Shalom Life | July 01, 2014

Jewish Top 10s: Authors

Join us in celebrating some of the most extraordinary literary minds of the 20th century

By: Graham Sigurdson

Published: January 24th, 2014 in Culture » Books » News

Jewish Top 10s: Authors

Welcome to Jewish Top 10s, where we compile lists that highlight the best and the brightest of everything yehudi, from delicious recipes to funniest actors, to most obnoxious Jewish wedding songs.

Some of the most preeminent literary minds of the 20th century were Jewish, from Karl Marx to Philip Roth. These man were visionaries, responsible for some of the most respected and beloved pieces of literature of the time. With words, they molded theories, ideas, statements that would forever change the world, whether politically, economically, socially or artistically.

Though compiling a list of ten was certainly an arduous task in itself, we felt compelled to present those minds whose explorations on paper brought us concepts that would challenge the system of government, decree acts of revolution, or, simply, present some of the most poignant fictional stories one could read.

HONORARY MENTIONS


Norman Mailer (1923 – 2007)

Responsible For: The Naked and the Dead


Bernard Malamud (1914-1986)

Responsible For: The Fixer


Anne Frank (1929 – 1945)

Responsible For: The Diary of Anne Frank


Shel Silverstein (1930 – 1999)

Responsible For: Now Here’s My Plan: A Book of Futilities


Amos Oz (1939 -)

Responsible For: A Tale of Love and Darkness

TOP TEN

10.


Michael Chabon (1963 -)

Responsible For: The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Wonder Boys

One of the most popular American writers working today, Michael Chabon’s work often often deals with Jewish identity, with The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and The Yiddish Policemen’s Union being notable examples. Chabon is a strong defender of genre-fiction and ‘plot-driven’ fiction, going against the upheld literary conventions on more ‘experimental’ or postmodern works. Chabon won the Pulitzer prize in 2001 and has also had success outside of literature. With the film version of Wonder Boys receiving widespread acclaim, Chabon himself would work on the scripts for Spider-Man 2 and John Carter. A script for a film-adaptation of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union was being worked on by the Coen Brothers, although the rights eventually lapsed back to Chabon.

Chabon’s wife, Ayelet Waldman, is also a novelist.

9.


Elie Wiesel (1928 -)

Responsible For: Night/Dawn/Day, The Trial of God

A professor, political activist, and author, Wiesel was born in Romania in 1928, and has written 57 books, among them the popular Night, based on his time at Aushwitz, Bunz and Buchenwald. In a famous photo of the concentration camps, Wiesel can be seen on one of the bunks.

A writer of fiction, nonfiction, and memoir, Wiesel received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 for his work in speaking out against violence, racism, genocide, and worldwide.

8.


Primo Levi (1919-1987)

Responsible For: If This Is A Man, The Periodic Table

Originally schooled as a chemist, Primo Levi is perhaps best known for his 1947 memoir If This Is a Man, recounting his time spent as a prisoner in Auschwitz. His 1975 book, The Periodic Table, in which stories from his life are linked to elements on the periodic table, was chosen by the Royal Institution of Great Britain as the best science book ever written. Levi only ever published one novel, If not Now, in 1984. Much of his work focused on Jewish life and his experiences during the Holocaust, but interestingly, his works were not published or translated in Israel until after his death. He died in 1987 of a suspected suicide.

7.


Chaim Potok (1929 – 2002)

Responsible For: My Name is Asher Lev, The Chosen

Born Herman Harold Potok to Polish immigrants in 1929, Potok is best known for his 1967 novel The Chosen, a bestseller that, upon its original release, sold more than 3,400,000 copies. Potok’s first stories were published in a Yeshiva University literary magazine, where he would later graduate from with a BA in English. He later earned a master’s degree in Hebrew Literature before, like many noted authors, spending some time in the U.S. Army.

After the war, Potok spent some time in Israel writing his doctoral dissertation, and began to work on a novel. The Chosen would go on to be nominated for the prestigious National Book Award and also saw a sequel released in 1969. Potok’s parents were of the ultra-Orthodox community, and discouraged his reading on new-Jewish subjects. He in turn would sneak off to the library and read ‘secular’ literature like Hemingway or Joyce. Potok’s work was influential in its spreading of Jewish culture and modernity to a wider, noticeably non-Jewish audience. He was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2001, and died at his home in 2002.

6.


Arthur Miller (1915-2005)

Responsible For: Death of a Salesman, The Crucible

Perhaps one of the best-known American playwrights, Arthur Miller is best known for his 1949 play Death of a Salesman, and 1953’s The Crucible, a send up of McCarthyism. Notably, he was also married to Marilyn Monroe, and his daughter is married to Daniel Day-Lewis.

The 1950s saw Miller experience run-ins with the House Un-American Activities (HUAC), to the point that he was unable to attend the premiere of The Crucible in London. During this time, he worked on the film The Misfits, meeting future wife Inge Morath on the set.

Miller continued to work until his death in 2005, although never quite recapturing the fame and success that Salesman once brought him.

Continue Reading on Page 2 for Our Top 5 Jewish Authors

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