Vox Tablet

Paper Chase

Until the widow of Yiddish writer Chaim Grade died last year, his archive was kept locked away in their stuffed apartment. Now it’s up for grabs.

September 26, 2011
(Joanna Neborsky)
(Joanna Neborsky)

Like Isaac Bashevis Singer, his fellow Yiddish writer, Chaim Grade (his last name is pronounced GRAH-duh) fled the Russian Empire and settled in New York, where he established himself as a major figure in the literary world. But while Singer’s fame flourished in America, Grade’s reach grew more limited. After Grade died in 1982, scholars, translators, and publishers tried to acquire his unpublished works for posthumous publication but were stymied by Grade’s widow. Fiercely protective of her husband’s legacy, Inna Grade rebuffed nearly all who approached her. Meanwhile, the Grade apartment in the Bronx would become an impassable and grimy shrine to her husband’s papers and books.

Inna Grade died last year. In the ensuing months, Yiddishists have thrilled to the possibility that they will finally gain access to her husband’s extensive archive and perhaps come upon an unpublished gem of a manuscript. For now, though, the hunt is on hold, as the public administrator of the Bronx has yet to determine which of six competing institutions will inherit Grade’s papers. Meanwhile, the archive is in the provisional custody of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. YIVO Executive Director Jonathan Brent spoke to Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry about the reasons for Chaim Grade’s relative obscurity, the ghosts lurking in the volumes he left behind, and his towering significance as a writer—Grade is to Vilna, Brent says, as William Faulkner is to the American South. [Running time: 26:21.]

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Vox Tablet is Tablet Magazine’s weekly podcast, hosted by Sara Ivry and produced by Julie Subrin. You can listen to individual episodes here or subscribe on iTunes.

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