Page 19 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 33

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HAROLD U. RIBALOW
A Survey of American Jewish
Fiction Awards
The Jewish
B
ook
C
o u n c il
of the National Jewish Welfare
Board has been sponsoring an award for the best Jewish fiction
of the year since 1948. The first winner was Howard Fast’s
My
Glorious Brothers,
a re-creation of the Maccabean revolt as told
by a popular American historical novelist. The 1974 award,
White Eagle, Dark Skies,
by Jean Karsavina about Polish-Jewish
life, is the most recent winner. During these past two and a half
decades a novel or a volume of short stories has been selected as
the best fiction of the year.
An analysis of the prize winners throughout this quarter-cen-
tury offers a number of insights into the quality of American
Jewish creative writing, the stature of the authors, the themes
they have chosen, the critical attention given their work, and the
importance of the awards on the whole.
What does it all mean? This question might well be asked of
all literary awards. The Pulitzer prizes, almost from the outset,
have been criticized in the higher literary circles. The books
themselves have in the main been mediocre and the stature and
prestige accruing to the authors have, by and large, been minor.
At the same time, it should be pointed out that the National
Book Awards have fallen on bad times and the N.B.A. awards,
as of this writing, are dead. Nevertheless, there is a persistent
belief on the part of the cultural community at large that its
creative people should be honored in some way. The most ob­
vious way seems to be by giving prizes. It remains to be seen
whether or not the game is worth the trouble.
For example—and this no longer requires emphasis—the Nobel
prizes for literature are invariably awarded to obscure writers
and parochial writers. Some of the world’s greatest writers have
been overlooked, including George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce
and Sean O’Casey, to name only three glaringly obvious omis­
sions.
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