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Mount Holyoke College News and Events Vista The College Street Journal Archives

October 22, 2004

MHC Newsmakers

Juried Showing The unveiling of a portrait of a prominent Rhode Island judge, by professor of art Bonnie Miller, drew high praise and a story in the September 9 Providence Journal. According to the Journal piece by Edward Fitzpatrick, “About 270 people, including U.S. Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter, turned out for the unveiling of a portrait of the only Rhode Islander on the 1st U.S. Circuit of Appeals—Judge Bruce M. Selya. Selya, 70, of Providence, said he is not retiring and that yesterday marked the first time a portrait has been dedicated to an active 1st Circuit judge.” Miller’s portrait work is extensive and includes a number of high-ranking Boston jurists. In addition to portraiture, Miller also frequently exhibits her work—including landscapes and equestrian works—at a number of galleries locally and in New York City.

Still A New World English professor Donald Weber looks at current Jewish-American writers in a September 17 essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education and finds that the immigrant experience—and a perennial engagement with America as a new world—inspires the current generation of writers with the same intensity as their forebears. As Weber notes in “Permutations of New-World Experiences Rejuvenate Jewish-American Literature,” fears that assimilation would diminish the literary power of contemporary Jewish-American literature have proved unfounded.

According to Weber: “Twenty-seven years ago, in a now-famous introduction to Jewish-American Stories, Irving Howe offered a gloomy prediction about Jewish-American literary expression. A year after his elegiac 1976 chronicle of the migration of East European Jews to America, World of Our Fathers, Howe announced the apparent exhaustion of a once-flourishing Jewish-American fiction. The sheer absorptive power of ‘Americanization’ would distance later writers, Howe argued, from the shaping crucible of the immigrant experience.

“ ‘Nostalgia, return, hatred, nausea, affection, guilt — all these are among the familiar, urgent feelings which memories of immigrant streets, tenements and (most of all) families can stir up in the American Jewish writers,’ he wrote. In the wake of inevitable memory loss (‘America makes one forget everything,’ cautioned the advice columnist for the Yiddish Daily Forward in 1908), Howe asked if there would remain ‘a thick enough sediment of felt life to enable a new outburst of writing about American Jews.’ Would we again see the genre looking as robust as it did in the 1930s, with Henry Roth’s harrowing immigrant novel, Call It Sleep, or in the 1950s, with the arrival of Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, and the young Philip Roth?

“Howe was not optimistic. Surveying the contemporary literary scene in the 1970s, he found relatively little in what he termed the ‘post-immigrant Jewish experience’ for the imagination to draw on; indeed ‘its usability for the making of fictions’ seemed virtually over. A generation later, however, his prediction—now dubbed the ‘Howe Doctrine’ by students of Jewish-American literature—seems to have been dead wrong. Rather than chanting the mourner’s kaddish over the presumed demise of Jewish-American fiction, in the past few years we have witnessed a Jewish literary flowering by a rising generation of writers who have made, in Morris Dickstein’s description, ‘their Jewish fantasies, feelings, and experiences absolutely central to their work.’ ”

Weber has just completed Haunted in the New World: Jewish-American Culture from Cahan to “The Goldbergs,” to be published in 2005 by Indiana University Press. The book explores the ways modern Jewish writers and makers of popular culture have responded to the challenge of adjusting to America, voicing their imaginative encounter in accents of resistance and celebration, irony, and longing.

Test Fails Test An article in USA Today about a Bates College study casting further doubt on the usefulness of SAT scores in admissions mentions Mount Holyoke as one of “two dozen selective schools” that have made submission of test scores optional. In “Some Find SATs Don’t ‘Define Quality’” in the October 1 edition, Alvin P. Sarnoff wrote that a study by Bates College found little difference between the academic performance of those who submitted SAT scores and those who did not. Bates, which made submission of test scores optional 20 years ago, found that graduation rates and grade-point averages for the two groups are similar. “We have to get out of this box where America feels SAT scores define quality,” Bates vice president William Hiss told the paper. “Colleges feel constrained in admitting students who have done everything right except have stratospheric scores.” MHC is in the second year of its own three-year study of the effects of its SAT-optional policy, funded through a $290,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.



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