Cahan, Abraham (1860-1951)

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Cahan, Abraham (1860-1951)

The flowering of Jewish-American fiction in the 1950s and 1960s had its origin in the pioneering work of Abraham Cahan: immigrant, socialist, journalist, and fiction writer. With William Dean Howells' assistance, Cahan published Yekl: A Tale of the New York Ghetto (1896) and The Imported Bridegroom (1898). But it is The Rise of David Levinsky (1917) that is his masterwork. Using Howells's Rise of Silas Lapham as his model, Cahan explores an entire industry (ready-made clothing) and immigrant experience (Eastern European Jews) by focusing on a single character and his bittersweet ascent from Russian rags to Manhattan riches. A major work of American literary realism, The Rise of David Levinsky is also an example of reform-minded Progessivism and began as a series of sketches in McClure's Magazine alongside the work of muckrakers Upton Sinclair and Ida Tarbell. Although he is best remembered for this one novel (rediscovered in 1960 thanks to the popularity of a later generation of postwar Jewish-American writers), Cahan's most influential act was the founding of the world's leading Yiddish newspaper, the Jewish Daily Forward, in 1902.

—Robert A. Morace

Further Reading:

Chametsky, Jules. From the Ghetto: The Fiction of Abraham Cahan. Amherst, University of Massachusetts Press, 1977.

Marowitz, Sanford E. Abraham Cahan. New York, Twayne, 1996.