Jewish writers have contributed to American literature a new style that fuses "gutter street wisdom and graduate school learning," author Irving Howe said in a speech at Harvard Hall yesterday.
Howe, who spoke on "The Jewish writer and the American tradition," traced the evolution of Jewish authors from their expression of alienation through "gross sentimentality and self-comforting softness" to their eventual creation of an articulate style characterized by a mixture of the "sardonic and the sentimental."
Howe, with frequent touches of humor, described the various reactions of the Jews to American literature, including their desire for a literature based on experience and social reality.
The Jewish writer, Howe said, neither preserves the "religious mysticism and enthusiasm" of his forebears, no possesses firm roots in American culture. Such an absence of place, he added, cripples the writer of fiction, but wonderfully serves the Jewish poet.