HOWE, IRVING (1920–1993), U.S. literary and social critic, editor. It is fair to say that Howe changed the tone and depth of American literary and social criticism. Like those of approximately his generation, Alfred *Kazin, and the often ornery but dedicated writer and social thinker Paul *Goodman, he was a presence. Born in the Bronx, New York City, and a child in the Great Depression, Howe made a moral use of the poverty around him. He brought the ethical values of a secularized Judaism and socialism (both of which emphasize the dignity of humankind, justice, freedom, and satisfaction of necessary, rational wants) into his examination of American culture and politics. He pointed out that socialism was his "regulative idea" and, as his studies of Yiddish culture indicated, exaltation – but not evasion – of the human condition was a demanded component of the literary imagination. He attended City College when its reputation as an arena of intellectual student debate and discussion was notable. After leaving the Army, he soon turned his attention to writing pieces for journals. He wrote critical studies of the works of Thomas Hardy, Edith Wharton, and Sherwood Anderson, and received attention as a critic because of his attempts to view literature in its social context, an approach that was the subject of his book, Politics and the Novel (1957). In 1970, he edited Essential Works of Socialism and in 1984 he edited Alternatives: Proposals for America from the Democratic Left. Howe also took an interest in Yiddish literature, particularly that reflecting the immigrant experience in the United States, and he was coeditor with Eliezer Greenberg of A Treasury of Yiddish Stories (1954) and A Treasury of Yiddish Poetry (1969). With Greenberg, he also edited Voices from the Yiddish: Essays, Memoirs, Diaries (1972) and I.L. Peretz: Selected Stories (1974), and with Ruth Wisse, The Best of Sholom Aleichem (1979). After 1954, he was an editor of the liberal-socialist publication Dissent. A moderate socialist himself, equally critical of the American political establishment and of more radical leftist challenges to it, Howe was coauthor of The American Communist Party (1957) and editor of The Basic Writings of Trotsky (1963). In 1979 there appeared his Celebrations and Attacks. Thirty Years of Literary and Cultural Commentary. Howe's autobiography, A Margin of Hope, appeared in 1982. His magisterial World of Our Fathers (with the assistance of Kenneth Libo, 1976) explored the culture and politics of East European Jewry in New York. A companion work, also with Kenneth Libo, How We Lived: A Documentary History of Immigrant Jews in America, 1880–1930, was published in 1979. His Selected Writings 1950–1990 was published in 1990, and A Critic's Notebook appeared posthumously in 1994.
E. Alexander, Irving Howe: Socialist, Critic, Jew (1998); J. Rodden (ed.), Irving Howe and the Critics (2005); G. Sorin, Irving Howe: A Life of Passionate Dissent (2002).
[Hillel Halkin /
Lewis Fried (2nd ed.)]
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