Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Good Writing Lives Forever

In yesterday's New York Times, there was an article about Chaim Grade, a Yiddish writer who passed away in 1982. His widow had not allowed scholars to examine the papers that filled their small Bronx apartment. She died this month, and it is thought there may be many unpublished works by Grade waiting to be discovered in their home.
Grade had a good reputation while he was alive, but had been overshadowed by the Nobel Prize winning Isaac Bashevis Singer, the only Yiddish writer to be so honored. There were many great Yiddish writers in the past century, including I.L. Peretz, Sholem Aleichem, and Israel Joseph Singer (I.J. was I.B. Singer's older brother--their sister Esther Kreitman was also a writer, but we don't have any books by her in our system.)

There are other examples of writers who had posthumous revivals. In the late 90's there was a renewal of interest in Dawn Powell, a novelist who had died with virtually all of her work out of print. Zora Neale Hurston, was a writer from the Harlem Renaissance whose work had fallen into obscurity until an article by Alice Walker was written about her. (I recommend the audio version of her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, read by Ruby Dee.)  It helps to have a champion--John Kennedy Toole's champion was his mother, who brought the manuscript of his novel A Confederacy of Dunces to Walker Percy, who helped get it published. It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1981, twelve years after Toole's death.

I like to think that these writers can still receive their accolades in the Great Beyond...or at least, that they had confidence that their work had merit, even though they never lived to hear it praised. So if you are a writer, and haven't been called by the Nobel Committee yet, take heart. You might be in the same company as Emily Dickinson, Herman Melville, Franz Kafka, Jane Austen.....

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