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Study in Scarlet
  |  Joy Comes in the Morning

From the short stories of

Nobel Laureate

Isaac Bashevis Singer

a performance reading by David Houston
with traditional and symphonic
background music
of violinist Itzhak Perlman

 

Although the exact date is not known (it might be July 14), 2004 included the 100th anniversary of the birth of a true American literary treasure: Nobel Prize winner Isaac Bashevis Singer.  His novels and short stories, written originally in the now-vanishing Yiddish vernacular and later translated into English, still appeal to young and old readers both Jewish and non-Jewish. The tales were published after Singer left his native Poland to join his brother in America and became a respected journalist in New York City.  The stories – realistic, gripping, funny and fanciful – chronicle the daily lives and magical legends of the old country and the cultural ironies of his new world. 

David Houston reads from the story that made Singer famous, “Gimpel the Fool” (originally translated by Saul Bellow), “Yentl the Yeshiva Boy” (a wonderful story made into a film musical by Barbra Streisand; Singer called the movie “artistic suicide”) and “Alone” (a delightful variation on the "you'd better be careful what you wish for" theme). The program runs about 75 minutes. 

"Sparkling and triumphant, Isaac Bashevis Singer's stories are filled with wonder, gratitude, humor, irony, and a wry eroticism that manages to exalt the pleasures of the flesh and the soul at the same time." — Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post Book World.

"I dreamed of a humanism and ethics the basis of which would be a refusal to justify all the evils the Almighty has sent us and is preparing to bestow upon us in the future.  At its best, art can be nothing more than a means of forgetting the human disaster for a while.  I am still working hard to make this 'while' worthwhile." — Isaac Bashevis Singer

DAVID HOUSTON—has appeared in leading roles in scores of plays and musicals, including Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet, Mayor Shinn in The Music Man, Senex in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Ben in Death of a Salesman, Herr Shultz in Cabaret and Horace Giddens in The Little Foxes.  He is a published and produced writer (14 books, 3 screenplays, 5 stage plays), fiction and non-fiction.  His original plays, Lillie Alone, Great Scott and Zelda, Murder and Madness and Poe, Let's Do It!, and The Dickens! have been seen at a number of Long Island libraries.  His Joan Crawford biography Jazz Baby (St. Martin's Press) has been optioned for movie production, as has his mystery novel Shadows on the Moon (Leisure Books).  His "dramatic readings in the style of radio drama" presented at Long Island libraries include Pete Hamill's Snow in August, the first Sherlock Holmes novel Study in Scarlet, John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley, and Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.    

Scheduled Performances

2005
Wednesday September 21, 2:00 p.m., Long Beach Public Library
Friday November 18, 2:00 p.m., Queens Library Seaside Public Library, Rockaway Park
Sunday November 20, 2:00 p.m., Queens Kew Gardens Library, Flushing
2004
Wednesday June 9, 2:30 p.m., Half Hollow Hills Library, Dix Hills
Monday July 26, 12:30 p.m., East Meadow Public Library
Tuesday September 14, 2:00 p.m., Lynbrook Public Library
Sunday October 17, 2:00 p.m., Bellmore Public Library
December 10, 7:30 p.m., Unitarian Universalist Church, Shelter Rock
    
 

Contact: David Houston
(516) 293-2638; DH@davidhouston.net
700 Fulton Street, M-1, Farmingdale, New York 11735

$250 fee includes actor, reading stand, music and CD player, and travel (Long Island);
facility is asked to supply a small acting space, basic lighting,
and amplification if the auditorium is large

Isaac Bashevis Singer

Isaac Bashevis Singer was one of the great storytellers of the twentieth century. His writing is a unique blend of religious morality and social awareness combined with an investigation of personal desires. Though his work often took the form of parables or tales based on a nineteenth century tradition, he was deeply concerned with the events of his time and the future of his people and their culture.

Isaac Bashevis Singer was born in 1904 in Radzymin, Poland. His parents were religious Jews and pushed him towards a career as a religious scholar. In 1921 he enrolled in Rabbinical School, but left only two years later to work for a Yiddish literary magazine. Though his rabbinical studies would remain a strong influence on him, he longed to be a part of a literary community. Working as a journalist, translator, and proofreader, Singer began to write short stories on the side. By 1935 he had published his first book, SATAN IN GORAY.

That same year, Singer followed his brother, Isaac Joshua Singer to America. Isaac Joshua Singer is considered one of the major Yiddish writers of the twentieth century, and was the first and greatest literary influence on his younger brother Isaac. In New York, Isaac Bashevis Singer began working for THE JEWISH DAILY FORWARD, a Yiddish newspaper dedicated to issues of interest to its newly immigrated readership. During the 1940s Singer published his work in a number of journals as well as serially in the THE FORWARD. Throughout his career, Singer would continue to be a contributor and supporter of THE FORWARD, which remains in existence today as a weekly .

Throughout the 1940s, Singer’s reputation began to grow among the many Yiddish-speaking immigrants. After World War II and the near destruction of the Yiddish-speaking peoples, Yiddish seemed a dead language. Though Singer had moved to the United States, he believed in the power of his native language and knew that there was still a large audience that longed for new work, work that would address the lives and issues of their history. In 1950 Singer produced his first major work, THE FAMILY MOSKAT—the story of a twentieth century Polish Jewish family before the war. He followed this novel with a series of well-received short stories, including his most famous, "Gimpel, The Fool."

Though not primarily nostalgic, Singer’s work hearkened back to a former time. The setting for much of the work was his native Poland, and the writing addressed existential and spiritual questions through folk tales and parables. These works caught the attention of a number of American writers including Saul Bellow and Irving Howe, who were greatly responsible for not only translating Singer’s work, but championing it as well. Throughout the 1960s Singer continued to write on questions of personal morality. One of his most famous novels (due to a popular movie remake) was ENEMIES: A LOVE STORY, in which a Holocaust survivor deals with his own desires, complex family relationships, and the loss of faith. Singer also wrote two novels about nineteenth century Polish-Jewish history before returning to more modern topics in the 1970s.

By the 1970s, he had become a major international writer. After World War II there were few Yiddish writers remaining and Singer was not only a vocal proponent of Yiddish writing, but the major figure in Yiddish letters. Throughout the 1970s he wrote dozens of stories that were eventually collected into books, and published in Yiddish and English as well as many other languages. He branched out, writing memoirs and children’s books as well as two other major novels set in the twentieth century, THE PENITENT (1974) and SHOSHA (1978). The same year as his publication of SHOSHA, Singer won the Nobel Prize in literature. For many, this award was bittersweet in that it brought worldwide attention to an important language at the same time it seemed to signal the language’s demise.

After being awarded the Nobel Prize, Singer gained a monumental status among writers throughout the world. He continued to write during the last years of his life, often returning to Polish history which so entranced him throughout his early life. In 1988 he published THE KING OF THE FIELDS and three years later, SCUM, a story of a man living in an early-twentieth-century Polish shtetl. That same year, Isaac Bashevis Singer died at the age of eighty-seven in Surfside, Florida. Incredibly prolific, Singer created an insightful and deep body of work that will forever remain an important part of literary history.

Comments and Reviews

Edie Kalickstein, Program Director, Long Beach Public Library: "I so enjoyed Isaac Bashevis Singer.  Well done!"  Tracey Simon, Program Coordinator, Lynbrook Public Library: ". . . Outstanding program on Isaac Bashevis Singer.  The audience found the program a lovely interpretation of Singer's work. Excellent use of music"  William Sabatino, Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Shelter Rock: "The program as it was given was excellent, but I'd have liked more biographical information in the opening."  Patti Paris, Adult Services Librarian, Bellmore Memorial Library: "The program was very well attended, very interesting, well abridged, excellent delivery." 

 


  Home  |  Great Scott, and Zelda  |  Belle of Amherst   |  Stories of IB Singer  |  Let's Do It!
 Murder Madness and Poe  |  On-Stage Photo Gallery  |  Theatrical Resume  |  The Dickens!  |  Fahrenheit 451  |  Mark Twain
  Study in Scarlet  | The Ghost of Dorothy Parker  |  The Color of Water  |  Fred and Adele Astaire: The Last Dance
    Joy Comes in the Morning  |
 To Kill a Mockingbird  |  Abe Lincoln in the 21st Century