While writers should not be moral or political leaders, they can not ignore moral issues "until the Messiah comes," a prominent Jewish author said yesterday.
Addressing a group of more than 75 students, faculty and guests in Boylston Hall yesterday evening, Cynthia Ozick, who generally treats contemporary Jewish themes, read from some of her works and discussed the influence of her childhood experiences on her writing.
Ozick, whose short story "The Shawl" is read in many Expository Writing courses, read from "Puttermesser Creates a Golem," one of a series of stories featuring her heroine Ruth Puttermesser.
Puttermesser, a middle-aged Jewish woman, uses magic to create a golem, a robot-like creature from medieval Jewish folklore designed to serve its creator.
After reading the story, Ozick, who complained repeatedly about Cambridge's wet and cold weather, told the audience to "go and create a golem and have them clean this place up."
Ozick also read "A Drugstore in Winter," a memoir of her childhood in the Bronx in the 1930s.
Because of the large number of students in the audience, Ozick repeatedly explained historical details.
"Nobody in this room has ever seen a skate key," she said at one point.
According to Ozick's memoir, her first literary influences were traditional children's classics, not the Jewish sources that dominate her later writing.
Ozick said she identified as a child especially with Jo March, the writer among Louise May Alcott's Little Women.
"I hate reading about other people who thought they were Jo," Ozick said, Provoking laughter among the crowd.
In a brief question-and-answer session following the reading, Ozick spoke mainly on the topic of the moral responsibility of the artist.
She said that the phrase "Jewish writer" is an oxymoron, since for her "Jewish" implies civic responsibility, while a fiction writer is a "wild, untamed beast."
While insisting that the artist should not attempt to be a moral or political leader, Ozick said she recognized that, "until the Messiah comes," moral problems will inevitably occupy the writer's attention.