Exiles on Main Street

Exiles on Main Street

Jewish American Writers and American Literary Culture
Levinson, Julian
Distribution: World
Publication date: 07/02/2008
Format: Hardback 9 b&w photos
ISBN: 978-0-253-35081-7
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Winner, 2008 National Jewish Book Awards, American Jewish Studies category

How have Jews reshaped their identities as Jews in the face of the radical newness called America? Julian Levinson explores the ways in which exposure to American literary culture—in particular the visionary tradition identified with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman—led American Jewish writers to a new understanding of themselves as Jews. Discussing the lives and work of writers such as Emma Lazarus, Mary Antin, Ludwig Lewisohn, Waldo Frank, Anzia Yezierska, I. J. Schwartz, Alfred Kazin, and Irving Howe, Levinson concludes that their interaction with American culture led them to improvise new and meaningful ways of being Jewish. In contrast to the often expressed view that the diaspora experience leads to assimilation, Exiles on Main Street traces an arc of return to Jewish identification and describes a vital and creative Jewish American literary culture.

Author Bio

Julian Levinson is the Samuel Shetzer Professor of American Jewish Studies and Associate Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.


An entirely original and absorbing piece of scholarship and historical reconstruction [that] engages the Jewish—American literary canon and redefines it. . . . An excellent, pioneering book.

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Table of Contents



Part 1. Breathing Free in the New World: Transcendentalism and the Jewish Soul
1. Songs of a Semite: Emma Lazarus and the Muse of History
2. Ecstasies of the Credulous: Mary Antin and the Spirit of the Shtetl

Part 2. Battling the Nativists: Mystics, Prophets, and Rebels in Interwar America
3. "Pilgrim to a Forgotten Shrine": Ludwig Lewisohn and the Recovery of the Inner Jew
4. Modernist Flasks, Jewish Wine: Waldo Frank and the Immanence of God
5. Cinderella's Dybbuk: Anzia Yezierska as the Voice of Generations

Part 3. Yiddish Interlude
6. From Heine to Whitman: The Yiddish Poets Come to America

Part 4. "Orating in New Yorkese": The Languages of Jewishness in Postwar America
7. "My Private Orthodoxy": Alfred Kazin's Romantic Judaism
8. The Jewish Writer Flies at Twilight: Irving Howe and the Recovery of Yiddishkayt



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