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UT Austin hosts world’s largest gathering of Yiddish scholars as February’s Isaac Bashevis Singer conference gets underway

An international conference on Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Nobel Prize winning writer of novels, short stories and essays in Yiddish, will be held Feb. 28 at The University of Texas at Austin.

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AUSTIN, Texas—An international conference on Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Nobel Prize winning writer of novels, short stories and essays in Yiddish, will be held Feb. 28 at The University of Texas at Austin.

The Singer conference is free and the public is welcome to attend.

Conference participants include scholars of Yiddish literature and leading experts on Singer’s works from South Africa, Israel, Poland, France, England and Canada. This is the largest conference of Yiddish scholars and experts on Singer held anywhere. Lectures will be in English.

The conference is titled "The Real Bashevis and His Creation: I.B. Singer."

Dr. Seth Wolitz, the Gale Chair Professor of Jewish Studies, said the conference "is one of the most historical gatherings of Yiddish specialists in the world. Certainly, it is the first time that Austin and the University have presented such a gathering devoted to Yiddish literature and culture."

The conference opens at 9 a.m. in the Tom Lea Room on the third floor of the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, moving at 2 p.m. (to 6 p.m.) to the fourth floor auditorium. The center, which is home to the largest collection of Singer manuscripts in the world, is located at the northeast corner of Guadalupe and 21st streets. Parking is available at the Dobie parking garage at 21st and Whitis.

Singer, who died in 1991, was born into a family of Hasidic rabbis in Poland in 1908. He emigrated to the United States in 1935, working for a Yiddish newspaper. He wrote dozens of novels, short stories and essays, usually about Jewish life in Poland before the Holocaust. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1978.

Singer wrote most of his works in Yiddish, and supervised their translation into English. It was in English that they became widely known. One of the intriguing features of the conference will be its focus on the differences in the English and Yiddish versions, which include major differences in emphasis and even entirely different endings.

"This meeting will clarify the reasons for his literary, cultural and ideological maneuvers which make this great literary figure so fascinating both as a Yiddish and English writer and as a person," said Wolitz. "One of the purposes of this congress is to emphasize that this master writer created in the Yiddish language and from the inheritance of the traditional Jewish Eastern European world."

Wolitz said Singer’s works would be studied from the literary, biographical, psychoanalytic, linguistic and cultural perspectives. Wolitz said Austin is an appropriate setting for a conference of this magnitude, in part because a majority of Singer’s manuscripts are housed in the Ransom Center and because "Bashevis visited Austin 22 years ago and loved it. The University has always been a major center of Yiddish cultural studies."

Sponsors of the event include the annual Distinguished Lecturer Series sponsored by UT Austin’s Gale Chair of Judaic Studies, the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, the department of Slavic Studies and the Center of Eastern European and Eurasian Studies, with the support of the Hillel House.

Conference participants will include

Professor Jan Schwartz of Denmark, who teaches at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana; Professor Eugene Ornstein of McGill University in Canada; Professor Astrid Starck-Adler of the Universite de Haute Alsace in France; Professor Hugh Denman of the University of London; Brad Sabin Hill of Oxford University; Poland’s Professor Monika Adamczyk-Garbowska of Maria Curie-Sklodowska University; Professor Joseph Sherman of the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa; Professor Abraham Noversztern of Hebrew University in Israel; Professor Leonard Preger of Haifa University in Israel; and Professor Natan Cohen of Bar Ilan University in Israel.

American scholars include Professor Janet Hadda of the University of California, Los Angeles; Professor David Neal Miller of Ohio State University; Professor David Roskies of Jewish Theological Seminary; Professor Irving Saposnik of the University of Wisconsin, Madison; and Professor Alan Astro of Trinity University in San Antonio.

UT Austin participants will include Professor Wolitz; Professor Itsik Nakhmen Gottesman, assistant professor of Germanic Languages; Professor Robert King, who holds the Audre and Bernard Rapoport Chair of Jewish Studies; Professor Mark L. Louden, associate professor of Germanic Languages; and Professor Mark Southern, assistant professor of Germanic languages.

For more information, contact Clint Schneider of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at 471-3607.