Alter, Robert B.

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ALTER, ROBERT B. (1936– ), U.S. literary critic. Born in the Bronx, New York, Alter taught at Columbia University from 1962 to 1966. In 1967, he joined the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley teaching Hebrew and Comparative Literature.

Alter has published works on English, French, and American literature. A specialist in modern Jewish literature and culture, he has written numerous articles for the New York Times Book Review, the Times Literary Supplement, and Commentary.

In After the Tradition: Essays on Modern Jewish Writing (1969), Alter explores the meaning of tradition in post-Holocaust Jewish literature, examining the works of such writers as Elie Wiesel, Saul Bellow, S.Y. Agnon, and Bernard Malamud. In Defenses of the Imagination: Jewish Writers and Modern Historical Crisis (1977), he saw Jewish writing as emerging from the problems of the 20th century and concentrated on Jewish writers such as Gershom Scholem and Osip Mandelshtam. He has also explored the profound influence of 20th-century wars on such writers as Norman Mailer and Joseph Heller, and the influence of historical forces on such writers as Saul Bellow.

Alter has also been deeply concerned with biblical narrative. The World of Biblical Literature (1978), The Art of Biblical Poetry (1981), and The Art of Biblical Narrative (1985) show how literary scholarship can be utilized in the study of the Bible as both a literary and religious document. His translations include Genesis (1996), The David Story (2000), and The Five Books of Moses (2004), each with an extensive commentary.

[Susan Strul (2nd ed.)]