Navigate to Arts & Letters section

Man Gone Down

The rise and fall of Isaac Rosenfeld, Saul Bellow’s great rival

June 07, 2009

In the 1940s, Isaac Rosenfeld was a rising star in literary circles, recognized as a sharp, deep, and original thinker. His admirers included Irving Howe, Alfred Kazin, Diana Trilling, and other luminaries. Many people considered him to be more promising than his childhood friend Saul Bellow.

But while Bellow went on to great success, Rosenfeld slipped behind. His writing life, marked by struggle, doubt, and carnal distractions, was cut short in 1956, when he died of a heart attack. He was 38 years old.

How to make sense of the success, and failure, of this writer is the focus of Steven Zipperstein’s new biography, Rosenfeld’s Lives: Fame, Oblivion, and the Furies of Writing, out now from Yale University Press. Zipperstein, a professor of Jewish Culture and History at Stanford University, talks to Nextbook about the complicated life and work of this all but forgotten literary figure.

Your browser does not support the audio element.

Sara Ivry is the host of Vox Tablet, Tablet Magazine’s weekly podcast. Follow her on Twitter @saraivry.