From: Cynthia Ozick
To: Dr. Sarah Blacher Cohen
March 30, 2000
Let us begin with a riddle: how many persons can you count among the following? A professor of English literature. An editor and publisher. A literary critic. A specialist in Jewish-American writing. A playwright and producer. A humorist. A historian of the Yiddish musical theater. If you counted nine, you would be altogether mistaken. The answer is one, and her name is Sarah Blacher Cohen. Sarah Cohen is all these things: a teacher, an essayist, an editor, an expert in the field of Jewish-American letters, a writer on comedy, a writer of comedy, a dramatist and a producer, an aficionado of the popular stars of the Yiddish stage. And, most recently, the theatrical biographer of a humanitarian heroine, Henrietta Szold.
One astonishing woman, nine demanding vocations! There was a time when ordinary Sarah Cohen was equivalent to merely three or four souls: a professor of English and the author of several critical volumes, and for most human beings, this would have been enough for a lifetime. But Sarah is an intrepid visionary, and she heard the siren's call: for years she longed to write for the stage—this was, for her, the road not taken—and when finally she dared to attempt it, play after play came flying from her pen, saturated in wit, pathos, passion, and laughter: and then, with her collaborators, the delights of song, sometimes sentimental, sometimes bawdy, but always spilling over with electric joy and dramatic force.
What can we next expect? Another play, certainly; an opera perhaps. And all the while Sarah inspires students, delivers papers at scholarly conferences, organizes anthologies, rescues a Russian violinist, arranges benefits for the disabled, travels west, north, south, casts the company, resolves backstage conflicts, and inconceivably [End Page 237] more. She is writer and impresario; serious academic and entertainer: dreamer and achiever.
Most of us, contemplating roads not taken, muse and moon and mull and wish and wonder and yearn. But Sarah invents the road, brings it into concrete being, and marches gloriously along it to the destination that began as a small discerning seed in her imagination. She finds in herself the power to Make Things Happen—and when you are in her presence you can feel the wind of her will, and you can almost hear the sirens calling, Sarah! Sarah! You can, you will! And she will astound you yet again. [End Page 238]
Cynthia Ozick is the author of several novels, including Trust, The Cannibal Galaxy, The Messiah of Stockholm, The Puttermesser Papers, and Heir to the Glimmering World. In addition, she has written many acclaimed volumes of short stories and essays. She is the winner of the PEN/Malamud Award for Short fiction, the Rea Award for the Short Story, and three first prizes in the O. Henry competition. She was also on the shortlist for the Man Booker International Prize and was nominated for the National Book Award and the Pen/Faulkner Award.