Page 22 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

Basic HTML Version

def ine it — then these writers a re am ong those who b r ing it over
into American Jew ish writing. T he irs may be a m ino r art, bu t it is
an indispensable one all the same.
Among more recen t writers, the most form idab le by fa r is Cyn­
thia Ozick, who compels as much by h e r polemical passions as by
the brilliance o f h e r craft, and who has shown, in h e r essayistic
writings (some o f which have been collected in h e r
Art and Ardor,
1983) as well as in h e r fiction, a quality o f Jewish intelligence and
engagem en t simply no t to be found anywhere else. H e r novella
“Envy; o r Yiddish in America” has already been canonized; h e r
essay “America: toward Yavneh ,” almost so; and m ore is certain
to find its way into pe rm anence in the n ea r fu tu re .
Are th e re still others? Only if we a re willing to de f ine “Am er i­
can Jewish li te ra tu re” so broadly as to include the Elie Wiesel o f
and the I. B. Singer o f so many wonde rfu l Yiddish stories
and tales. But w he the r o u r corpus can take in such e x tra te r r i to ­
rial writers as these and re ta in its shape is a question th a t is still
open .
Having set down these few names and titles, what can now be
said abou t the generic cha rac te r o f the lite ra tu re we have been
looking at and abou t the cha rac te r o f work employed by those
who do the looking?
Generically, American Jew ish li te ra tu re is overwhelm ingly
fiction, a fact bo rne ou t by any typical course syllabus, by most o f
the available anthologies, and by virtually all o f the bibliographies
and critical studies tha t have been done to date. Ira B ruce N ade l’s
bibliographical gu ide to
Jewish Writers of North America
(1981) o f­
fers a p rim ary list o f 86 American-Jewish au tho rs , 47 o f whom
are fiction writers (there are 24 poets and 15 dramatists); in an
app end ed checklist o f “add itiona l” au tho rs , 74 a re novelists and
sh o r t - s to ry w r i te r s , 32 a r e p o e ts , a n d 22 a r e d r am a t is t s .
Moreover, no t only in num bers bu t in literary accomp lishm en t
and statu re , the fiction writers and , with very few exceptions,
they alone have em erged into p rom inence . T hey a re the writers
one reads, discusses, teaches, cares about; in sum, they a re the
ones who occupy the vital cen te r o f American Jew ish lite ra tu re
and define o u r subject fo r us. (I f they have any rivals at all, they
are to be found no t am ong the poets and d ram a tists bu t am ong