The Bacterial Turn in Yiddish Literature: Two Case Studies


Thursday, February 20, 2020, 4:30pm


Adolphus Busch Hall, Hoffman Room, 27 Kirkland Street Cambridge, MA 02138

Sunny Yudkoff, Assistant Professor, Department of German, Nordic, and Slavic and the Mosse/Weinstein Center for Jewish Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison

The presentation discusses 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.

*This event is free and open to the public.

Co-sponsored by the Center for Jewish Studies at Harvard University, with the Jews in Modern Europe Seminar, Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, Harvard University