Isaac Bashevis Singer

Isaac Bashevis Singer was born Yitskhok Zinger in 1904 in Radzymin, Poland, and grew up on Krochmalna Street in Warsaw. He was the son and grandson of distinguished rabbis. His brother, Israel Joshua Singer, and his sister, Esther Singer Kreitman, also became accomplished Yiddish writers.

In 1935, shortly after the publication of his successful first novel, Satan in Goray, Singer emigrated to the United States, leaving behind his son, Israel, and the boy's mother. He settled in New York City, where his brother was living, and began working at the Yiddish daily Forverts, where many of his most famous stories and novels first appeared. In 1940, he married Alma Heimann Wassermann. 

Singer's Post-Holocaust Works

Professor Ruth Wisse describes the bleakness and childlessness of Singer’s post-Holocaust works. Singer was a person who “saw his world utterly destroyed and who really came to grips with the human forces that had destroyed that society.”

Singer first came to the attention of English readers in 1952, when the Partisan Review published his short story “Gimpel the Fool,” translated by Saul Bellow. Subsequently, Singer participated in the translation of his own work. His best-known works include the novels The Family MoskatThe Magician of Lublin, and Enemies, A Love Story, and the stories “The Little Shoemakers,” “Short Friday,” and “The Spinoza of Market Street.”

Singer's Popularity and Politics

Professor Ruth Wisse discusses Isaac Bashevis Singer’s popularity amongst his readers and lack thereof with his fellow writers. Wisse partially attributes I. B. Singer’s unpopularity amongst fellow writers to his anti-Communist political beliefs in a community that was predominantly leftist.

Singer is the only primarily Yiddish writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. (Shmuel Yosef Agnon, another winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, wrote in Yiddish early in his career but is better known as a Hebrew writer.) Accepting the award in 1978, he declared: “Yiddish has not yet said its last word . . . [It] is the wise and humble language of us all, the idiom of frightened and hopeful Humanity.” He died in Surfside, Florida, in 1991.