Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Visit to Texas, and His Afterlife in Austin

July 26, 2021 | Robert King
About the author:

While the majority of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s stories and novels take place in Warsaw, Manhattan, or the various shtetls surrounding Lublin, his personal archive has been preserved for posterity in Austin at the University of Texas. Robert King—Mississippi-born Gentile, linguistics professor, Yiddish expert, and sometime Mosaic contributor—tells the story of how he befriended the writer, and, after his death, raised the funds for the University of Texas to acquire the collection:

The [university’s] College of Liberal Arts was swimming in money back in 1979, and for several years after that. Edwin Gale and his wife, Becky, of Beaumont, Texas, created the amply endowed Gale Chair of Jewish Studies, and under its aegis, together with the chairholder Seth Wolitz, I indulged my caprices by inviting to campus people whose work I had admired, most of them Jewish: Raul Hilberg, Howard Sachar, Lucy Dawidowicz, Irving Howe, and Norman Podhoretz, among others.

When word came around that Isaac Bashevis Singer might be available for a lecture, we began negotiations with his assistant, then Dvorah Menashe, now Dvorah Telushkin. . . . Finally, all was worked out. I didn’t usually drive out to the airport to greet our lecture guests, but I wasn’t about to pass up the chance to meet one of my heroes on arrival. He was lively, inquisitive, energized by the unfamiliar light of an Austin spring.

Later, the two shared a cup of tea despite Dvorah’s remonstrances:

He told me of the woman with whom he had had a son. She had saved herself from the Holocaust by finding refuge in the Soviet Union. Singer told me, as if he were describing a person with two heads, “She was a real Communist.” And on it went. Sensing a political affinity, he told me, looking over his shoulder though no one was eavesdropping, that he liked Reagan, as I did—though I hadn’t told him so.

And he told me about his discomfort with literary critics, especially, he said, the Yiddish ones. “All they ever say to me is ‘ober ikh hub tsi akh a taan.’” (“But I have an objection.”) . . . What impressed him most about me, I think, was that I had served in the military: “So you can shoot a gun?” he asked admiringly. I finally got him to go back to his room, fearing admonition from Dvorah if I was caught “bothering” him.

Read more on Tablet:

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register Already a subscriber? Sign in now