The Arty Semite

Your Graphic Novel and Mine

By Ilan Stavans

Earlier this week, Ilan Stavans wrote about the problem with academic writing and asked: Is there a Jewish literary renaissance? His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


I’m a passionate lover of the graphic novel.

I grew up in Mexico City. As an adolescent, my weekly literary diet included comics of all types. There were the usual suspects from the United States: superheroes of various calibers, such as Superman and Batman, as well as funny characters like Archie and Sabrina. But the comics I cherished the most were locally made or imported from other parts of Latin America: Kalimán, La familia Burrón, Condorito, Mafalda… Like other readers, I saw my own social, political, and historical dilemmas reflected in them.

Recently I traveled from one book fair to another promoting “El Iluminado,” a graphic novel I wrote (with Steve Sheinkin), set among the crypto-Jews of the Southwest. Scores of writer friends I met were surprised I had accepted to experiment in this field. “Isn’t it for younger people?” one of them asked. “Theirs is the generation of the moving pictures…” I laughed, telling him about my uncured devotion to comic strips as well as mammoth narratives. “The readers of Don Quixote are always young, aren’t they? And Cervantes’s imagination was quite cinematic. Were he alive, I’m sure he would be a fan of graphic novels.”

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Academic Freedom Is Wasted on Academics

By Ilan Stavans

Earlier this week, Ilan Stavans asked: Is there a Jewish literary renaissance? His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


Sometimes when I’m congratulated for writing well, the praise comes with a sense of theft, as if someone like me who has spent decades in academia — I started teaching when I was just out of college — should be expected to say things in muddy, incomprehensible ways.

I understand the qualm. Academics are known for their pedantic style. This is particularly the case in the humanities, where, given the universal topics, one would expect the opposite. Scholars for the most part write obscurely for a small audience — minuscule, really: less than half a dozen peers. To show off, they become convinced that arguments need to be labyrinthine and the language unintelligible.

This awful mode is learned in graduate school. Unfortunately, judging by the sample of the latest crop of scholars, there doesn’t appear to be an end to this education to obfuscate.

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Is There a Jewish Literary Renaissance?

By Ilan Stavans

Ilan Stavans is Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College. His most recent books are the collection of essays “Singer’s Typewriter and Mine: Reflections on Jewish Culture” (University of Nebraska Press, 2002) and the graphic novel “El Iluminado” (Basic Books, with Steve Sheinkin). His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


I hear repeatedly that Jewish literature is undergoing a renaissance. The statement puzzles me.

I can’t think of a period over our last 3,000 years of history — yes, since the Bible began to take shape as a compendium of folktales — when Jews haven’t been part of a literary renaissance. We’re always dying… and leave a record of our near extinction. Indeed, Jewish literature thrives because it is constantly said to be on its last stand.

We write the apocalypse: no sooner does someone announce our demise, we do everything possible to prove it wrong.

Ours, no doubt, are apocalyptic times. Not since 1945 has anti-Semitism been more noxious than it is now. All of us Jews are seen as parasites in countless places. The hatred against us wasn’t cured after the Holocaust; it simply went commando.

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Excerpt: Terrorism and the Fotonovela

By Ezra Glinter

On the morning of July 18, 1994, the deadliest terrorist attack in the history of Argentina took place with the bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina, killing 85 people and injuring hundreds. The investigation into the attack is ongoing. In his new fotonovela, “Once @ 9:53 am,” Forward contributing editor Ilan Stavans, along with photographer Marcelo Brodsky, revisits the incident, delving into the historic neighborhood where it took place and speculating as to the identity of the attackers. In an interview with the Forward’s Ezra Glinter, Stavans talks about making art out of news and how an attack against a Jewish community was seen as an attack against an entire nation. “Once @ 9:53 am” will be launched on April 14 at The JCC in Manhattan.

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Out and About: Jonathan Lethem Leaves Brooklyn; Ketubahs for All

By Ezra Glinter

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Motherless Brooklyn, Out and About, Samuel Freedman, Moby Dick, Middle East Theater Academy, Ketubah, Kevin Spacey, Jonathan Lethem, Ilan Stavans, Adah Isaacs Menken




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