Biography of Isaac Bashevis Singer

Isaac Bashevis Singer, the son of a Hasidic rabbi, was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1904. When the Germans occupied Warsaw during World War I, the Singers suffered from poverty and hunger and eventually moved to a rural life with his mother's family in Bilgoray. During this period, Singer began studying both traditional Jewish texts as well as secular studies, all while being immersed in the rural Hasidic folk culture that later influenced his writing.

Singer returned to Warsaw in the early 1920s and began writing reviews and translations for a variety of newspapers. During this period, he lost the religious faith that he grew up with, and arrived at his own form of personal mysticism, believing in an unknown and silent God. He also met his first wife, Runia or Rachel, who was the mother of his only child, and published his first fictional stories in Yiddish-language newspapers.

In 1935, Singer followed his elder brother, also an esteemed Yiddish writer, to New York City. A few years later, he joined the staff of the Forward, a famous Jewish newspaper based in New York City. Singer married his second wife, Alma, in 1940. She became a strong supporter and translator of his work. During this time, his publications increased, and he continued to write in Yiddish and publish with English translations. A turning point in his career came in 1953, when the Partisan Review published "Gimpel the Fool" to great acclaim. After this publication, Singer continued to publish in both Yiddish and English, earning status as a great American writer over the next several decades and culminating with winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1978. His Nobel Lecture emphasized the values and way of life embedded in the Yiddish language. He was the only Yiddish author to win the Nobel Prize.

Singer was a writer who wrote primarily for children, known for folkloric themes and abstaining from political commentary. Indeed, unlike many children's stories, his were not didactic or overly moralizing. He believed that stories should not be too focused on meaning. The important thing, as he told an interviewer in 1977, was that the stories "have beauty in themselves." He was, however, a vocal proponent of Yiddish life and language, even as many felt Yiddish culture was sentenced to death after the Holocaust eradicated its cultural nexus.


Study Guides on Works by Isaac Bashevis Singer

"Zlateh the Goat" is a short story by Isaac Bashevis Singer. The story was included in his collection of short stories, Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories (1966). "Zlateh the Goat," like most of Singer's stories, was written in Yiddish and...