Nefarious Nostalgia? Recent Immigrant Fiction by Jewish American Authors of Russian Descent (01/14/2011; ALA Boston 05/26-29/11)

full name / name of organization: 
American Literature Association
contact email: 

Nefarious Nostalgia? Recent Immigrant Fiction by Jewish American Authors of Russian Descent

Papers are invited for a proposed panel at the 2011 ALA Conference in Boston (May 26-29, 2011).

Since the beginning of the new millennium, a new wave of Jewish American authors has made its mark, Russian émigrés whose artistic success prompted Sanford Pinsker's outcry "The Russian (Jews) are Cominng!" These are novelists and short story writers like Gary Shteyngart, Lara Vapnyar, Michael Idov, Olga Grushin, Gina Ochsner, Sana Krasikov, Keith Gessen, Anya Ulinich, and the Canadian David Bezmozgis. Because of its recent appearance, the work by these authors is still largely unexplored in academic writing. In 2006, however, Adam Rovner wrote a scathing review article on "the new immigrant chic" that these authors are said to represent. Rovner argues provocatively that what Irving Howe already called a "nostalgia for the nostalgia of other people," is at the heart of this Jewish-American-Russian fiction; that its appreciation by American Jews is merely "an attempt to claim a vicarious Jewish distinctiveness that only underscores the successful acculturation of earlier generations of Jews into the American mainstream." Donald Weber, by contrast, considers the work by some of these authors "a fascinating new chapter in a long tradition of Jewish immigrant writing … the immigrant narrative may well provide the most enabling, creative source for those writers seeking to engage the New World."

This proposed ALA 2011 panel seeks to address a number of pertinent questions relative to the novels and stories written by these American Jews from the former Soviet Union. Possible questions include: What are the important themes in this new immigrant fiction? How does this literature compare to its famous precursor from the early 20th century – work by Abraham Cahan, Mary Antin, Anzia Yezierka, and Henry Roth? Does the current American interest in this literature indeed reflect a "nostalgia of difference" (Rovner) that attempts to counterbalance the reality of total assimilation? How do these authors and their protagonists represent – or perform – their hyper-hyphenated Jewish-American-Russian identity? In what ways is this literary phenomenon related to the debate about multiculturalism in the US?

Please send an abstract of 250 to 300 words, together with a brief CV, to by January 14, 2011. Make sure to mention all necessary contact information, as well as any need for audio-visual equipment. Papers should be approximately 20 minutes.