Isaac Bashevis Singer

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Singer, Isaac Bashevis

(bäshĕv`ĭs), 1904–91, American novelist and short-story writer in the Yiddish language, younger brother of I. J. SingerSinger, Isaac Merrit,
1811–75, American inventor, b. Rensselaer co., N.Y. As a child he lived in Oswego, N.Y. He patented in 1851 a practical sewing machine that could do continuous stitching.
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, b. Leoncin, Poland (then in Russia). The son of a provincial Hasidic rabbi (see HasidismHasidism
or Chassidism
[Heb.,=the pious], Jewish religious movement founded in Poland in the 18th cent. by Baal-Shem-Tov. Its name derives from Hasidim. Hasidism, which stressed the mercy of God and encouraged joyous religious expression through music and dance, spread
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), 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 HoweHowe, Irving,
1920–93, American literary and social critic, b. New York City. From his early days as a Trotskyist to his later (and lifelong) position as a democratic socialist, Howe criticized Stalinism and left-wing totalitarianism.
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, translated by Saul BellowBellow, Saul,
1915–2005, American novelist, b. Lachine, Que., as Solomon Bellow, grad. Northwestern Univ., 1937. Born of Russian-Jewish parents, he grew up in the slums of Montreal and Chicago, and lived mostly in Chicago with periods spent in New York and other cities;
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, 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).

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Singer, Isaac Bashevis (Isaac Bashevis, Isaac Warshofsky, pen names)

(1904–91) writer; born in Radzmin, Poland (brother of Israel Singer). He attended a rabbinical seminary (1920–27), but decided upon a secular life and worked for the Hebrew and then for the Yiddish press (1923–35). Concerned by the threat of Nazism, he emigrated to New York City (1935), and worked as a staff member for the Jewish Daily Forward, where most of his work was first published in Yiddish. He wrote novels, short stories, children's books, plays, and memoirs, first in Yiddish and then translated into English under his supervision. He is best known for his novels and short stories set in the Jewish ghettos of Eastern Europe, as in The Family Moskat (1950) and A Crown of Feathers and Other Stories (1973). He was awarded the 1978 Nobel Prize in literature.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.