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Librarian Finds Trove Of Singer Stories In Yiddish Newspaper Late Author’s Publisher Is Skeptical

Sun., June 2, 1996

After combing more than 30 years of back issues of the daily and weekly Yiddish newspaper The Forward, a librarian says she has found 13 serialized and untranslated novels and more than 50 short stories of the Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer.

The librarian, Roberta Saltzman, an 11-year employee in the Jewish Division of the New York Public Library, said the works appear to have been overlooked because they ran in Yiddish, since 1960, over many weeks and months, in one case in more than 100 installments over 14 months.

The claim, which would appreciably expand the already large output of the Polish-born writer who died in 1991 at the age of 87, was greeted skeptically by Singer’s publisher, Roger Straus, president of Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

“I don’t believe it, but I hope it’s true,” he said by telephone on Wednesday after an article on Ms. Saltzman’s discovery appeared in The New York Observer. Straus said he could not imagine that after publishing 30 of Singer’s novels and short-story collections, he would not have heard from the author about other works. “And Singer,” he said, “was not shy about money.”

Still, Straus said, he would study with interest a 170-page bibliography of the works that Ms. Saltzman has identified as having been overlooked. Straus said he suspected they might already have been published in other forms.

But if they indeed prove to be new, he said, he will talk to Singer’s son, Israel Zamir, who lives in Israel and controls his father’s estate, about possible publication.

Ms. Saltzman said her research began in 1990 on behalf of library patrons who asked for microfilm copies of The Forward so they could read Singer in Yiddish. She said that with a working knowledge of Yiddish she had begun tracking serialized novels and short stories, many of which ran twice weekly, sometimes for many months. The paper shifted to a weekly in 1983.

A leading Singer scholar, David Neal Miller, associate professor and director of the Institute for Yiddish and Ashkenazic Studies at Ohio State University, said he would not be surprised if Ms. Saltzman’s claims were true. “It’s quite possible that what she calls novels are his fictionalized memoirs,” he said.

As for how the public writings of such a leading man of letters might have been overlooked for so long, Miller said: “For a long time Yiddish was not thought to be a prize worth claiming.” But that, he said, is now changing.

Miller, who wrote a critical 1985 study about Singer, “Fear of Fiction,” and recorded 2,026 bibliographic entries for Singer from 1924 to 1959, said that the writer had taken mischievous delight in mixing reportage and fiction under different pseudonyms. What he rarely did, Miller said, was write under his actual name, Yitskhok Zinger.


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