Thursday, October 8, 2015

Literary museums in Amherst

Sarah out for a walk along the Connecticut River, in Hadley.
Today, in Amherst, we went to see the Emily Dickinson Museum, which included a tour of her family’s homestead and that of her brother who lived next door once he had a family of his own. Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) was very reclusive during her adulthood. Most of her poetry was never published in her lifetime, and the breadth of her writing was completely unknown (she left over 1800 poems, mostly hidden in the drawers of her dresser). But thanks to the work of some diligent family members, friends, and scholars, she is now almost universally considered to be one of the most significant of all American poets.

After that we drove to the Yiddish Book Center which is dedicated to preserving the Yiddish language and culture. The story of its founding is fascinating. Aaron Lansky, then a twenty-four-year-old graduate student of Yiddish literature, found that it was hard to get hold of Yiddish books to read an study. He “realized that untold numbers of irreplaceable Yiddish books—the primary, tangible legacy of 1,000 years of Jewish life in Eastern Europe—were being discarded by American-born Jews unable to read the language of their Yiddish-speaking parents and grandparents. He organized a nationwide network of zamlers (volunteer book collectors) and launched a concerted campaign to save the world’s remaining Yiddish books before it was too late. The YBC is more than just a library of old books; it is also a museum and education center. Thanks to funding from Steven Spielberg, they have been able to digitize tens of thousands of books, making the body of Yiddish literature, which was on the brink of extinction, “the first fully accessible literature in history.”

The quintessential Yiddish author: Sholem Aleichem. We read Tevye's Daughters as a family when I was a kid.
The Yiddish Book Center's building is designed in the style of an East European shtetl (Jewish town).

No comments:

Post a Comment