MLA Awards Fenia and Yaakov Leviant Memorial Prize in Yiddish Studies to Kathryn Hellerstein

New York, NY – 6 December 2016 – The Modern Language Association of America today announced it is awarding its eighth Fenia and Yaakov Leviant Memorial Prize in Yiddish Studies for an outstanding scholarly work in English in the field of Yiddish to Kathryn Hellerstein, of the University of Pennsylvania, for A Question of Tradition: Women Poets in Yiddish, 1586–1987, published by Stanford University Press. Jan Schwarz, of Lund University, Sweden, will receive an honorable mention for Survivors and Exiles: Yiddish Culture after the Holocaust, published by Wayne State University Press. The prize is awarded each even-numbered year and is awarded alternately to an outstanding translation of a Yiddish literary work and to an outstanding scholarly work in English in the field of Yiddish.

The Fenia and Yaakov Leviant Memorial Prize in Yiddish Studies is one of seventeen awards that will be presented on 7 January 2017, during the association’s annual convention, to be held in Philadelphia. The members of this year’s Leviant prize selection committee were Barbara Mann (Jewish Theological Seminary of America); Lawrence Alan Rosenwald (Wellesley Coll.); and Allison Schachter (Vanderbilt Univ.), chair. The committee’s citation for the winning translation reads:

"Kathryn Hellerstein’s A Question of Tradition: Women Poets in Yiddish, 1586– 1987 significantly revises modern Yiddish literary history by introducing a new narrative of women’s writing. Through careful close readings and deft literary analysis, Hellerstein convincingly argues that modern women poets engaged with and activated a longer tradition of Jewish women’s writing. A Question of Tradition skillfully explores the intellectual, folkloric, and aesthetic traditions that form this body of women’s writing. The book analyzes a rich corpus of poetry, from the starkly secular poems of Dvore Fogel to the sensually modernist works of Celia Dropkin and Ana Margolin to the folkloric poems of Miriam Ulinover, making these works available to future generations of Yiddish scholars. Hellerstein’s book is a foundational work in the field of Yiddish poetry and Jewish women’s writing."

Kathryn Hellerstein is an associate professor of Germanic languages and literatures and the Ruth Meltzer Director of the Jewish Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania. Her books include a translation and study of Moyshe-Leyb Halpern’s poems, In New York: A Selection, Paper Bridges: Selected Poems of Kadya Molodowsky, and Jewish American Literature: A Norton Anthology, of which she is coeditor. Hellerstein’s translations, poems, and many scholarly articles on Yiddish and Jewish American literature have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. Her Women Yiddish Poets: An Anthology is forthcoming, and her current project is a book entitled China through Yiddish Eyes: Cultural Translation in the Twentieth Century. A Question of Tradition has also received the Jewish Book Council’s National Jewish Book Award in Women’s Studies.

The committee’s citation for Schwarz’s book reads:

"Jan Schwarz’s Survivors and Exiles: Yiddish Culture after the Holocaust is an interdisciplinary exploration of the transnational memory work of postwar Yiddish culture. Schwarz’s study offers a complex set of possible answers to the question of how the culture of Yiddish could survive, and even thrive, after the destruction of many of its physical settings in Eastern Europe, as well as of most of its reading and speaking population. His analyses of the most raw modes of literary survival in poetry and memoir during and immediately following the war are complemented by the robustly researched depiction of how Yiddish poetry and performance flourished in new settings such as New York’s 92nd Street Y. Schwarz’s study will be avidly read and appreciated by students and scholars of postwar Jewish history and culture. Jan Schwarz has been an associate professor of Yiddish studies at Lund University, Sweden, since 2011. Previously, he served as a senior lecturer of Yiddish studies at the University of Chicago, from 2003 to 2011. He is the author of Imagining Lives: Autobiographical Fiction of Yiddish Writers and the translator into Danish of Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye the Dairyman and a forthcoming volume of Abraham Sutzkever’s fiction and essays. His current project, funded by the Swedish Research Council, is The Bilingual Works of Isaac Bashevis Singer: Novels, Translations, World Literature. His articles and book chapters have appeared in numerous publications."

The Modern Language Association of America and its 25,000 members in 100 countries work to strengthen the study and teaching of languages and literature. Founded in 1883, the MLA provides opportunities for its members to share their scholarly findings and teaching experiences with colleagues and to discuss trends in the academy. The MLA sustains one of the finest publication programs in the humanities, producing a variety of publications for language and literature professionals and for the general public. The association publishes the MLA International Bibliography, the only comprehensive bibliography in language and literature, available online. The MLA Annual Convention features meetings on a wide variety of subjects; this year’s convention in Philadelphia is expected to draw 8,000 attendees. More information on MLA programs is available at

Established in 2000 by the family of Fenia and Yaakov Leviant, the award honors those writers who have published an English translation of Yiddish literary works and scholars who have written a cultural study or critical biography in the field of Yiddish or edited a work on Yiddish folklore or linguistics. Previous winners of the prize are Joseph Sherman, Dov-Ber Kerler, Amelia Glaser, Goldie Morgentaler, Gabriella Safran and Steven J. Zipperstein, Maier Deshell and Margaret Birstein, Mikhail Krutikov, and Maurice Wolfthal. An honorable mention was awarded to Chana Mlotek and Mark Slobin. The prize is presented under the auspices of the MLA’s Committee on Honors and Awards.

Other awards sponsored by the committee are the William Riley Parker Prize; the James Russell Lowell Prize; the MLA Prize for a First Book; the Howard R. Marraro Prize; the Kenneth W. Mildenberger Prize; the Mina P. Shaughnessy Prize; the MLA Prize for Independent Scholars; the Katherine Singer Kovacs Prize; the Morton N. Cohen Award; the MLA Prizes for a Scholarly Edition and for a Distinguished Bibliography; the Lois Roth Award; the William Sanders Scarborough Prize; the MLA Prize in United States Latina and Latino and Chicana and Chicano Literary and Cultural Studies; the MLA Prize for Studies in Native American Literatures, Cultures, and Languages; the Matei Calinescu Prize; the Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prizes for Comparative Literary Studies, for French and Francophone Studies, for Italian Studies, for Studies in Germanic Languages and Literatures, for Studies in Slavic Languages and Literatures, for a Translation of a Literary Work, and for a Translation of a Scholarly Study of Literature; and the Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Publication Award for a Manuscript in Italian Literary Studies.