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Conference at Yale to Focus on Israeli Writer Yehuda Amichai


New Haven, Conn. — Yale University will host an international conference on October 20 and 21 celebrating the life and work of Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai.

The conference, “Poetics and Politics in Yehuda Amichai’s World,” is free and open to the public. Sessions will take place in the Whitney Humanities Center auditorium, 53 Wall St.

Amichai, considered one of the great poets of modern times, has been praised for the depth and complexity of his language as well as its accessibility, even in translation from the original Hebrew. His books were best sellers in Israel, and in the years before his death, he enjoyed the status of a celebrity.

Benjamin Harshav, the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at Yale, will deliver the keynote address, “Political Discourse and Situational Cognition in Amichai’s Poetry,” on October 20 at 8:30 p.m. Harshav, one of Amichai’s chief translators, was also a close friend of the poet’s for 50 years. According to Harshav, “Amichai is the most universal Israeli poet, expressing the human condition… In an age of ideology, he celebrated the individual’s private moments and existential situation; in an age of war, he celebrated love and love-making.”

“Yale is privileged to have the Yehuda Amichai Papers in the Beinecke Library along with the archives of many other great poets of the 20th century” says Nanette Stahl, conference coordinator. “The conference is a way to celebrate Amichai and acknowledge his contribution to modernist poetry.”

Speakers on October 21 will include Robert Alter (University of California, Berkeley), who will present “Yehuda Amichai: At Play in the Fields of Verse” and Menakhem Perry (Tel Aviv University) speaking on “Facing the Dead: The New Poetics of the Young Amichai.” Other presenters include Chana Kronfeld, (UC Berkeley) on “Making Honey from all the Buzz and Babble: Translation as Metaphor in the Poetry of Yehuda Amichai,” as well as Boaz Arpaly, Michael Gluzman and Ziva Ben Porat from Tel Aviv University and Vered Shem-Tov (Stanford). The final session will be a roundtable discussion presented by William Cutter (Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion), Barbara Harshav (Yale), Geoffrey Hartman (Yale), Barbara Mann (Jewish Theological Seminary) and Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic.Amichai’s wife Hana and daughter Emanuella will also be present.

Amichai (1924–2000) was born in Würzburg, Germany, and immigrated to Palestine with his family at the age of 12. After high school, he served in the British Army’s Jewish Brigade during World War II and then joined the Palmach, an underground Jewish military organization in Palestine. When the State of Israel was established in 1948, he fought in the Israeli army during the War of Independence.

Amichai first considered becoming a writer while he was stationed in Egypt with the British Army. There he was inspired by an anthology of modern British poetry, including work by Dylan Thomas, T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden. His first book of poetry, “Now and in Other Days,” was published in 1955. His published writings, which include plays, stories, a novel, essays and three children’s books as well as several volumes of poetry, have been translated into more than 30 languages. Many are available in English, including two books translated by British poet Ted Hughes (“Amen,” 1977, and “The Early Books,” 1998) and two translated by his friends Barbara and Benjamin Harshav: “Even a Fist was Once an Open Palm with Fingers,” 1991, and a selection from all his books, “Yehuda Amichai, a life of poetry, 1948–1994.” His last volume of poetry was “Open Closed Open: Poems,” 2000, translated by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld.

Amichai’s highly metaphorical verse is characterized by wordplay, allusion and shifting levels of diction, from the literary to the colloquial. While his poetry reflects his lifelong political commitment to Israel, it is also deeply personal, drawing on his own experience of war, love, loss, mortality and everyday life.

Shortly before his death, Amichai arranged for Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library to receive his extensive personal papers and literary archive. The Amichai papers were the first archive of a major writer in Hebrew to be added to the Beinecke, where they join an extensive international gathering of 20th-century literary archives, including the papers of the Yiddish writer Sholem Asch and poets Ezra Pound, F.T. Marinetti, William Carlos Williams and Czeslaw Milosz.

The Amichai conference is sponsored by Yale University Library, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, the Program in Judaic Studies, the Department of Comparative Literature, the Whitney Humanities Center, the Lucius N. Littauer Foundation and the Edward J. and Dorothy Clarke Kempf Memorial Fund. Organizers include Nanette Stahl, Judaica curator at Yale University Library; with Paul Fry, the William Lampson Professor of English; Benjamin Harshav, the Blaustein Professor of Modern Hebrew Language and Literature; Paula Hyman, the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Modern Jewish History; Ivan Marcus, the Frederick P. Rose Professor of Jewish History and chair of the Program in Judaic Studies; and Kevin Repp, curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts, Beinecke Library.

For further information, contact Stahl by email or phone 203-432-7207. The conference web site is “Poetics and Politics in Yehuda Amichai’s World.”


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