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Jews in Modern Europe Seminar

The Bacterial Turn in Yiddish Literature: Two Case Studies


February 20, 2020
4:30pm - 6:00pm
Hoffmann Room, Adolphus Busch Hall Directions
February 20, 2020
4:30pm - 6:00pm
Hoffmann Room, Adolphus Busch Hall Directions

Sunny Yudkoff will highlight findings from her book, Tubercular Capital: Illness and the Conditions of Modern Jewish Writing (Stanford University Press, 2019), for which she was awarded the Salon Wittmayer Baron Prize. Yudkoff will discuss the transnational phenomenon of the tubercular Jewish writers in the first decades of the twentieth century by examining the consequences of tuberculosis in both their lives and literature. Sholem Aleichem, whose work would be adapted into Fiddler on the Roof, sought relief for his ailing lungs in Nervi, Italy, around the same time that the Yiddish poet Lune Mattes entered a sanatorium for indigent Jews in Denver, Colorado. There, Mattes began his literary career by drawing on the financial and creative resources of the institution. While Mattes remains all but forgotten in contemporary discussions of American Jewish writing, his experience, alongside that of Sholem Aleichem, sheds light on how a tubercular diagnosis shaped the development of Yiddish writers’ professional careers, public personae, and literature. In this presentation, the speaker will further highlight the intersections of biography, illness, and literary production.

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