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Steinfeld, J.J.


STEINFELD, J.J. (1946– ), Canadian playwright, novelist, and short story writer. An only child, Steinfeld was born of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, Esther (Biezunska) and Leon Steinfeld, in a displaced persons' camp in Munich, Germany. The family migrated to the U.S. in 1947. Steinfeld earned a B.A. from Case Western Reserve University in 1968, moved to Canada in 1972, and earned an M.A. from Trent University (Peterborough, Ontario) in 1978. After being enrolled for a Ph.D. at the University of Ottawa, Steinfeld left after completing his comprehensive exams and moved to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, to be a full-time writer. He continued to reside there.

Steinfeld published a novel, Our Hero in the Cradle of Confederation (1987) and nine short story collections: The Apostate's Tattoo (1983), Forms of Captivity and Escape (1988), Unmapped Dreams: The Charlottetown Stories of J.J. Steinfeld (1989), The Miraculous Hand and Other Stories (1991), Dancing at the Club Holocaust: Stories New and Selected (1993), Disturbing Identities (1997), Should the Word Hell Be Capitalized? (1999), Anton Chekhov Was Never in Charlottetown (2000), and Would You Hide Me? (2003).

Although his work does not always feature Jewish themes, many of the harrowed protagonists of Steinfeld's Kafkaesque fiction are members of the Second Generation (the children of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust), often artist figures. For these characters, Jewish identity, as refracted through their parents' experience and consciousness as Shoah survivors, threatens both sanity and life. Exploring the nuances of Jewish survival, displacement, memory, and meaning in a post-Shoah world, Steinfeld juxtaposes the horrors of his protagonists' inherited memories and knowledge of genocide with the more mundane reality of a mostly complacent and apathetic Canadian society – often to jarringly powerful effect. "Courtroom Dramas," a story in his latest collection (Would You Hide Me?), extends the legacy of the Shoah to the Third Generation. The unnamed protagonist has so fully identified himself with his beloved grandmother and her survival of the death camps that he, in an act of revenge, pushes a man he perceives to be a Nazi (he is wearing a swastika-armband) down an escalator at a Toronto shopping mall, killing him. The story is the poignant account of the protagonist's trial for murder.

Steinfeld won numerous literary awards for his plays (most unpublished) and his fiction, including the Norma Epstein Award for Creative Writing in 1979, the Okanagan Short Story Award in 1984, and the Creative Writing Award from the Toronto Jewish Book Committee in 1990.

[Alexander Hart (2nd ed.)]

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