Biography of Isaac Bashevis Singer

by Samuel Ouellet



Isaac Bashevis Singer was born in a small village near Warsaw. Even though his official date of birth is on July 14, 1904, it is known that he was really born on November 21, 1902. He purposely made himself look younger so he could avoid the draft of World War I. He grew up mostly in one of the most poor quarters of Warsaw, where his father acted as the leading rabbi in this heavy crowded jewish quarter.


Son of a rabbi, Singer also had a brother and a sister who wrote stories. His brother was particulary known for his talent in writing. In 1917, Singer, who was still a youngster, had to see his family split up due to World War I. He then moved to a small village with his mother and a younger brother. It it at this time that Singer started to discover his talent in writing, which emerged through poems and stories.


After the war, Singer entered the Tachkemoni Rabbinical Seminary in Warsaw to follow his fatherís steps and eventually become a rabbi. Although he was under the heavy influence of his father, Singer realized that the rabbi profession was not suited for him and he quit the seminary only 1 year after joining it. This is when, with the help of his elder brother, he officially started his career as a journalist.


His first language was yiddish, which is some sort of dialect spoken by the simple people in the jewish community, and all his writing were done and published in yiddish. He also had many english versions of his writing, which in most cases appear to be different than the original version. Some readers admited that the translated verions of his novels are not representative of the real Singerís works. Many of Singerís stories have not been translated to this day.


Singer won the "literarishe bletter" literary competition with his first published story, which alarmed many people about his promising talent. At that time, Singerís writing was influenced a lot by his social environment. His first novel Satan in Goray, is mostly an allusion to the Nazi catastrophe happening at that time. In that novel, He talks about themes such as the false messiah and the illusion of purity.


In 1935, seeing the approach of Hitlerís fascism, Singer decides to flee and emigrate in the United States with his brother, while his first wife and son emigrated to Moscow in Russia. He will end up spending the remaining part of his life in the United States. After a promising start in journalism for some Yiddish-language newspaper, he disapeared from the writing scene for a few years, or at least he did not get published during that time. Singer married his second wife in 1940, and this is around these years that he, once again, became a renown writer while publishing articles for the Yiddish literary newspaper Forward.


Singer was known to shock his readers with theme such as female homosexuality and the corruption of rabbis by demons. It is a fact that Singer used his own life experience to write about these subject, and he often put his characters in the same situations that he has gone through.


The writing collection of Singer is impressive. He published at least 18 novels, a dozen childrenís books, many essays and articles for newspapers, and also memoirs, but what Singer is the most famous for are his short stories. His first collection ,which was named Gimpel the Fool, was published in 1957. It is interesting to see the change in Singerís writing from when he was living in Poland to his life in the United States. In the second part of his life, he mostly talked about immigrants and how they saw the American dream, just like in "A Wedding in Brownsville" and "Cabalist of East Broadway".


Many of Singerís stories have been remade as movies. The most famous one is Enemies which described how a Holocaust surviver deals with his inner desires versus his family relationships and also his loss of faith in God. We also discovered Singerís talent for acting when he played the leading part for his own movie remake in "Mr. Singerís Nightmare ".


Singerís career met his peak when he finally won the Nobel Prize in 1978. Since then Singer has been recognized as the best Yiddish writer, and his reputation even from non-Jewish readers is uncountested.This great Jewish writerís life ended on July 24, 1991 in Miami, after suffering from several strokes.






Pickering, J.H. (2007). Fiction 100: An Anthology of Short Fiction. Eleventh Edition New Jersey: Pearson Edition.