Isaac Bashevis Singer

Isaac Bashevis Singer (bäshĕv´Ĭs), 1904–91, American novelist and short-story writer in the Yiddish language, younger brother of I. J. Singer, b. Leoncin, Poland (then in Russia). The son of a provincial Hasidic rabbi (see Hasidism), he moved to Warsaw in the early 1920s and became associated with the city's Yiddish literati. He emigrated to the United States in 1935 and worked in New York City as a journalist on the Yiddish-language Jewish Daily Forward, which also published much of his early fiction. In 1943 he became an American citizen. Singer's American career was launched a decade later when his story "Gimpel the Fool" was discovered by Irving Howe, translated by Saul Bellow, and published in the Partisan Review.

Singer's work, often frankly sexual, draws heavily on Jewish folklore, religion, and mysticism and frequently deals with shtetl life in pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe. Many of his later works treat the loneliness of old age and the sense of alienation produced in Jews by the dissolution of values through assimilation with the Gentile world. His novels include Satan in Goray (1933, tr. 1955), The Family Moskat (1945, tr. 1950), The Slave (tr. 1962), The Manor (tr. 1967), Enemies (tr. 1972), Shosha (tr. 1978), The Penitent (tr. 1983), Scum (tr. 1991), and the posthumously published Shadows on the Hudson (tr. 1997).

Singer is also highly regarded for his hundreds of vivid, imaginative, perceptive, and witty short stories. Collections include Gimpel the Fool (tr. 1961), The Spinoza of Market Street (tr. 1961), Old Love (tr. 1979), and The Death of Methuselah (tr. 1985). In 2004 his Collected Stories, in English translation, were published in three volumes. Singer also wrote books for children and several plays, notably The Mirror (tr. 1973). Though he wrote in Yiddish, he was fluent in English and closely supervised the English translations of his works. In 1978 he won the Nobel Prize in Literature, the first Yiddish-language author to be so honored.

See his autobiographical In My Father's Court (1966); his memoirs, A Little Boy in Search of God (1976), A Young Man in Search of Love (1978), Lost in America (1979), and Love and Exile (1984); biographies by P. Kresh (1979), C. Sinclair (1983), J. Hadda (1997), and F. Noiville (2006); I. Stavans, ed., Isaac Bashevis Singer: An Album (2004); studies by E. Alexander (1980), D. N. Miller (1985), and G. Farrell and B. Farrell, ed. (1996).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Isaac Bashevis Singer: His Work and His World
Hugh Denman.
Brill, 2002
The Achievement of Isaac Bashevis Singer
Marcia Allentuck.
Southern Illinois University Press, 1969
The Family Moskat
Isaac Bashevis Singer; A. H. Gross; A. H. Gross; A. H. Gross.
Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1950
From Exile to Redemption: The Fiction of Isaac Bashevis Singer
Grace Farrell Lee.
Southern Illinois University Press, 1987
Transcending Exile: Conrad, Nabokov, I.B. Singer
Asher Z. Milbauer.
Florida International University Press, 1985
The Schlemiel as Metaphor: Studies in Yiddish and American Jewish Fiction
Sanford Pinsker.
Southern Illinois University Press, 1991 (Revised edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "The Isolated Schlemiels Of Isaac Bashevis Singer"
In the Mainstream: The Jewish Presence in Twentieth-Century American Literature, 1950s-1980s
Louis Harap.
Greenwood Press, 1987
Writers and Philosophers: A Sourcebook of Philosophical Influences on Literature
Edmund J. Thomas; Eugene G. Miller.
Greenwood Press, 1990
Between Two Worlds: The American Novel in the 1960's
Sanford Pinsker.
Whitston, 1980
The Bright Streets of Surfside: The Memoir of a Friendship with Isaac Bashevis Singer
Lester Goran.
Kent State University Press, 1994
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