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Out of Brownsville

Encounters with Nobel Laureates and Other Jewish Writers

Jules Chametzky

Publication Year: 2013

In this collection of literary portraits, Jules Chametzky shares his recollections of more than forty notable Jewish writers, from Alfred Kazin to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Grace Paley, Saul Bellow, Irving Howe, Cynthia Ozick, Leslie Fiedler, Tillie Olsen, Adrienne Rich, Allen Ginsberg, Joseph Brodsky, and Amos Oz—to name a few. Also included are cameo appearances by non-Jewish authors, such as James Baldwin, Amiri Baraka, and Jose Yglesias. Not only do these various writers emerge as interesting and often complicated human beings, but Chametzky reveals himself to be a warm and gracious storyteller.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-viii

Table of Contents

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

The editors of The Massachusetts Review, the journal I helped to found in 1958–59, and of which I have been editor, emeritus, since 2002, devoted an issue to Grace Paley, some months after her death, and asked me to contribute some words. I wrote a one-page tribute that the editors thought...


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pp. xv-xvi

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Alfred Kazin

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pp. 1-5

I owe Kazin. In A Walker in the City he wrote about walking the same Brownsville streets I had walked; learned Civics from the same crazy (he called him “roguish”) teacher at Lew Wallace Junior High No. 66; dreamed the same dream of crossing over to the real City across the river. That book...

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Norman Podhoretz

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pp. 6-10

Thus the neighborhood bard’s song, the rhythm banged out on the newsstand in front of the perennial candy store that was the center of social and communal life for boys in the ’hood during the thirties until shortly after World War II. That was on Pacific Street in Ocean Hill-Brownsville. We...

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Isaac Bashevis Singer

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pp. 11-15

The last time I met Singer was towards the end of his life, in his residence hotel in Miami Beach, not far from the upscale Bal Harbor Mall that his wife Alma visited every day. I was in Miami for the month of January, 1989, working on a long essay covering most of Singer’s life and oeuvre for a...

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Morty Gunty

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pp. 16-19

Woody Allen’s movie Broadway Danny Rose opens in the Carnegie Deli, where four old-time Jewish Borscht Belt comedians are sitting around a table, reminiscing about the fictional character Danny Rose, an unusual agent with a heart. I recognized two of them. Morty Gunty starred in my first play as a student at Brooklyn College. The other ...

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Howard Sackler & Friend

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pp. 20-22

At the Christmas break after my first quarter of graduate school in Minnesota, I returned to New York and almost immediately visited my old haunts in Greenwich Village. Outside one of the bars, I unexpectedly ran into Howard Sackler, who had been a classmate of mine at Brooklyn College the year before. We were in a small class on eighteenth-century...

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Grace Paley

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pp. 23-24

The obvious thing about Grace Paley’s work and life is her radical intervention in the stream of American literature of the mid- and late twentieth century. Radical in language, subjects, politics, she came on like an original blast of fresh air at the end of the formalist fifties, the almost entirely male-dominated literature of the fifties. I remember ...

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Isaac Rosenfeld

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pp. 25-27

Isaac died tragically young and alone at age thirty-eight, of a heart attack, in a room in Chicago. Wallace Markfield’s novel To an Early Grave, later the film Bye, Bye, Braverman, was inspired by Isaac Rosenfeld’s death. The death occurred after he left a two-year teaching stint in the Humanities Program of the University of Minnesota, where I met and...

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Saul Bellow

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pp. 28-31

For many years my favorite wine store was the Big Y on Routes 5/10 north of Northampton—once arguably the largest and best wine shop in the Northeast outside of New York. Entering it one afternoon, I stopped to talk with the clerk, who had been a grad student at UMass. He knew wines...

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John Berryman

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pp. 32-34

What are you reading?” That was the first thing I remember Berryman saying to me as he sat down at my table in the coffee shop—The Dutch Treat—that we all went to in Dinkytown, near the English Department offices at the University of Minnesota. I had met him and attended his...

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William Phillips

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pp. 35-38

After William’s death his wife Edith Kurzweil, editor for a short time of Partisan Review (PR), asked me to contribute something to a 2003 memorial issue of PR. I wrote a three-page tribute to William, a respectful piece about the liberating impression he made upon me and of...

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Harold Brodkey and Erica Jong

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pp. 39-41

In a novel called The Return of Philip Latinovich, by a renowned Yugoslav writer who lived down the street from us the year I was a Fulbright professor in Zagreb, the writerhero of the story returns towards the end of his long life to the village he had come from. Sitting in the local café day...

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Irving Howe

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pp. 42-45

In 1977 I sent Irving Howe a copy of my recently published book on Abraham Cahan, From the Ghetto: The Fiction of Abraham Cahan, a work that I had begun in 1970– 71 by reading Cahan’s five-volume memoir, in Yiddish, in a small office at the Kennedy Institute in Berlin. He acknowledged...

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Cynthia Ozick

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pp. 46-50

At William Phillips’s memorial service at the Ethical Culture Society, Cynthia Ozick gave a fine talk, straight from the shoulder, no false sentimentality or bonhomie. Someone had spoken of the charismatic Susan Sontag, who had wowed the group around...

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Leslie Fiedler

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pp. 51-54

My first job interview in the academy occurred in 1954, when I attended my first MLA meeting, shortly after passing my doctoral examinations. I was testing the market, as they say. William Van O’Connor, one of my advisers, introduced me to Leslie Fiedler, then head of the English Department...

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Tillie Olsen

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pp. 55-57

Leo Marx brought Tillie to Amherst College for a year’s visiting lectureship in 1969, where she precipitated a revolution whose effects are felt to this day. A grandmother in mini-skirts, she had already published a decade earlier the incomparable...

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Adrienne Rich, Anne Halley, Marilyn Hacker

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pp. 58-63

I first met Adrienne Rich at a meeting of the New University Conference (NUC) at Wesleyan College in Connecticut, home of several ardent anti-Vietnam War academics. NUC had been organized, chiefly, I believe, by Paul Lauter and Florence Howe (then a married couple), and Louis Kampf...

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Allen Ginsberg

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pp. 64-67

One of the smartest co-editors of the Norton Anthology, John Felstiner, ends his lengthily astute introduction to Ginsberg and his place in Jewish American letters with quotes from Harold Bloom (negative: reading “Kaddish” is like being forced to “watch the hysteria of strangers”), and...

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Kadya Molodowsky

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pp. 68-70

Sometime during a summer in the sixties, Joseph Landis, editor then and through all these years of Yiddish, a precious journal out of Queens College in New York, invited me to speak at Camp Boiberek in Rhinebeck, New York. I had published an article on Abraham Cahan a few years earlier and he wanted me to talk about Cahan’s Yiddish fiction. I had...

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Amos Oz, Shirley Kaufman, Abba Kovner

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pp. 71-74

Amos Oz came to the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus at least twice in the 1980s. The Judaic Studies Department had a breakfast with him before a talk, and I arranged a luncheon the next day at the Institute for a group of Jewish writers from the area to meet with him...

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Joseph Brodsky

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pp. 75-78

I first saw and heard Brodsky for four hours in Peter Viereck’s living room when he had just arrived at Mount Holyoke College from Russia. He talked almost continually, with an occasional sardonic grin or tightening of his lips, about the story of his life in the Soviet Union. He grew up...

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Maishe Mirsky

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pp. 79-82

That’s Mark Mirsky. Recently he decided that was what he wanted to be called—his right, and considering the path of his career, probably inevitable. Harvard, the son of Wilfred Mirsky, also Harvard, one of the earliest Jewish representatives (from Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury, the old Boston’s Jewish East Side) to the General Court of...

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Paolo Milano

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pp. 83-86

That was a name to reckon with, when I first heard it uttered by the jeunes filles flitting through the French and Italian hall at Brooklyn College. He was a Jewish Italian exile from Mussolini, publishing in Partisan Review and reputedly a devastating ladies’ man. He taught at Queens College and occasionally gave a lecture at Brooklyn where...

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Edward Dahlberg

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pp. 87-90

Dahlberg has been called a sport of American literature, as indeed he was. He has also been called the Job of that literature, and in his late works, a great stylist (by Allen Tate). He went from an early thirties naturalistic style, politically left, though not dogmatically or egregiously so, but writing ...

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Paul Goodman

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pp. 91-93

Peter Rose, a long-time professor of sociology at Smith College, and I spent a good hour walking the streets of Northampton on a bitter cold winter evening in the late sixties with Paul Goodman, who had spoken earlier at the college. A slight figure, he was wearing what we used to call a “pupke”...

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Ruth Whitman—Translations & Transformations

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pp. 94-99

In 1957, living in Cambridge, Massachusetts while working at Boston University, I took a summer course in Greek at Harvard, so that I could use the Widener Library the rest of the year and finish my dissertation. Next door to my class an eminent Classics professor named Cedric Whitman was teaching. That induced me to attend a poetry reading by...

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Harvey Swados

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pp. 100-103

I got a phone call one day in the late sixties from Ben Seligman, the first director of the recently established Labor Relations and Research Center at the University of Massachusetts. We knew and were friendly with each other because of one of those small-world, certainly in academia, situations. Not always an academic, Ben had come to us ...

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Clara & Richard Winston

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pp. 104-107

Early upon our arrival in Amherst, we were invited for drinks to the home—an Amherst College apartment, really—of Bill and Mary Heath. He was a young assistant professor of English, as I was at the University, who was to remain for years at the College as a beloved teacher. Mel, as...

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Melvin Jules Bukiet etc.

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pp. 108-112

I do not know Melvin Jules Bukiet very well, though I have met him twice, and we published his story “The Library of Moloch” in the Norton Anthology. The tale, practically allegorical, involves a librarian who compulsively tapes and collects oral testimonies by thousands of survivors of the...

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Julius Lester

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pp. 113-118

Speaking of circumcision… Julius Lester worked with me for two years, 1981–83, as Associate Director of the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, of which I was the director. When Julius won an award as the best teacher in the Commonwealth a few years later, he said at a public ...

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Nat Hentoff & Others

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pp. 119-123

Nat Hentoff, Harvey Swados, Kenneth Rexroth, and I were the white guys, as I remember it, at a very interesting conference on black writers, early on, in 1963, sponsored by the University of California/Berkeley at Asilomar in California. Upon assuming editorship of...

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Helen & Jose Yglesias

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pp. 124-133

Actually, I “encountered” Jose Yglesias, Helen’s husband of many years, before, sadly, they divorced, and before I met and got to know Helen and her work. Years ago Jerry Liebling, my oldest and dearest friend, reminded me that Jose (no accent over the “e”) had written film reviews for...

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pp. 134-138

A dear old friend and colleague, after reading the foregoing, suggested that I add an epilogue, calling attention to the extraordinary times these people lived through and the faith they kept in sticking to their lasts. A good idea. Especially since many of the writers and other thinkers and critics I encountered over fifty-some years and who left an...

About the Author

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pp. 139-141

Back Cover

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p. BC-BC

E-ISBN-13: 9781613762912
E-ISBN-10: 1613762917
Print-ISBN-13: 9781625340368
Print-ISBN-10: 1625340362

Page Count: 160
Publication Year: 2013

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Subject Headings

  • Chametzky, Jules.
  • Jews -- United States -- Intellectual life -- 20th century.
  • Jews -- United States -- Identity -- 20th century.
  • American literature -- Jewish authors.
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