When Yiddish writer Chaim Grade died in 1982 he was highly regarded in Yiddish literary circles, though less known to English readers. Only a few of his novels had been translated, and hardly any of his poetry. He was also overshadowed by his more famous contemporary, Isaac Bashevis Singer, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978.
In the years following Grade’s death more of his work was brought out in English, including his great novelistic memoir, “My Mother’s Sabbath Days,” in 1986. But because Grade’s widow, Inna Hecker Grade, protected his legacy with fervor tantamount to obstructionism, readers and literary scholars found him increasingly inaccessible. All that changed with Inna Grade’s passing in May, 2010.
“In the years after his death there was a lot of interest, but Inna’s cease and desist letters and obstructions pull a chill on the interest. And now it’s possible to work on the topic,” said David Fishman, a professor of Jewish History at the Jewish Theological Seminary and a lecturer at a recent conference on Grade held at the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Mass. “We couldn’t have done this until now,” added Book Center Founder and President Aaron Lansky, alluding to Inna Grade’s opposition. “It was just too difficult.”
Titled “Sabbath Days and Extinguished Stars: The Life and Work of Chaim Grade,” the conference was the latest example of reawakened interest in the writer. It follows a 100th anniversary celebration of Grade’s birth, held at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in October 2010, and a staged reading of a play based on “My Mother’s Sabbath Days” by the National Yiddish Theatre – Folksbiene in the spring of 2011. On June 3, a tribute to both Grade and Singer will be held at the Museum at Eldridge Street in Manhattan, cosponsored by the Yiddish Book Center and featuring Harvard professor Ruth Wisse.