(1904-1991) Polish writer who composed first in Hebrew, then solely in Yiddish; he was a US resident from 1935. He began publishing professionally in Warsaw magazines in 1925, and in early stories – as in late – translated into terms accessible to 20th-century audiences much Yiddish Folklore as well as more obscure material from the Cabbala, the latter influence shaping much of his fiction into patterns in which the divine and the mundane rest their cases on each other (see As Above, So Below). His first novel, Satan in Goray (1935; trans Jacob Sloan 1955), describes the rise of a false Messiah in 17th-century Poland, and incorporates the harrowing Possession of an entire Jewish community. Much of his work though technically Supernatural Fiction, and populous with Devils and Witches and Ghosts – wholly embraces a worldview that sees the supernatural and the mundane as inextricably mixed, so that he must be understood as an author of fantasy. Satan makes frequent appearances throughout IBS's work, and narrates several of the short stories.
Most of IBS's writing career was spent in the USA, and most of his work appeared in English translation before it came out in Yiddish. Collections include Gimpel the Fool and Other Stories (coll trans [in part by Saul Bellow] 1957), The Spinoza of Market Street (coll trans 1961), Short Friday and Other Stories (coll trans 1964), The Seance and Other Stories (coll trans 1968), A Friend of Kafka (coll trans 1970), A Crown of Feathers and Other Stories (coll trans 1973), Passions and Other Stories (coll trans 1975), Old Love (coll trans 1979), Collected Stories (coll 1982), The Image and Other Stories (coll trans 1985), Gifts (coll trans 1985) and The Death of Methuselah and Other Stories (coll trans 1988). Novels of interest include The Magician of Lublin (trans 1960), The Fools of Chem and Their History (trans 1973), the latter set in a Land-of-Fable Eastern European kingdom, and The Penitent (1983), a World War II fantasy in which Hitler, the Devil and a false Messiah intertwine. In almost all cases, IBS collaborated in translating his work, some volumes having multiple translation credits, and the English texts have an authority independent of the manuscript originals.
IBS won the Nobel Literature Prize in 1978. [JC]
other works (for children): Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories (coll trans 1966) illus Maurice Sendak; Mazel and Shlimazel, or The Milk of a Lioness (1967); The Fearsome Inn (1967); When Schlemiel Went to Warsaw and Other Stories (coll trans 1968); Joseph and Koza, or The Sacrifice to the Vistula (trans 1970); Alone in the Wild Forest (trans 1971); The Topsy-Turvy Emperor of China (coll trans 1971) illus William Pène du Bois; A Tale of Three Wishes (trans 1976); Naftali the Storyteller and His Horse, Sus, and Other Stories (coll trans 1976); The Power of Light (coll trans 1980); The Golem (trans 1982); Stories for Children (coll trans 1984); Meshugah (trans 1994).
Isaac Bashevis Singer