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Abraham Cahan Biography

(1860–1951), Neie Zeit, Arbiter Zeitung, Yekl: A Tale of the New York Ghetto

American novelist and journalist, born in Podberezy, Lithuania, educated at Vilna Teachers Institute and law school in New York City. Cahan emigrated to the USA in 1882 and became an important figure in the Yiddish-speaking community of the Lower East Side of New York. He co-edited Neie Zeit, a Yiddish socialist newspaper, and from 1891 to 1894 was editor of the Arbiter Zeitung, a radical weekly which offered imaginative literature about immigrant life and promoted the socialist cause in the USA. Cahan's first novel, Yekl: A Tale of the New York Ghetto (1896) concerned the Americanization of the Jewish immigrant, a theme he continued in The Imported Bridegroom and Other Stories of the New York Ghetto (1898). Encouraged by the novelist William Dean Howells, Cahan's most important work of fiction, The Rise of David Levinsky (1917), is influenced by Howells's The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885); the novel charts the rise of its eponymous hero from his squalid origins to a position of great economic and social power in the New York clothing industry. In 1897 Cahan helped to establish the Jewish Daily Forward and used it, during the 1920s, to promote his socialist views, notably his support of the Bolshevik regime in the Soviet Union, but his views changed by the 1930s when the newspaper became an organ of New Deal liberalism. Bleter fun Mein Leben (192631; five volumes) is an autobiography in Yiddish; The Education of Abraham Cahan (1969) is an English translation of the first two volumes. From the Ghetto (1977) by Jules Chametzky is an authoritative study of the fiction.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Burghers of Calais to Peter Carey Biography