Page 27 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 33

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RIBALOW / AMERICAN JEWISH FICTION AWARDS
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find it shocking in the sense that he so vehemently tries to detach
himself from being a Jewish writer. To be fair to him, I ’ll repro­
duce it in its entirety and leave it to the reader to determine just
exactly what it is that Bellow is saying:
“But I started out to recall what it was like to set oneself up
to be a writer in the midwest during the ’30’s. For I thought
of myself as a midwesterner and not a Jew. I ’m often described
as a Jewish writer; in much the same way one might be called a
Samoan astronomer or an Eskimo cellist or a Zulu Gainsborough
expert. There is some oddity about it. I am a Jew, and I have
written some books. I have tried to fit my soul into the Jewish-
writer category, but it doesn’t feel comfortably accommodated
there. I wonder, now and then, whether Philip Roth and Bernard
Malamud and I have not become the Hart, Schaffner and Marx
of our trade. We have made it in the field of culture as Bernard
Baruch made it on a park bench, as Polly Adler made it in prosti­
tution, as Two-Gun Cohen, the personal bodyguard of Sun
Yat-sen, made it in China. My joke is not broad enough to cover
the contempt I feel for the opportunists, wise-guys, and career
types who impose such labels and trade upon them. In a century
so disastrous to Jews, one hesitates to criticize those who believe
that they are making the world safer by publicizing Jewish
achievements. I myself doubt that this publicity is effective.”
The first rule of the Jewish Book Council in presenting its
award for Jewish fiction states that the money and the citation
“will be given to the author of a work of fiction of Jewish inter­
est, either a novel or a collection of short stories, which in the
opinion of the judges combines high literary merit with an
affirmative expression of Jewish values.”
Now there are those—critics on campuses, in ivory towers per­
haps—who are not involved in American Jewish community life,
who look for literature with a capital L and do not “rub
shoulders” with American Jews who live, dream and work in
the United States. To them a list of books which excludes a book
by Philip Roth, by a Saul Bellow, a Norman Mailer or even a
J. D. Salinger, is a list of little merit. Yet one must think through
and consider why awards are given. You try to give your prize
to a book that combines high literary merit with an outlook on
life. There is surely no reason why a Jewish organization should
be ashamed to seek out books with “affirmative” values relating