Neil Seeman
A writer conversant in grief, seeking virtue.

The Renaissance of Jewish Literary Voices

Meg Wolitzer, 2011 Texas Book Festival, Austin (Source: Wikipedia Biography)
Meg Wolitzer, 2011 Texas Book Festival, Austin (Source: Wikipedia Biography)

Is Jewish writing in decline? Author Noah Richler has invoked nostalgia for the era of the great greats, like his father, Mordechai. It’s plausible that some publishers eschew books about the trauma that once defined Jewish literary tradition. Or that some modern Jewish authors conform to genres deemed “acceptable” to the masses — Holocaust novels or tales of assimilated Jews.

Even so, I see a Jewish literary renaissance unfolding across genres and generations. Jewish writers persist with a force that awakens me to good and evil and to moral clarity, guided by luminaries like Anne Frank and Viktor Frankl, bearing witness through words, no matter how pained the world.

Meg Wolitzer, 2011 Texas Book Festival, Austin (Source: Wikipedia Biography)

Google Trends data show worldwide search queries for “Jewish authors” have climbed apace in the past decade. Michael Chabon’s kaleidoscopic Jewish-infused novels, like “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” enraptured readers across the globe and won a Pulitzer. Nicole Krauss refracts existential questions through a distinctly Jewish mirror. Add David Bezmozgis, Dara Horn, and Jonathan Safran Foer to this new era’s torch-bearers.

This is no fleeting spark. Nathan Englander’s tales of Kiddush and secular Judaism feature in the canon’s heart. Periodicals and podcasts that review Jewish-themed books are flourishing — The Jewish Review of Books, The Book of Life podcast, Jewish Book World, and Bookishly Jewish. Today’s Jewish writers innovate by blending Jewish folklore with magical realism, exploring the nuance of interfaith relationships, and giving voice to the full diversity of diasporic experiences.

Women, especially, ignite the Jewish narrative anew. Dara Horn investigates Jewish faith and theodicy; Meg Wolitzer casts fresh eyes on a Jewish America hewn to its past while catapulting bravely into the present. Though publishing challenges remain, these trailblazers show the Jewish literary tradition lives, breathing life into narratives that bear witness to our historic wounds.

While Chaim Potok introduced non-Jewish readers to Hasidism and Talmudic study, today’s Jewish writers explore and illuminate for readers the spectrum and dynamism of Jewish identity —  the full sweep of religiosity, diasporas, intermarriage, and interfaith relationships.

Jewish writers inhabit their role wholly, reflecting beauty and changeability. Denying this era’s brilliance misses a vital and singular artistic movement, as luminous as Bellow and Roth’s.

Inevitably, tenacious Jewish voices will not be stilled. They render the incredible plausible, the implausible irresistible, through their narration’s sheer force. Listen. You’ll hear them.

About the Author
Neil Seeman is an author, educator, essayist, mental health advocate, and entrepreneur. Neil is CEO of publishing firm Sutherland House Experts. At the University of Toronto, Neil is an Adjunct Professor and senior fellow at the Institute for Health Policy, Management and Evaluation, the Fields Institute, the Investigative Journalism Bureau, Massey College, and the HIVE Lab. Neil founded technology and Big Data firm RIWI Corp. and he is the author or co-author of several books on mental health topics. He was a founding editorial board member of the National Post and co-founder of the Health Strategy Innovation Cell. Neil’s last book was "Accelerated Minds: Unlocking the Fascinating, Inspiring, and Often Destructive Impulses that Drive the Entrepreneurial Brain" (Sutherland House). Neil is a graduate of the University of Toronto Law School (JD) and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (MPH).
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