Get ready to celebrate! The St. Louis Jewish Book Festival is turning 45, and it’s shaping up to be a fantastic gathering of authors from all walks of life. Having hosted big names like Alan Dershowitz, Elie Wiesel, Michael Bloomberg, and William Shatner in the past, we’re buzzing with anticipation for this year!

This festival isn’t just about celebrating current literature – it’s saying “l’chaim” to the rich history of Jewish literary contributions. From scribes of the past to today’s novelists, Jewish authors have left an indelible mark on our literary landscape, forever expanding our horizons. Let’s dive into the works of nine such inspiring Jewish authors whose stories continue to captivate us today!

Nicole Krauss

Born in New York City on August 18, 1974, to a British Jewish mother and an American Jewish father, Nicole Krauss’s Jewish heritage has significantly influenced her work. Her novels often explore themes of Jewish history, identity, and the experience of the Jewish diaspora.

For example, in her novel “The History of Love,” she weaves a story that stretches from pre-war Poland to contemporary New York, detailing the lives of Jewish characters who are navigating their identities amidst loss and displacement.

“The History of Love” became an international bestseller and won the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing. Recently, she has been making headlines for her collection of short stories titled “To Be a Man.”

J.D. Salinger

Jerome David Salinger, commonly known as J.D. Salinger, was born on January 1, 1919, in New York City. J.D. Salinger is the renowned author of “The Catcher in the Rye,” one of the most beloved novels of all time.

Salinger was born to an Irish Catholic mother and Jewish father, with a paternal side of Lithuanian Jewish descent. Also, his grandfather was a rabbi who emigrated to the United States.

Salinger’s Jewish lineage is often reflected in his works. Some of his most famous characters, like the precocious Glass family from “Franny and Zooey,” shared his Catholic-Jewish heritage.

He was also known for his reclusive nature, often shunning public attention and media. J.D. Salinger died of natural causes at his home in New Hampshire on January 27, 2010, at the age of 91.

Anne Frank

Anne Frank, the world-renowned author of “The Diary of a Young Girl,” was born in 1929 to a German-Jewish family. Many reports indicate that Anne wanted to become a journalist, which was a goal she, unfortunately, achieved posthumously.  

 “The Diary of a Young Girl”, which chronicles her life in hiding during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Sadly, the Frank family was discovered and deported to concentration camps in 1944. Anne and her sister Margot died in the Bergen-Belsen camp in 1945. 

Their mom, Edith, also died during the Holocaust. Only Anne and Margot’s father, Otto, survived.

Anne Frank’s story lives on today. According to the Anne Frank Center, her diaries have been translated into over 70 languages, selling over 30 million copies worldwide. 

Joseph Heller

Joseph Heller, the renowned American author best known for his satirical novel “Catch-22”, was born into a Jewish family in 1923. His parents, Lena and Isaac Heller, were immigrants from Russia. 

His father did show interest in socialist politics, which may have influenced the darkly humorous critique of military bureaucracy during World War II that’s depicted in “Catch 22.”

Heller’s Jewish heritage and his childhood experiences in Coney Island were first fictionalized in his novel “Good as Gold.” The protagonist is Bruce Gold, a Jewish professor and unsuccessful novelist who seeks to become the Secretary of State. 

This story reflects Heller’s own experiences as a Jewish person in America who is critical of its politics. Heller died in 1999 in East Hampton, New York. His novels are still among the most popular to this day.

Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand, born Alissa Zinovievna Rosenbaum on February 2, 1905, became an American writer who is best known for her novels “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged.”

Although she did not publicly acknowledge her Jewish heritage, privately, she acknowledged being “born Jewish.” One way Rand’s Jewish heritage influenced her work is through the theme of individualism that pervades her writing. 

Rand witnessed first-hand the devastating effects of collectivism and state control under the Bolshevik Revolution. This most likely fostered her advocacy for human rights in both of her top-selling novels. 

She passed away due to heart failure on March 6, 1982, in her New York City apartment. Her spirit lives on as her books continue to cause controversy and conversation to this day.

Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller is one of the most celebrated American playwrights of the 20th century. His most notable works include “Death of a Salesman,” “The Crucible,” and “A View from the Bridge”. 

He won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1949 for “Death of a Salesman.” He was born on October 17, 1915, in Harlem, New York. His parents, Augusta and Isidore Miller were of Polish-Jewish descent.

Despite being brought up in a religious home, many of his characters often grappled with their Jewish identity. For instance, in his short story “I Don’t Need You Anymore,” Miller deals explicitly with the idea of religion. 

Miller died of heart failure in 2005 in Roxbury, Connecticut. However, his work is celebrated on stages all over the globe to this day.

Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov is one of the most prolific writers of the 20th century. He was born on January 2, 1920, in Petrovichi, Russia, to a Jewish family. His parents, Judah Asimov and Anna Rachel Berman Asimov were millers who immigrated the family to Brooklyn, New York, when Isaac was three years old. 

Asimov’s most famous work is arguably the “Foundation” series, which is set in a future galactic empire and centers around the science of psychohistory. He also wrote the “Robot” series, which includes the short story collection “I, Robot” and introduced the Three Laws of Robotics.

Isaac died on April 6, 1992, due to complications from HIV, which he contracted from a blood transfusion during heart surgery in the early 1980s. His groundbreaking work has paved the way for the many advancements in technology we see today.

Judy Blume

Judy Blume, born Judith Sussman in 1938 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, was raised in a culturally Jewish household. Her Jewish heritage subtly influences her work, as many of her books feature Jewish heroines. 

This not only reflects her own identity but also provides relatable characters for her readers. A reference to kosher meat in her book “Deenie” is another example of how she incorporates elements of her Jewish background into her stories in hopes of normalizing Jewish cultures into American societies.

Blume’s most famous works include “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret”, “Blubber,” and “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.” As of now, Blume is still writing and living in Key West, Florida.

Gloria Steinem

Gloria Steinem, born on March 25, 1934, in Toledo, Ohio, is a renowned American feminist, political activist, and journalist. Her paternal grandparents were German-Jewish immigrants. 

Steinem’s Jewish heritage could have contributed to her understanding of marginalization and discrimination, given the historical challenges faced by the Jewish community. This understanding might have fueled her passion for advocating for women’s rights and social justice.

Moreover, Jewish teachings and values, such as the importance of community, education, and social justice, could have influenced her work. These values are evident in her lifelong commitment to activism and her co-founding of Ms. Magazine, a platform that gives voice to women’s issues. The heroine still lives in New York’s Upper East Side. 

Join us for the St. Louis Jewish Book Festival

Get excited, book lovers! The St. Louis Jewish Book Festival is back and better than ever! Celebrating its 45th year, this annual festival is a vibrant celebration of authors, books, and ideas. From November 5-19, immerse yourself in riveting discussions with some of the most brilliant and interesting minds in the world. 

Whether you’re a fan of cooking, true crime, history, or just love a good story, there’s something for everyone. All events will be hosted at the J’s Staenberg Family Complex (2 Millstone Campus Drive).

So mark your calendars, grab your tickets, and prepare to be inspired. We can’t wait to see you there!