The Arty Semite

Women Helped Jewish Lit Evolve in 2012

By Erika Dreifus

  • Print
  • Share Share

On December 6, the Center for the Humanities at The Graduate Center of The City University of New York hosted a panel with an intriguing title: “Contemporary Jewish-American Writing: What Has Changed?” Equally interesting, especially when attention is being paid to gender (in)equities in publishing, the panel proposed to discuss how women writers, in particular, have influenced the shifts. Although the event didn’t address all of its anticipated questions, it left me considering how my own recent reading in Jewish books — works whose content reflects an engagement with identifiably Jewish subjects, such as Jewish history, prayer, ritual, language and Israel — may reflect some of those shifts and changes.

I recently compiled a list of the “Jewish” reading I completed in 2012, and it confirmed what I suspected: Anyone who believes that Jewish-American writing remains rooted in tales of New York and neurosis, with gratuitous Yiddishims sprinkled in for good measure, is simply wrong. In fact, Jewish-American literature continues to grow richer and more far-reaching. Moreover, as samples from my year-end list suggest, women writers are contributing significantly to its evolution.

  • “Moving Waters,” by Racelle Rosett. This short-story collection brings to life a community of Reform Jews in Los Angeles. From female rabbis to queer congregants, Rosett’s characters embody Jews who have only in the past generation become visible in American Jewish life and American Jewish literature.

  • “There’s Jews in Texas?” by Debra L. Winegarten. Winner of the 2011 chapbook contest administered by Poetica Magazine, Winegarten’s poetry chapbook reminds us of the presence of American Jewish populations outside the coastal clusters, recalls experiences of the 1960s, and renders homage to a remarkable Jewish mother—Winegarten’s.

  • “The Middlesteins,” by Jami Attenberg. Attenberg is an author, not a stand-up comedian. But if we’re starting to acknowledge the contributions of women, including Jewish women, in comedy, it seems fair to note that Attenberg’s latest novel, while taking on some very serious themes, is also very funny.

  • “The Innocents,” by Francesca Segal. Born in London, Segal has American parentage, and her debut novel is similarly bound to American literary tradition. “The Innocents” re-casts Edith Wharton’s “The Age of Innocence”; in Segal’s version, the story is set not within the 19th-century Protestant elite in New York, but rather in a contemporary Jewish community in London. Incorporating the legacy of the Holocaust, vacations in Israel, and shame stemming from a financial scandal whose chief culprit is a Jew, “The Innocents” offers a decidedly modern and Jewish take on the age-old and mainstream themes of family and fidelity.

  • I’ve also sneaked a peek into what 2013 will bring us, including Karen E. Bender’s novel, “A Town of Empty Rooms,” which traces what happens to a (nominally) Jewish couple, Serena and Dan, after they move from New York to Waring, N.C. Conflicts emerge within the marriage, with a particularly unsympathetic non-Jewish neighbor, and within the fictional Temple Shalom, where Serena becomes increasingly active. Look for it in January.

And, whatever else you do, please continue to look for a thriving and evolving Jewish literature. I promise that you can find it.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Erika Dreifus, Books

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love.
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.