Call for Papers: Kol Ish: Reclaiming Men’s Voices

March 8, 2023: A Conference in Honor of International Men’s Day

“I think it’s long overdue that men writers should be heard. For too long we’ve left the power in the hands of female writers.” -- Menachem Karpilove, trans. Joseph Kirzane

What is the role of men writers in the development of Yiddish literature? For too long, men writers have been neglected by literary critics, scholars, and cultural institutions who frankly find their obsession with the telush figure, modern ennui, all-male gatherings, and the trauma of kheyder to be kind of annoying. The vast majority of scholarship on Yiddish writing - which is taken, as a matter of course, to be writing by women - focuses on radical family networks, destabilizing social structures, lyric eroticism, wry humor, and savvy cosmopolitanism, yet men’s studies offers new insights into the possible literary value of ennui and ideological posturing. As one prominent gender scholar emerita argues in her recovery efforts of the literary group Di yunge in the 1980s, we can also consider the creative potential of a literary “minyen” of men writers. (We would really like to honor those ladies whose work has cobbled together the undeveloped field of men’s writing in Yiddish by listing all their names, especially since in our state of matriarchy we are very cognizant of the need to consciously cite our colleagues, but we are also aware that it is deeply unprofessional and boyish to be wordy.)

In recent years, scholars have noted the absence of men writers from important sites in the development of modern Yiddish culture, like Bertha Kling’s renowned literary salon. They have uncovered how even critically-acclaimed writers like Yoysef Opatoshu were dismissed by the female literary establishment for “just writing about their bodies” in their erotic tales of male desire, or how reviews of Sholem Aleichem’s romance novel Stempenyu condescendingly described the writer as a boy who still needed to mature. When Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote his story “Yentl the Yeshiva Boy,” a work that subverts conventional gender norms by suggesting the appeal of the men’s section, New York Yiddish literati assumed that the piece was written by Singer’s more famous sister, Esther Singer Kreitman, since they did not believe a man could write like that. Men writers were largely excluded from publishing genres like children’s literature, and their contributions to journalism were often limited to men’s pages, where noted poets Peretz Markish and Moyshe Kullbak shared tips for curly hair maintenance. Despite the existence of the anthology Yidishe dikhters, a 1920s volume containing charming pictures of the studly contributors, and the recent publication of long overlooked works in translation, such as Diary of a Lonely Man, or the Battle to Get Women to Sleep with Me by Menachem Karpilove, this field remains neglected, even in the 25 years since the landmark Mener Conference on men writers.

As scholars of men writers, we are often asked: is their work any good? To tell you the truth, we often find their work rather bro-y since they write about topics like the kheyder or yeshiva or disaffected intellectuals instead of the crucially important issues like making sure that the family has food on their table, but we understand that diversity is a hot topic and that people expect us to include at least one man writer on our syllabi. (We often include Mendele Moykher-Sforim, a writer who was unfairly characterized in terms of his age rather than for his fine use of realism.)

In this conference, we seek to expand the paradigm for Yiddish men writers beyond the topics that are generally examined: their tragic biographies, their often-identical curly coiffures, their impeccable — or hopeless — sense of style, their relationships to their fathers, their overreliance on sexual themes, their treatment by the female literary establishment, their ennui, and questions of who was the hottest (and why was it Kulbak?).

We welcome submissions from all scholars, including late career and man scholars, and from all disciplines, including but not limited to comparative literature, critical hotness studies, herstory, andropology, and gender and men’s studies.

We especially encourage papers that break new ground and draw from the recent thirsty turn in Yiddish studies. Possible topics include:

  • Can a man really be a poet? Is Yiddish men’s poetry really worth reading?

  • Why did men writers express themselves only in wordy prose?

  • Children’s literature by men writers (Yes, men also wrote children’s literature!)

  • Why so many pseudonyms? Masculine shame in Yiddish literature

  • Di mener shul: centering the kheyder, yeshiva, tavern, and other mostly-male spaces

  • The Zoger, the Rebbetz, and other male spiritual figures

  • What is war good for? Why are men so emotional?

  • Understanding the female gaze

  • The figure of the nagging Jewish father

  • Yiddish men’s music: drinking songs and…?

  • All-male klezmer bands: is the world ready?

  • Beyond the Beard: Understanding the Hasidic Men’s Culture

  • Creating a Masculine Can(n)on

  • Reassessing Dovid Bergelson and other unattractive male writers

  • Well, Actually…: Examining male self-explanation

  • Men in Translation

  • Men of the Yiddish Stage

  • The Discontinuity Crisis: how men writers shirked or fulfilled the role of intergenerational rebellion

Guidelines for Submission: Abstracts must be submitted no later than Sunday, February 12, a holiday known in men’s culture as Superbowl Sunday. No submissions will be accepted during commercial breaks or the half-time show. Abstracts must be no longer than 150 words. We understand you must have a lot to say, boys, but please keep it short.

In our effort to be inclusive and recognize the challenges of being a man in today’s complicated world, childcare will not be provided at the conference for those busy, on-the-go working father academics. Windowless, cramped, oversubscribed bottle-feeding rooms will be provided, but please, try and act like a gentleman for once, and don’t nurse the baby in public -- no one wants to see that. Please note that you will be judged for both being a bad parent and not-so-serious-about-your-career scholar if you take advantage of this service.

Malka Radbitch, The Evelyn Lang College for Liberal Arts, The Nu School, and Erna Glants-Leyeles, Columbia University . “Call for Papers: Kol Ish: Reclaiming Men’s Voices.” In geveb, March 2022:
Malka Radbitch, The Evelyn Lang College for Liberal Arts, The Nu School, and Erna Glants-Leyeles, Columbia University . “Call for Papers: Kol Ish: Reclaiming Men’s Voices.” In geveb (March 2022): Accessed May 21, 2024.


Malka Radbitch, The Evelyn Lang College for Liberal Arts, The Nu School
Erna Glants-Leyeles, Columbia University