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The Golden Age of Jewish American Literature
(Released March 2010)

  by Ethan Goffman  


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Literary Works


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Historical Newspapers

News Articles

  1. Isaac Bashevis Singer: Master Storyteller

    Caroline Kim-Brown, Humanities, 07-01-2004

    IN AN INTERVIEW about his early years in America, Isaac Bashevis Singer said, "When I came to America I had a feeling of catastrophe. My only hope was to come to America. I foresaw that there would be no rest in Poland. Many people were too optimistic or blind to see the danger. I foresaw the Holocaust."

    When Singer arrived in New York in 1935 at the age of thirty, he spoke exactly three words in English: "Take a chair." It was not an auspicious time to be an immigrant; America was in the midst of the Great Depression. But life in Eastern Europe with the rise of Hitler was even worse.

    It was a difficult transition. Although Singer was already established as a rising star in the Yiddish literary scene in Warsaw with the publication of his novel, Satan in Goray, and as the youngest member of the Yiddish PEN club, he was an unknown in the new world. . . .

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's eLibrary

  2. Paying Tribute to Mr. Bellow

    Anonymous, The Wilson Quarterly, 07-01-2005

    Saul Bellow, whose exuberant novels shouldered their way through the second half of the 20th century, died on April 5, at the age of 89. Recipient of three National Book Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, and the Nobel Prize for literature, Bellow, whose books included The Adventures of Augie March (1953), Henderson the Rain King ( 1959), Herzog (1964), Mr. Sammler's Planet (1970), and Humboldt's Gift (1975), continued to write until shortly before his death. The veins of the tributes to Bellow this spring were as varied as his characters. But united as they were in praise, his eulogists could not agree on his essential qualities: Was he a misanthrope or a champion of flawed humanity? Was he the first modern American novelist to successfully embrace a European mode, or the quintessential American writer?

    "Bellow's dark philosophical moods are what defined him as the most European of American novelists, though he is often celebrated- especially by British writers-as the epitome of American literary exuberance," critic Lee Siegel wrote in The Nation (May 9, 2005). "But Bellow was really a nationally unaffiliated free agent who exuberantly used European lines and pulleys to get America under control of his imagination, just as he wielded an American idiom to throw off any claim that Europe might have had on his creative will."

    In The Guardian's pages (April 7, 2005), novelist Ian McEwan proclaimed Bellow uniquely American as he explained why British writers tend to lay claim to him. . . .

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's eLibrary

  3. What Is Cynthia Ozick About?

    Hillel Halkin, Commentary, 01-01-2005

    THE FIRST to have ventured, Cynthia Ozick remains in a class by herself.

    It was in 1966 that she published, in the relatively obscure Hudson Review, her story "The Pagan Rabbi"; in 1969 that "Envy; or, Yiddish in America" caused a stir when it appeared in COMMENTARY. (To give a lesser but dien more popular novelist his due, between those two years Chaim Potok's The Chosen, a novel about an ultra-Orthodox yeshiva boy in New York City, became a national best-seller.) These stories demonstrated what now seems so obvious that it is hard to fathom what took so long, or why more writers did not take up the challenge immediately-namely, that it was possible to write important American Jewish fiction from within.

    Today, with the work of Alien Hoffman, Allegra Goodman, Rebecca Goldstein, Nessa Rappaport, Jonathan Rosen, Dara Horn, Nathan Englander, Aryeh Lev Stollman, and still others who write well and un-self-consciously about lives engaged with Jewishness, one has to remind oneself that, oddly enough, such lives were once considered infra dig for post-World War II "American Jewish" literature. As late as the 1980's, this literature's proper perspective was thought to be on the outside, looking back or in. Jewishness as remembered childhood; as outgrown parochialism; as lost patrimony; as ethnic burlesque; as black comedy; as other- or self-inflicted victimhood; as the natural habitat of the neurotic and the schlemiel; as existential burden or tragic fate; as refined moral sensibility, ironic critical detachment, exile, alienation, marginality, the symbolic state of Everyman-as anything but a knowledgeable involvement in a living Jewish tradition and community-was what American Jewish fiction was about.

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's eLibrary

  4. "Who's Jewish?" Some Asian-American writers and the Jewish-American literary canon

    Jonathan Freedman, Michigan Quarterly Review, 01-01-2003

    While conversation becomes increasingly global and one's sense of space . . . unstable and fluid, we do not automatically all get delivered into the same world by the processes that globalize and hybridize us. Conversing across differences is the art we have to learn.
    -Dipesh Chakrabarty

    A few years ago, I started writing about Jewishness. This turn in my work was not due to a quest for a lost, more authentic identity, nor was it a sign of a midlife religious conversion. And, given the prevailing winds in the American academy, it was hardly a canny career move. Indeed, it was barely a turn at all-more of a sidelight in what I thought of as the real project, a study of the interplay between middlebrow and academic cultures. But as I began that work, I also started thinking about how oddly obsessed so much of fin-de-siecle American writing is with the figure of the Jew, and how odder still that critics, many of them Jewish, glossed over that fact. I started to give talks on these phenomena and received surprisingly positive responses, responses, in fact, more positive than any garnered by the work I was supposed to be doing. And so, being no fool, I dropped the middlebrow and started writing about Jews (which turned out to be more or less the same thing.)

    The result was a book, The Temple of Culture, and along with it a newfound respect for the ability of Jewishness to unsettle my received ideas about everything, including, I found, me. For I discovered myself in the weird position of having an identity for the first time, at least as far as the '90s academy was concerned. Up until then, that is to say, I felt myself to be a fairly typical academic of the balding, bearded white-male variety. But I noticed gentile colleagues treating me with a slightly different attitude when I started to do this work, an attitude which one of them clarified one day as he was lamenting, in a fairly good-natured way, the problems his own sense of white privilege posed him in writing about matters of race. When I responded sympathetically, he looked at me and exclaimed "but ... you're Jewish!!" (I am still trying to figure out what this meant, but guess it must be something like, "you're OK-authentic, ethnic, 'real'-and, darn it, I'm still not.") And I found myself in an even more complicated position with fellow Jews. Whenever I give a talk now, for example, I anticipate hostile questions not from gentiles but from my co-religionists (fellow ethnics?), some of whom attack my understanding of Jewishness as an endlessly complicated, and constitutively complicating, muddle from the Right (what about the Holocaust? Anti-Semitism? Israel?) or the Left (what about Jewish racism? Jewish whiteness? Israel?).

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's eLibrary

Historical Newspapers
  1. MORE JEWISH BOOKS; MRS. SCHERMAN HERE TO CREATE A DEMAND FOR THEM. SHE BELIEVES IN THE GHETTO. of Gentiles, She Says, Is Towards Judaism and a Free Commingling of the Races.

    St. Louis Post - Dispatch. Dec 31, 1899. pg. 12, 1 pgs

    Abstract (Summary) Mrs. K. H. Scherman of Philadel Phia has come to St. Louis to try to arouse among the people of the Jewish race a greater interest in their religious and racial literature. She comes as the field secretary of the Jewish Publicaton Society of America, the headquarters of which are in Philadelphia.

    Original Newspaper Image (PDF)

  2. When Does Literature Become Jewish? Hartford rabbi assesses race's literary gifts to 300 years of life in U. S.

    Abraham J Feldman. The Hartford Courant. Dec 19, 1954. pg. SM9, 1 pgs

    Abstract (Summary) IT WAS MOHAMMED who applied the designation, "The People of the Book," to the Jewish people. He meant, of course, people of "The Book", the Holy Scriptures. . . .

    Original Newspaper Image (PDF)

  3. AUTHOR GIVEN AWARD FOR 'AUGIE MARCH'; Bellow Gets Prize For Novel--Other Books Are Honored

    The Sun. Jan 27, 1954. pg. 3, 1 pgs

    Abstract (Summary) Canadian-born Saul Bellow today won the national book award for fiction with his novel, "The Adventures of Augie March."

    Original Newspaper Image (PDF)

  4. With the Sap Of Folklore; Gimpel

    By ANZIA YEZIERSKA. New York Times. Dec 29, 1957. pg. 126, 1 pgs

    Abstract (Summary) ISAAC BASHEVIS SINGER is the last of the great Yiddish fiction writers. His novels, "The Family Moskat" and "Satan in Goray," were hailed as major literary creations, but it is in "Gimpel the Fool and Other Stories" that Singer takes his place with the epic storytellers, transcending geographical and chronological. . . .

    Original Newspaper Image (PDF)

Taken from ProQuest's Historical Newspapers.


  1. Magical American Jew: The enigma of difference in contemporary Jewish American short fiction and film

    by Tillman, Aaron, Ph.D., University of Rhode Island, 2009 , 179 pages

    Abstract (Summary)
    Efforts to define contemporary Jewish American identity often reveal more questions than concrete articulations, more statements about what Jewish Americans are not than what they are. Such ambiguities pervade many works of Jewish American literature. Magical American Jew explores how certain writers and filmmakers have used magical realist techniques to portray the enigma of Jewish American difference.

    What I am characterizing as enigmatic is the indefinite yet undeniable difference that informs how many Jewish Americans envision themselves. In a felicitous way, magical realism also resists categorization. Marked by a "co-presence" of the natural and supernatural, magical realism allows past and present figures and traditions to converge in a narrative realm that is neither fantasy, science fiction, nor conventional realism.

    Following an Introduction that establishes the conceptual framework of the study, Chapter 1 opens with a discussion of Woody Allen's film Annie Hall, examining how magical realist techniques are used to illustrate a behavioral excess associated with Jewish American difference. Through analysis of Cynthia Ozick's short story "Levitation," Chapter 2 challenges the common association between Jews and guilt and posits shame as a more discerning lens through which to view Jewish American difference--a difference influenced by a history in which the Holocaust is a principal concern. Chapter 3 focuses on memory and the masochistic extreme that can be imagined when the Holocaust is marked as the center of Jewish identity. Continuing with the prominence of history, Chapter 4 analyzes Aimee Bender's short story "Dreaming in Polish" along with Leslie Marmon Silko's novel Ceremony, revealing antinomies and anomalous positions indicative of an enigmatic difference. Returning to the influence of media, the final chapter analyzes Sarah Silverman's film Jesus Is Magic, addressing how Silverman mobilizes her ethnic identity to magnify a narcissistic persona and satirize twenty-first century American media culture.

    By examining the magical elements within these varied works of short fiction and film, Magical American Jew sheds light on the tensions that have contributed to the creation and (mis)understanding of contemporary Jewish American identities.

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's Dissertations & Theses Database

  2. Language and the self: A psychoanalytic reading of Saul Bellow's "Herzog" and James Baldwin's "Go Tell It on the Mountain"

    by Zucker, Elyse, Ph.D., New York University, 2006 , 226 pages

    Abstract (Summary)
    This dissertation applies psychoanalytic theory to the study of two mid-twentieth century novels, Herzog by Saul Bellow, and Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin. It analyzes relationships between characters' selfhoods and language in terms of pre-oedipal dynamics. The respective protagonists of these texts, Moses Herzog, and Gabriel Grimes, exhibit narcissistic difficulties and try to rectify the predicaments their narcissism creates for them through merely linguistic means. Moses Herzog uses intellectual language and Gabriel Grimes uses religious language. The uses of language by each of these characters is elucidated by an exploration of psychoanalytic concepts such as narcissism and projection. Focusing on the theories of Freud, Kohut and Lacan, I approach the characters' attempts to complete themselves by exploring the linguistic strategies that they and their authors employ dramatically and structurally in relation to the thematic content of the texts.

    I demonstrate, for instance, how Moses and Gabriel's inability to ascertain boundaries between themselves and all else corresponds to the infant's belief in its omnipresence, a characteristic of Freud's concept of primary narcissism. Inherent to this state of nebulosity is the grandiosity Moses and Gabriel exhibit. This state renders them isolated and reveals the disdain that they feel toward themselves and others which thwarts their growth. It derives from what Kohut refers to as the grandiose/exhibitionistic self-image that is established when the state of narcissistic equilibrium is disturbed. I also demonstrate how Gabriel's unsuccessful linguistic journey is an exemplification of the futility of language to recreate the sense of fulfillment accompanying the pre-verbal order of the Lacanian "real."

    In the conclusion the dissertation demonstrates the applicability of this psychoanalytic method to literary characters from other historical periods and to the female gender. I reveal how Jane Eyre, who tries to complete herself with social language, has difficulties originating from primary narcissism. I also apply it to interdisciplinary texts such as Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of its Mechanical Reproducibility," by showing how the fragmentation and repetition characterizing twentieth-century American culture can be viewed as an external correlation of narcissism, which depicts these tendencies as well.

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's Dissertations & Theses Database

  3. Isaac Bashevis Singer: Speak English, think Yiddish. Adaptation versus assimilation

    by Gardberg, Susan L., M.A., East Tennessee State University, 2001 , 69 pages

    Abstract (Summary)
    Critics use the words "vanished culture" to describe Isaac Bashevis Singer's work for Polish Jewry had been destroyed. However, Singer's characters survive the travails of anti-Semitism and resettle in America. This study explores Singer's Polish Jews to determine whether they assimilate into their new culture; or maintain their strong Jewish traditions and adapt to the freedoms of America.

    Singer's life is analyzed, including the people and places that have influenced his work. Two of Singer's works are examined in this thesis. Chapters Three and Four explicate an allegorical short story, "The Little Shoemakers." Singer writes a fairytale view of a magnificent rejuvenation in the new world. Chapters Five and Six explore the realistic portrait of Jewish transplants in the novel, Enemies, A Love Story . Chapter Seven concludes that belief in the Jewish faith, along with the love of freedom, allow Singer's characters to adapt, not assimilate, to foreign soil.

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's Dissertations & Theses Database

  4. The process of assembling self identity as expressed in literary works of four American-Jewish women: E. M. Broner, Faye Moskowitz, Tillie Olsen, Grace Paley

    by Schreier, Karin, M.A., Michigan State University, 1991 , 105 pages

    Abstract (Summary)
    In their literature, E. M. Broner, Faye Moskowitz, Tillie Olsen, and Grace Paley demonstrate the value of actively approaching self identity and the consequences of not doing so. Their works reflect their personal experiences as Jewish women. Writing about the effects of gender and ethnicity on selfhood, about the anxieties Jewish women experience forming their selves, the authors question the socially and religiously structured female role and offer new definitions. This thesis explores the literary theme of participation in the process of assembling self identity by looking at each author separately. It establishes the context of writing, i.e. the authors' personal experiences as Jewish women and the reflection of these experiences in selections of their writings. Thus, it identifies the pursuit of selfhood as expressed by each writer in her literature and as defined in relation to her personal values as a Jewish woman.

    For full-text documents see ProQuest's Dissertations & Theses Database