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literature

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Jewish-American Literature  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  5  6  

In the same category, we find Martin Schecter's novel Two Halves of New Haven (1992), which is a coming-out novel with a relatively minor Jewish angle; Paul, the narrator, sees his Jewishness as an ethnic, but not as a potentially guilt-inducing religious identity.

Other recent fiction includes Harlan Greene's Why We Never Danced the Charleston (1984), Stan Leventhal's Mountain Climbing in Sheridan Square (1988), Richard Hall's Family Fictions (1991), Bernard Cooper's A Year of Rhymes, Stuart Edelson's Black Glass (1993), and Eugene Stein's Straitjacket & Tie (1994).

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Gay Male Drama

Jewish gay playwrights such as Harvey Fierstein, William Finn, William Hoffman, Larry Kramer, and Tony Kushner have become household names. While all of them use Jewish gay characters, Kramer and Kushner are particularly imbued with a deep sense of Jewish history in the twentieth century.

Their dramatizations of the AIDS crisis are informed by their awareness of the Holocaust. Indeed, as Kramer demonstrates in Reports from the Holocaust (1989), the AIDS crisis--with suggestions of quarantines, identifying tattoos, and "camps"--is immersed in the language of the Shoah.

For Kramer and Kushner, both of whom are writing with an obvious awareness of their doubly marginalized status as gay men and as Jews, the Holocaust is less a metaphor than it is part of their immediate past and present consciousness.

Apart from making direct comparisons between the Holocaust and the AIDS crisis, Kramer's two autobiographical AIDS plays, The Normal Heart (1985) and its sequel The Destiny of Me (1993), also delineate the makings of a Jewish gay radical, very much in the tradition of twentieth-century progressive Jewish thought. Ned Weeks, the plays' major character, and Larry Kramer, his creator, are Jewish activists and moralists who have taken their lessons from the Jewish past and apply them to the pressing concerns of contemporary life.

Tony Kushner's evocation of Jewish history and the Holocaust in reference to AIDS in both parts of Angels in America--Millennium Approaches (1993) and Perestroika (1994)--is more complex and subtle than Kramer's. Kushner does not refer to the Shoah by name, but the awareness of it permeates the entire play.

In addition, the struggle of the two central characters, Louis and Roy Cohn, with their Jewish identity, indicates that Kushner, much like Kramer, has woven an awareness of ancestral and cultural heritage into the fabric of the play itself.

William Hoffman's As Is (1985) and Paul Rudnick's Jeffrey (1994) also confront the AIDS crisis. Less specifically Jewish than Kramer and Kushner's evocations, they are powerful plays that have been hailed for their compassion and humor.

Before the AIDS crisis mobilized the best writing by American Jewish playwrights, Martin Sherman had already produced his shattering play Bent (1979).

Set in Nazi Germany, it follows the persecution of Max, a Berlin gay man who, having survived the brutal murder of his lover, and being interned in Dachau as a Jew because he proved to his tormentors that he was not "bent," gradually begins to accept the love that Horst, another gay prisoner, offers him. When Horst is executed, Max discards his yellow Jewish star, retrieves Horst's jacket with its pink triangle and commits suicide by hurling himself into the camp's electric fence.

A much lighter play, If This Isn't Love (1982), by Sidney Morris depicts the often stormy, but ultimately enduring, relationship between a Jewish actor and an Irish-American teacher.

Probably the strongest comedy with American Jewish subject matter is Harvey Fierstein's Torch Song Trilogy (1979), which follows the life of Arnold Beckoff, the protagonist, over a period of six years, from self-centeredness to committed involvement with other people.

Lesbian Fiction

Among Jewish lesbian fiction writers, the tension between sexual orientation and ethnic and religious concerns is even more palpable than among their male colleagues. What most Jewish lesbian writers have in common is their ability to create a new commentary on Jewish life in America.

Taken collectively, their works represent an emerging poetics of American Jewish lesbian writing, presenting readers with tales of deliverance from heterosexual norms and patriarchal control, so often the dominant force in American Jewish culture and literature.

No reinterpretation of Jewish life is an easy task. Emerging from a position of almost absolute invisibility within a community that itself is marginal requires considerable perseverance. In fact, to assume a lesbian identity within the Jewish community, a woman must overcome not only the image of asexuality but also that of invisibility.

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