ENGL 2580 : Jewish American Writers
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OVERVIEW: In this course we first consider the thorny question: What Is (and Is Not) Jewish American literature? Each word – Jewish, American, and literature – invites a series of further questions. As the scholar Hana Wirth-Nesher has noted, “American Jewish literature . . . has emerged as a recognizable corpus of work in the American literary tradition, although criteria for admission into this canon remain problematic, as recalcitrant as criteria for determining definitions of Jewishness itself.”¶ Having arrived at a working understanding of American Jewish literature’s boundaries, we will trace the genre’s development from late nineteenth century works about immigrants living in teeming tenements in New York City’s Lower East Side to the present, with a special emphasis on works by modern day writers. Along the way, we will explore themes related to immigration and Americanization, the impact of the Holocaust, Jewish self-identity and stereotypes, the Jewish family, intergenerational struggles, and more.¶ As we read our way through works by over a dozen authors – stretching from Emma Lazarus’ famous “The New Colossus” to Dara Horn’s People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present – we will consider the many ways in which Jewish American writers have shaped and reshaped the genre over time. (And we will consider the reasons why some authors have embraced and others have rejected the label of “Jewish American writer.”) We will also focus upon broad themes regarding authorship, identity, group identity, and the boundary between fact and fiction.¶ We will study works by major writers of the past, including Abraham Cahan, Anzia Yezierska, Bernard Malamud, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Grace Paley, and Cynthia Ozick. And we will read works by major writers of the present, including Allegra Goodman, Nicole Krauss, Nathan Englander, and Dara Horn. We will also read a series of essays, by and about these authors, that will help us to understand, and engage in, the ongoing debate about the role and permissible range of Jewish American literature.¶ To add another dimension to our consideration of Jewish American Literature we will also watch and discuss several notable films: The Jazz Singer (1927), Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), and Crossing Delancey (1988).¶ OBJECTIVES Through class discussions and written assignments, students will learn to reflect critically on the tradition of Jewish American Literature. Specifically, for the written assignments, they will be guided to express their own interpretations of particular works we read and view. So too, they will become familiar with the specific debates surrounding Jewish American Literature and the evolution of the genre. Additionally, they will gain an appreciation for the interdisciplinary practice of American Studies, as we consider the cultural and historical contexts that influenced the authors and are reflected in their works.
Wachtell, C. (2022, Spring). ENGL 2580 : Jewish American Writers. Stern College for Women, Yeshiva University.
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