Category: Literature

Our Texts are Palatial: Words from Amos Oz and Fania Oz-Salzberger

Jews and Words is a book that celebrates the written word with a very particular voice that grew out of a lifetime of father-daughter conversations between co-authors Amos Oz, and Fania Oz-Salberger. As Martin Peretz of the Wall Street Journal noted, “You cannot get the taste of this book, let alone its essence, without reading it.” It seems natural to let Amos and Fania’s words speak for themselves.


Amos and Fania’s interviews with NPR and i24 News provide another glimpse into their ongoing dialogue about the Jewish literary tradition. Hear in their own words what it means to be Jewish atheists, how the words “Jews” and “readers” can be interchangeable, and how Jews grew uniquely dependent on words.

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For more from Amos and Fania, listen to their conversation on the Yale Press Podcast with John Donatich and like Jews and Words on Facebook.


Marsha Norman Selects Serial Black Face by Janine Nabers as Winner of the 2014 Yale Drama Series

Pulitzer Prize winner Marsha Norman has selected playwright Janine Nabers as the winner of the 2014 Yale Drama Series for her play Serial Black Face, chosen from 1638 entries from 41 countries.  As winner of the competition, Serial Black Face will be published by Yale University Press, receive a staged reading at Lincoln Center Theater’s Claire Tow Theater, and Ms. Nabers will be presented with the David Charles Horn Prize, a cash award of $10,000.

This year’s runner-up is Meny Beriro for Excellent Souls; honorable mention goes to Adam Szymkowicz for Rare Birds.

In Serial Black Face it’s Atlanta 1979. A serial killer is on the loose and a single black mother’s relationship with her young daughter grows more hostile when a handsome stranger enters their lives.

“I was very pleased to judge the 2014Yale Drama Series, the writing competition established by Francine Horn to honor her husband David Charles Horn,” says Marsha Norman.  “Janine Nabers is an extraordinary writer–powerful and funny and brave.  This work is unsettling to read, but even as you read it, you know it is true.  The crackling dialogue and the unswerving honesty are beautiful to experience.  The character of Vivian will always be with me now.  I am eager for Serial Black Face to have the production it deserves.”

“I am incredibly honored by this prestigious award,” says recipient Janine Nabers, “and I’m humbled to be included in a long list of fearless and undeniably talented writers.  Serial Black Face is a play inspired by events surrounding the Atlanta Child Murders and tackles a time in America that has been gravely overlooked.  I’m happy that this award can give voice to that time. To be a recipient of the Yale Drama Series Award is a privilege.”

Francine Horn, president of the David Charles Horn Foundation, says, “We are thrilled to be honoring Janine for her powerful, timeless play.  And we send our thanks to Marsha and her team of readers on their fortitude and dedication to read over 1600 entries.”

Nabers photo with credit embedded

Janine Nabers is currently the 2013-2014 Aetna New Voices fellow at Hartford Stage. Her plays include Annie Bosh is Missing, Welcome to Jesus, A Swell in the Ground, the book to the Sylvia Plath / Ted Hughes musical Mrs. Hughes and the book to the Kate Nash / Andy  Blankenbuehler musical Only Gold. Recent awards include: the 2013 NYFA playwriting Fellowship,  the 2012 New York Theatre Workshop fellowship and the 2011 Page 73 Playwriting Fellowship. Janine is currently a member of MCC Playwrights Coalition and the Dorothy Strelsin New American Writer’s Group at Primary Stages. She is an alumna of Ars Nova Play Group, Soho Rep Writer/Director Lab, the Dramatist Guild Playwriting Fellowship, the MacDowell Fellowship, and the 2010 and 2011 Sundance Theater Program.  Currently Janine is working on commissions from Playwrights Horizons, Hartford Stage, and The Alley Theatre.

Marsha Norman won the Pulitzer Prize for her play, ‘night, Mother, a Tony Award for the book of The Secret Garden, and numerous other prizes and awards for her other work off and on Broadway, which includes the musicals The Color Purple, The Trumpet of the Swan, and the current The Bridges of Madison County.  For the last twenty years, she has been Co-Director, with Christopher Durang, of the Lila Acheson Wallace Playwriting Program at the Juilliard School.  She is a former Vice-President of the Dramatists Guild of America and a founder of The Lilly Awards.

Now in its eighth year, the Yale Drama Series is an annual international open submission competition for emerging playwrights who are invited to submit original, unpublished, full-length, English language plays for consideration.  The Yale Drama Series is funded by the David Charles Horn Foundation. Marsha Norman served as the sole judge of the 2013 and 2014 competitions.  Past judges, who have each served a two-year term are Edward Albee, David Hare, and John Guare.

British playwright Nicholas Wright has been named the judge for the 2015 and 2016 Yale Drama Series Award.  Wright opened and ran the Theatre Upstairs at London’s Royal Court Theatre; was joint artistic director of the Royal Court; and is a former literary manager and associate director of the Royal National Theatre.  Born in Cape Town, South Africa, he was a child actor who studied at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.  He has written over 30 plays, libretti, and screenplays, including  Vincent in Brixton,  Mrs. Klein, and Traveling Light, which have been performed all over the world from London’s Royal National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company, and Royal Court, to Broadway by New York’s Lincoln Center Theater.

Submissions for the 2015 Yale Drama Series Award will be accepted no earlier than June 1, 2014, and no later than August 15, 2014.  For complete competition rules, please visit

And the 2013 NBCC Biography Award Goes to… YUP Author Leo Damrosch!

In January, the National Book Critics Circle announced their annual award finalists for the 2013 publishing year. Among those honored for book reviewing, lifetime achievement, and books published in a myriad of categories is Yale University Press author Leo Damrosch, whose book Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World is a finalist in the biography category. Already selected as a New York Times Notable Book of 2013, the book was highlighted appreciatively by Marcela Valdes with a podcast for the NBCC’s “Critical Mass” blog, discussing each of the 30 book award finalists in turn. And last night several nominees read from their works.

Listen to Damrosch’s Yale Press Podcast interview with YUP Director John Donatich on iTunesU!

Tonight’s NBCC award ceremony is free and open to the public. Congratulations to Leo Damrosch for this prestigious nomination, and congrats to all of this year’s finalists from Yale University Press!

March 14, 2014 Update Damrosch is the recipient of this year’s NBCC Award in Biography! See our updated photo gallery below!

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Extraordinary Stories of Everyday Lives

Get the Kindle Edition of Everyday Jews for only $1.99 in March 2014


Everyday JewsEveryday Jews was first published in Poland in 1935 by Yehoshue Perle in an attempt to document the daily experiences of Polish Jews. It is a story of love and sex and spirit, a beautiful testimony to a strong and enduring people. Although originally chastised as crude, the novel quickly became a canonical work in explaining this time period. Although the story’s narrator, Mendl, is only a child, this work catalogs the intricate lives of Polish Jews. As he works though the stuff of twelve-year-old boys – puberty, sexual identity, family drama –the world around him also drastically changes. The result is a complex, interwoven tale told in a simple and precise tone, which is neatly captured in this translation.

Perhaps even more important than the book’s characters is its incredible sense of prehistory. Published just before the outbreak of the war, Perle’s text speaks to the experience of Jewry before the Holocaust. The Holocaust’s omnipresence can be felt throughout, a terrible foreboding of what is to come. And yet, this is still a story of hope, built on the believe that sharing a cultural history is of the utmost importance. Yehoshue Perle’s slice-of-life fiction provides a resonating voice to this population.

In his introduction, editor David G. Roskies writes:

We now offer Everyday Jews to the English reader is Maier Deshell’s masterful translation… Whether looking for vanished Jews or for a window into the everyday, the English reader will here – for the first time – discover a modern master. This is no everyday occurrence.

This March is the perfect time to explore the life of Mendl and the history of the Polish Jew through Everyday Jews, translated by Maier Deshell and Margaret Birstein and part of Yale University Press’s New Yiddish Library series.

Carl Phillips Chooses Ansel Elkins as 2014 Yale Series of Younger Poets Winner

Yale University Press is pleased to announce a winner in the 2014 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition. The judge, prize-winning and critically acclaimed poet Carl Phillips, has chosen Ansel Elkins’s manuscript, BLUE YODEL.

Ansel Elkins

Ansel Elkins

“Through her arresting use of persona, in particular, Ansel Elkins reminds us of the pivotal role of compassion in understanding others and — more deeply and often more disturbingly — our various inner selves,” series judge Carl Phillips says. “Razor-edged in their intelligence, southern gothic in their sensibility, these poems enter the strangenesses of others and return us to a world at once charged, changed, brutal, and luminous.”

Yale University Press will publish BLUE YODEL in April 2015. The manuscript is Phillips’s fourth selection as judge and the 109th volume in the series. Carl Phillips’s third selection, Eryn Green’s ERUV will be published by Yale University Press on April 8, 2014.

Ansel Elkins is the recipient of a 2013 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry, the 2012 North American Review James Hearst Poetry Prize, the 2012 Fugue Poetry Prize, the 2011 “Discovery”/Boston Review Poetry Prize, and was a 2012 Tennessee Williams Scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Her poems have appeared in AGNI, The Believer, Best New Poets 2011, Boston Review, The Daily Beast, Ecotone, Gulf Coast, The Southern Review, and others. New work is forthcoming in The American Scholar and Denver Quarterly.

Awarded since 1919 by Yale University Press, the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize celebrates the most prominent new American poets by bringing the work of these artists to the attention of the larger public. Earlier winners of the prize include such talents as Adrienne Rich, John Ashbery, Jack Gilbert, Jean Valentine and Robert Hass. It is the longest-running poetry prize in the United States.

Yale University Press will also continue its partnership with The James Merrill House. Winners of the Series will receive one of the five writing fellowships offered at The James Merrill House in Stonington, CT. The fellowship provides a furnished living space and daily access to James Merrill’s apartment for a writer in search of a quiet setting to complete a project of literary or academic merit.

How to Learn Philosophy in Six Hours and Fifteen Minutes

“Beginning of modern thought.”

Witold Gombrowicz starts his guide through modern philosophy with characteristic concision. The “First Lesson” is a description of Kant’s contributions to philosophy, with some explanation of Descartes to see where Kant is coming from.

A Guide to Philosophy in Six Hours and Fifteen MinutesGombrowicz — playwright, diarist, novelist, and thinker — leaps through philosophy since the Enlightenment with poetic, aphoristic prose. By the time the guide ends with Husserl and Nietzsche, we have travelled through Hegel, Marxism, and Existentialism with remarkable speed. In the end we get much more than perspective on some of the great thinkers of modern western Philosophy, but the style and insight of Gombrowicz himself. These lessons are given dates, leaving us the sense that we are moving through both Gombrowicz’s life and the life of philosophy. In these brief quotations from A Guide to Philosophy in Six Hours and Fifteen Minutes, translated by Benjamin Ivy, we find Gombrowicz’s lucid encapsulations with layered with his artistic flare:

On Writers and Kant:

“What was the most profound vision of the world in the 18th century? One finds it in Kant, without whom it would be impossible to know the development of consciousness through the centuries. Philosophy is needed for a global view of culture. It is important for writers.

On Philosophy:

“Philosophy allows us to organize culture, to introduce order, to find ourselves, and to attain intellectual confidence.”

On Schopenhauer and Art:

“Schopenhauer formulates an artistic theory which is, for me, the most important of all. And, just between us, the extremely naïve and incomplete manner of dealing with art in France is due primarily to the ignorance of Schopenhauer. Art shows us nature’s game and its forces, namely the will to live.”

On Existentialism:

“Existentialism is subjectivity.

Personally, I am quite subjective and it seems to me that this attitude corresponds to reality.”

On Marx and humankind:

“Man is in relation to the external world. He needs to dominate nature, and there lies his real problem, all the rest is frippery.

Terry Eagleton: An Intellectual and Cultural Nomad

eagletonFifty years ago, Terry Eagleton—one of the foremost and polemical cultural critics and literary theorists—was appointed Fellow in English at Jesus College, Cambridge shortly after graduating from the university himself with a First in English. He was the youngest fellow in the history of the college since the eighteenth century, and he hasn’t stopped working at such an accelerated pace. While accepting professorships in the U.S, the UK, and Ireland (not to mention countless guest speaker appearances worldwide), he has published more than forty books that cover topics across the board, perhaps because, as he joked to The New York Times, “I don’t actually read other peoples’ books. If I want to read a book, I write one myself.” From literary and political theory; cultural criticism; and religion to memoir; screenplays; theater; and fiction, Eagleton has nearly done it all, leaving his mark in many areas of intellectual discourse.

Eagleton has set foot on both banks of the divide when it comes social and cultural matters. Though born in England, he is of Irish ancestry and despite feeling very English he published a trilogy examining Irish history and culture. On a social level, he is very open about his working-class upbringing even though he attended and has worked at the most prestigious universities in the United Kingdom and beyond. And in terms of religion, Eagleton is a lapsed Catholic (though his childhood avocation was as Gatekeeper, an altar boy who escorts novice nuns as they make their vows) but has made headlines for defending the existence and purpose religion and his heated attacks on well-known New Atheists.

His fist major work Literary Theory: An Introduction became an international academic best seller and is now a staple in many literature classrooms. But his career would lead him into other genre of intellectual discussion, such as religion and political theory. Eagleton’s relationship with Yale University started in the mid-2000s when he was the Terry Lecture series speaker in 2008, where he talked about faith, fundamentalism, and the influence of Richard Dawkins. The book Reason, Faith, and Revolution—based on the lectures—was published shortly thereafter. Two years later, YUP published his book On Evil, in which Eagleton analyzes our culture’s evolving relationship with and perception of evil, which has shifted from religious “sin” to a more secular form, “transgression.” Shifting away from theological discussion, his next venture with YUP would be about Marxism (which has interested him since his university days as an influential member of the Leftist Christian magazine Slant) titled Why Marx Was Right. That same year, he also released the book The Event of Literature, which goes back to his academic roots in literary theory (though he started out as a Victorian literature scholar). In a similar vein, Eagleton completed the book How to Read Literature, which was published last spring and provides an insightful guide for students studying literature or for those looking to deepen their reading experiences with books read for pleasure. His latest publication with us, Culture and the Death of God, comes out this spring and marks a return to his study of atheism and religion in our post 9/11 culture.

Eagleton frequently revisits topics he’s previously studied in his career to flesh out more analysis on the topic or reexamine it from a different perspective. Regarding his Catholicism, he admits that “there is still the old Joycean question of how far you can walk away from something culturally imprinted on you so deeply,” but the same could be said about his longstanding and close relationship to literary and political theory. That said, Eagleton looks to see that the essential questions about these subjects are constantly reexamined in the evolving culture around us. Describing his work is difficult to pin down in one or two words because it would suggest boxing him in a way that he appears to have resisted throughout his life, perhaps because in continually transgressing mainstream categorization he ensures a steady stream of debate and discussion to reveal novel insights.

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YUP Director John Donatich Interviews Leo Damrosch on Jonathan Swift

DamroschJonathan Swift, although widely remembered as both an author and a public figure, remains quite enigmatic today. Leo Damrosch, author of the New York Times Notable Book of 2013, Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World, and Ernest Bernbaum Research Professor of Literature at Harvard University, recently discussed the man’s mysterious personal life with Yale University Press Director John Donatich on the Yale Press Podcast.

Although multiple biographies have been written about the author, Damrosch’s book reinterprets known evidence to paint a fuller portrait of the man — his works, his belief, and his personal relationships.  Damrosch explains his motivations for taking on the project, explaining,

“It seemed there was an enormous hole to fill; just trying to figure out what kind of person he was and how he related to others.”


 Listen to the full interview on iTunesU!

For the Introspective Writer

No one sings as purely as those who inhabit the deepest hell—what we take to be the song of angels is their song.

—Franz Kafka in a letter to Milena Jesenska, August 26, 1920

kafkaThe anguished metaphor that Kafka describes to Jesenska is perhaps characteristic of his life and work. In his letters, diaries, and especially his fiction, there is a pervasive sense of guilt and shame that never quite seems to go away. Pulitzer prize-winning historian Saul Friedländer sets out to explore these personal anxieties in his fascinating intellectual biography, Franz Kafka: The Poet of Shame and Guilt. “Very early on,” Friedländer explains, “Kafka must have felt that he was different from most of those who surrounded him, different in his erotic cravings and different in the powers of imagination and expression he sensed within himself. [...] In his fiction he demolished the very norms to which he submitted in his everyday life.”

Owing in part to the vast interpretive possibilities of Kafka’s writing, countless studies have been written on his life and work. Friedländer acknowledges that “treasures of erudition have been spent on recording the tiniest details of Kafka’s life and on excavating the philological, literary, and philosophical foundations of each of his metaphors or name games,” but also points out that “some huge spires towering over Kafka territory–his sense of shame and guilt, perceived by every reader–have elicited mainly very general and abstract interpretations that do not sufficiently point to the personal anguish from which they stemmed.” What were the experiences and relationships in Kafka’s life that produced such anxiety? And how did it manifest in his writing? Friedländer‘s highly original work grants readers a glimpse of that tortured world. One of his central claims is that the issues tormenting Kafka were of a sexual nature. Commentators have pointed out his fear of sexual intercourse and suggested impotence, which helps us to understand the domain for shame; as for his feelings of guilt, Friedländer ties them “not to some concrete initiatives on his part but to fantasies, to imagined sexual possibilities.

For anyone who enjoys Kafka’s work or is intrigued by the interplay between life and fiction, Franz Kafka: The Poet of Shame and Guilt is an ideal gift.


Who “Owns” Literature? Printing, Publishing and Copyright

Who owns a book? Does it belong solely to the person who bought that copy, or to the author? And how does the publisher come into the picture? In this excerpt from A Little History of Literature, John Sutherland explains the various people and processes involved in the production of a book, using his own work as an example. He introduces the concept of copyright and also talks about the future of the physical book in the digital age.A Little History of Literature

The book you are holding in your hand at the moment is not a work of literature, but let’s take it as a handy example. I wrote it. My name is there on the title page, and in the copyright line. So it’s ‘my’ (John Sutherland’s) book. Does that mean, though, that I ‘own’ the book in your hand? No, it doesn’t – the physical copies are not mine. If you bought it, it’s yours. But suppose someone broke into my house while I was writing this book, stole my computer, found the text of what I was writing and published it under their own name. What would happen? Provided I could prove that the original work was mine, I could sue the thief for infringement of copyright – for copying my original work without my permission and passing it off as his own (an offence known as ‘plagiarism’).

From its beginning in the eighteenth century, modern copyright law has developed alongside the increasing availability of literary works in new formats. It has continually had to adapt to keep up with new technologies, including film adaptations in the twentieth century (Chapter 32) and, today, the challenge of e-books and the internet (Chapter 40). But in essence, copyright has always meant just that: ‘the right to copy’. As the copyright owner of what you are reading right now, I have granted Yale University Press the exclusive right to publish it in the form of this book.

We talk about a ‘work of literature’ because it is the result – in very real terms – of the author’s toil. Then, publishers talk about each of the works in their catalogue as a ‘title’: the word ‘title’ means ownership. Finally, when the books have been produced for sale, they are individual ‘copies’: you have in your hand a copy of my work. Each party ‘owns’ the work in a different way. Imagine a party of book-lovers. The host, pointing to his groaning shelves, proudly exclaims, ‘Look at my books!’ An author, scanning the shelves, says jubilantly, ‘I see you’ve got one of my books – did you enjoy it?’ A publisher, also inspecting the books, says ‘I’m very glad to see you’ve got so many of our books on the shelf ’. They are all right, in a sense: the host owns the physical objects, the publisher the particular format, and the author the original words. And it points to the many different people and processes involved in getting a book written, published and sold nowadays.

This little book’s life began when I signed a contract with Yale University Press, granting them the right to publish my text as a book. Once my manuscript was delivered to them satisfactorily, they paid to have it edited, designed, typeset, printed, bound between hard covers, and stored, prior to sale, in a warehouse. The publishers paid for all those individual processes, and they now own the physical books. Next, the books are distributed, principally to various retailers – physical shops and electronic sellers – and libraries. The physical books now belong to them. Finally, you, the customer, bought this Little History of Literature and took it home. (Or if you borrowed it from the library you will have to return it there.) Today, the publishing of books is usually carried out by a company quite separate from the printers and the booksellers. But up until the nineteenth century, publishing and printing was mainly
arranged by booksellers.


John Sutherland

John Sutherland

The printed book has lasted for over 500 years. Caxton would recognise the copies of Chaucer in our high-street bookshops as a modern version of his own. But is the book at the end of its life in the twenty-first century? Will the e-book take over, as the codex took over from the papyrus scroll? No one knows for certain. But some kind of co-existence seems likely. There is something wonderfully physical about the old vehicle. You use your legs to walk to the shelf, your arms to take the volume down, your opposable thumb and index finger to turn the page. It’s a bodily engagement you don’t feel with a Kindle or iPad. My guess is that the ‘feel’ (the touch, and even smell) of the printed book will continue to give it a lasting place – if not necessarily first place – in the world of literature for some time to come.

Excerpted from A Little History of Literature by John SutherlandCopyright © 2013 by John Sutherland. All rights reserved. Visit the Little History website for more information on this and other books in the series.