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Yoram Kaniuk Wins Sapir Prize For Literature

Billie Holiday kissed and hated the Tablet contributor

Dan Klein
March 30, 2011

Congratulations to Yoram Kaniuk, a contributor to Tablet’s predecessor Nextbook and the winner of the 2010 Sapir Prize for Literature for his book 1948, a memoir of his experiences as a young Israeli soldier during what I believe was a particularly uneventful year (and which he’s previously written about here).

Take the time to browse some of his work in our archives, because not only does Kaniuk write like last call on the night Moshiach shows up, but he has lived. After being wounded during the war of independence, he ended up in Greenwich Village where he knew everyone: He told Charlie Parker about the Rabbi of Ladi; Susan Sontag filmed Kaniuk for her Israel documentary Promised Lands (which Marc Tracy reviewed), and he schmoozed with Sontag at her 1977 wake (yes, she died in 2004); and, oh yeah, he made out with Billie Holiday.

… She’d take me walking and I talked and she listened or maybe she didn’t, and said she didn’t understand that crap. We kissed. She said she’d been kissed better. I was there and she wanted to kiss somebody and I was nearest and I talked like someone making a fool of himself. She was lost and looked like a bird that had been hit. They called her Lady Day because when she was a waitress she used to bend over to take the money and they saw her breasts and they’d say: Lady. She was a vanquished queen who demanded that her realm remain in the gutter. I met her years later at Tony Scott’s, the clarinet player. She sang “Mayn Yiddishe Mame” for me. Nobody has sung it like her.