The Schmooze

Is There a Jewish Literary Renaissance?

Ilan Stavans is Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College. His most recent books are the collection of essays “Singer’s Typewriter and Mine: Reflections on Jewish Culture” (University of Nebraska Press, 2002) and the graphic novel “El Iluminado” (Basic Books, with Steve Sheinkin). His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


I hear repeatedly that Jewish literature is undergoing a renaissance. The statement puzzles me.

I can’t think of a period over our last 3,000 years of history — yes, since the Bible began to take shape as a compendium of folktales — when Jews haven’t been part of a literary renaissance. We’re always dying… and leave a record of our near extinction. Indeed, Jewish literature thrives because it is constantly said to be on its last stand.

We write the apocalypse: no sooner does someone announce our demise, we do everything possible to prove it wrong.

Ours, no doubt, are apocalyptic times. Not since 1945 has anti-Semitism been more noxious than it is now. All of us Jews are seen as parasites in countless places. The hatred against us wasn’t cured after the Holocaust; it simply went commando.

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Is There a Jewish Literary Renaissance?

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