I was going to do is put a box of books in my car and go door-to-door to bookstores. And guess what I’ve been doing the last few weeks? It’s cut seriously into my biking,” said Brafman, who had just finished a ride to Old Snowmass. “But what I didn’t know was that doing it would be such a source of satisfaction. Then the chore became a joy.”
Brafman had a reputation for being the family’s “in-house storyteller.” A specialty was inserting characters – Cinderella, Paul Bunyan, and his own creation, Morrie the Mouse – into Aspen-based stories, at the insistence of his grandchildren. But he had no desire to put those stories into book form; that request came from his granddaughter, Emma. Brafman agreed, but only if Emma and the rest of his grandkids all promised that they would tell the stories to their children.
It was Brafman’s wife, Lotta, who insisted that he not take the easy route to becoming a writer. “She said, You can’t write these down, go to Kinko’s, make five copies. You have to illustrate them, and make more copies. Because other kids like these stories,” he recalled. And it was Brafman himself who determined he would serve as his own publisher, so his stories of Jack, the wise owl who solves the problems of the rest of the forest population, would not be changed on their way to the page. Brafman considers his big stroke of genius as a publisher was in his selection of Linda Roberts as illustrator of “The Adventures of Jack the Owl.”
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Brafman is also a serious amateur photographer, who began doing travel and cultural photography in India, Singapore, Chile, Bhutan and Papua New Guinea. His work has been exhibited in San Francisco, and in Aspen, at the Red Brick Center for the Arts.
It beats the work Brafman would be doing had he not retired. The Milwaukee native spent decades in mortgage insurance, working for the Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corp., based in his home town, and then introducing mortgage insurance to Australia, before founding his own company, in 1992. It is a field that does not seem a happy place to make a living given the extraordinary rate of mortgage defaults these days. “I wouldn’t want to be there now,” says Brafman.
Nor does he particularly want to continue on as a book author/publisher. “Jack the Owl,” he says, is not only his first book: “It’s probably the last.”