Page 218 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 16

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Jewish Writers Conference
A new dimension was added to Jewish Book Month this year
when its annual observance in 1957 opened with the first National
Conference on Jewish Writing and Jewish Writers in America.
Co-sponsored by the Jewish Book Council of America of JWB
and the Theodor Herzl Institute of the Jewish Agency, the
Conference undertook to evaluate the problems and the prospects
of Jewish writing in this country.
Its aim was to raise the status of Jewish writing and of the
Jewish writer, to stimulate Jewish literary creativity, to encourage
writers to use Jewish themes, to bring together Jews who write
on Jewish and non-Jewish themes and to provide young Jewish
writers with an opportunity to meet with and learn from their
more experienced colleagues.
The Conference met with an enthusiastic response from the
public and the writers. Nearly every writer invited to participate
accepted with alacrity. An overflow audience that included
people from every section of the country crowded the facilities
of the Theodor Herzl Institute in New York on Saturday even-
ing, November 16, and all day Sunday, November 17, to hear
a distinguished array of speakers who represented a miniature
Who’s Who in American Jewish Writing.
By involving writers, critics and other literati of varying
viewpoints, the Conference provoked animated and exciting
discussion. The keynote address by Maurice Samuel aroused
sharp division of opinion that was reflected in virtually every
session. Authors who had not previously had an opportunity
to appear on a Jewish platform were not shy in voicing their
opinions on the responsibilities and prerogatives of the Jewish
writer.
Alfred Kazin, the eminent literary critic, referred to the
“collision between the individual Jewish writer, born and brought
up in this country, and the collective image of themselves brought
over by so many Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.” The
conflict between the individual imagination, he said, and a folk
history “seems to me the key to the Jewish writer as critic of
Jewish life.”.
On the other hand, Dr. A. Alan Steinbach, rabbi and poet,
insisted that “only that which is identified with, or is the
outgrowth of, the collective Jewish ego, constitute Jewish writing
in its ultimate purpose.” He felt that “Jewish themes must
originate in the Jewish psyche, but should have sufficient depth
to extend beyond its own circle.”
Novelist Sam Astrachan, who obtained a military furlough
from his mid-west army post to attend the Conference, deplored
the fact that “we American Jews are becoming in entirety exiles
not from Gentile society but from our past.”