Friday, June 21, 2024

Q&A with Stephen A. Sadow




Stephen A. Sadow is the editor of the new book I Am of the Tribe of Judah: Poems from Jewish Latin America. His other books include King David's Harp. He is a professor emeritus of Latin American literature and Jewish studies at Northeastern University.


Q: What inspired you to create this anthology of Latin American Jewish poetry?

A: Since 1987, I have been studying and translating poems from Jewish Latin America.


With my co-translator J. Kates, the former president of the American Literary Translators Association, I have translated poems from over 50 poets, most who write in Spanish and a few in Portuguese. Some of these translations were published in literary magazines in the United States, Great Britain and Sweden.


We have published six book-length anthologies of work by individual poets.

In 2022, I was having lunch with my dear friend Ilan Stavans. I mentioned that I had many, many translations sitting in my files. Ilan’s response was, “Let’s do a book!” As it turned out, he had done translations of poets I’d never worked on. Ilan made a few calls.


Two weeks later, I was invited by Michael Millman of the University of New Mexico Press to submit a book proposal.

Q: How did you choose the poems to include?


A: My goal in choosing the poems was to cover as much literary and geographical territory as I could within the planned length of the book. This meant picking poems from the 16th to 21st centuries, picking poems from 11 countries, while not letting any country dominate the collection.


I had to make judgments about the quality of each poem. I also had to make sure that many themes of Jewish writing in Latin America. Of course, I tried to include poems written by personal friends and acquaintances, but that was not always possible.

Q: What themes do you see running through the anthology?


A: The dominant themes of the anthology are immigration from Europe and adaptation to Latin America, the Holocaust, and anti-Semitism, Jewish religion and holidays, the Hebrew Bible and the mystical Kabbalah, Sepharad (Spain before the Expulsion of the Jews) everyday life experiences, poetics and the question of what is a Jew.

Q: Especially given the current rise in antisemitism, what do you hope readers take away from these poems?

A: I have come to see I Am of the Tribe of Judah as a political document. It provides one more reason for pride in Jewish accomplishments. It is positive and even aggressive in outlook.


As a compendium of fine literature and profound commentary, the book provides a broad knowledge about Latin American Jews and their poetry, something few have heard about.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I will be spending a great deal of time this year promoting the book, through talks at Jewish institutions and a few universities. Also, I am writing an article for an academic journal about self-transcendence in the work of Costa Rican Jewish Poet Rosita Kalina for publication in Latin American Jewish Studies.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I am professor emeritus of Latin American Literature and Jewish Studies at Northeastern University in Boston. Besides translation, I did ample scholarly research in those fields. One of my books won a National Jewish Book Award.


I have made almost 40 trips to Latin America, and immersed myself in Jewish intellectual culture in Buenos Aires and Mexico City.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb


No comments:

Post a Comment