It’s hard to imagine the legendary literary critic Harold Bloom, who died Monday at the age of 89, as a young man. This was largely by design.
Bloom playfully projected the aura of a musty, Falstaffian ancient. But, before he became an expert on the English canon, his first language was Yiddish, and like many Yiddish-speaking New Yorkers, his youthful achievements were chronicled in the pages of the Forverts.
In September, Christa Whitney of the Yiddish Book Center posted details of her oral history project interview with Bloom to Instagram and included a yellowed newspaper clipping of him as a youth that he had kept among his belongings. The Forward’s archivist, Chana Pollack, immediately recognized the clip as having originated in the pages of the Forverts. Pollack found the issue of origin, from July 17, 1951, days after Bloom had turned 21, announcing him to the wider Jewish community as the recipient of the Phi Kappa Phi National Fellowship to study at Yale.
“A multiple scholarship winner is Harold Bloom,” the Forverts said, both in Yiddish and English, noting Bloom’s Bronx address, acceptance at Yale and travel grant to study at Edinburgh University during the summer of ‘51. “A Phi Beta Kappa man, bright Bloom also made Phi Kappa Phi, top of the national honor society.”
Yale would become the institution where Bloom spent most of his life. He became a member of the English Department faculty four years after accepting his fellowship, and taught at the university for over 60 years, holding his final class just days before his death.
PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture fellow. He can be reached at Grisar@Forward.com.