L. (LEYVI-SHIYE, LAMED) SHAPIRO (March 10, 1878-August 25, 1948)
The author of stories, poetry, and essays, he was born in Rzhishtshev (Rzhyshchiv), Kiev district. He received a traditional education. He studied Russian and other secular subjects and began writing poetry in Russian, Hebrew, and Yiddish. In 1896 he got to know Y. L. Perets who recognized his first literary works. He came to Warsaw again in 1903 and debuted in print with a story in Leyzer Monfrid’s Sukes-blat (Succoth sheet). In 1904 he contributed to Avrom Reyzen’s Yorbukh “progres” (Annual for Progres) the story “Itsikl mamzer” (Little Isaac the bastard) and the essay “Tsu der frage vegen hebreish un yidish” (On the question of Hebrew and Yiddish). He also wrote for: Khanike (Hanukkah), Boymer (Trees), Perets’s Di yudishe biblyotek (The Yiddish library), Avrom Reyzen’s Dos yudishe vort (The Jewish word) in 1905, and Yekhezkl Vortsman’s Di yudishe tsukunft (The Jewish future), among other periodicals. Due to the pogroms and instability in 1905, he emigrated to the United States. He stopped off in London en route for a year, and there he wrote for Y. Ḥ. Brenner’s Fraye arbayter velt (Free world of labor), in which he published his poem “Zelbstshuts” (Self-defense), the first of his works on a pogrom theme. His first pogrom-themed story, “Der tseylem” (The cross)—in Chaim Zhitlovsky’s Dos naye leben (The new life)—made a name for him in America. Over the years 1906-1909, he wrote for a time for Forverts (Forward) and also published in Tsukunft (Future). He then returned to Warsaw and became an internal contributor to Fraynd (Friend), before returning to New York (1911), on to Los Angeles (1912), and back again to New York (1912-1921). He then lived in Los Angeles from 1921 to 1927, where he turned his attention to learning about photography in natural colors, but nothing came of this. In late 1927 he again left for New York, and in 1939 he finally settled in Los Angeles.
Shapiro threw himself in a variety of directions: in 1920 he was literary editor of the Communist Funken (Sparks); in 1929, after the pogroms in the land of Israel, he was co-editor of Di vokh (The week), but only until the twenty-second issue; in the 1930s he was again close to Communism. In 1934 he published the quarterly Studyo (Studio)—only three issues. He also wrote for Idishe landsmanshaftn fun nyu-york (Jewish native-place associations in New York) (New York, 1938) and for Literarishe bleter (Literary leaves) in Warsaw. His work also appeared in Yankev Fikhman’s Di yudishe muze (The Yiddish muse) (Warsaw: Velt biblyotek, 1911), Akhiseyfer (New York, 1943/1944), Yitskhok-Elkhonen Rontsh’s Amerike in der yidishe literatur (America in Yiddish literature) (New York, 1945), Hermann Hakel, Jiddische Geschichten aus aller Welt (Tübingen-Basel, 1967), and Irving Howe and Eliezer Greenberg, A Treasury of Yiddish Poetry (New York, 1969). More of his poems may be found in readers, such as: Moyshe Fridman’s Hayehudiya, a naye metode tsu oyslernen in a gikher tsayt un zehr gring leyenen un shrayben yudesh (Yiddish, a new method to master quickly and very easily reading and writing Yiddish), fourth edition (Warsaw, 1912); Dos yudishe vort (The Jewish word) (Vilna, 1913); and elsewhere. The last years of his life—he died in Los Angeles—were ones of discouragement and dejection. In many respects, Shapiro was the most significant heir to Y. L. Perets: his striving for “romantic goals and realistic means” (Ksovim [Writings], p. 332); he considered a static description and a dynamic story to be his actual genre; he was searching for adequate expression for personal, psychological dealings, and most importantly in his consciousness of form. Just like Perets, at the end of his life he discovered the philosophical and formal bases of his art (see “Mayne zikhroynes” [My memoirs]), and thus Shiparo developed his own artistic theory in the title essay of his last work, Der shrayber geyt in kheyder (The writer goes to elementary school) (Los Angeles, 1945). Contrary to Perets, however, he placed human malice, man’s beastly impulses, at the center of his creative work; he arrived, as Perets never did, at an internal identification with the Yiddish language, and to a profound belief in the redemptive strength of art. Like Dovid Bergelson, Shapiro introduced impressionism into Yiddish prose, although the essence of his impressionistic style has not as yet been investigated. His principal theme is the call of the individual to the breakdown of the collective, did pogroms and torture give rise to this, to social injustice, to secularism, Americanization, or the individual striving for beauty (“Gegesene teg” [Eaten days])? He expressed the greatest disappointment in relation to the American Jewish community, and perhaps it was for this reason that his novel Der amerikaner shed (The American demon) remained unfinished. Shapiro yet succeeded in portraying “static descriptions” of internal perfection and harmony with the environment (as in, for example, Roykh [Smoke]). From his subsequent writings, the American stories suffer from a dearth of artistic control. By the same token, one must consider his theoretical and literary-historical essays as central cultural documents, just as Leyzer Grinberg (Eliezer Greenberg) correctly asserted this in 1945. “The architectural entirety,” noted Avrom-Ber Tabatshnik, “the emotional saturation and condensation, the proper linguistic cadence and the wonderfully modulating storyteller’s voice, and the rhythmic and imagistic quality.” All of these properties of Shapiro’s prose confirm his place as the great master of the story in Yiddish and establish his position in the first ranks of the post-classical tradition.
His works include: Der kush (The kiss) (Warsaw: Familyen biblyotek, 1909), 8 pp.; Shafoykh khemotkho (Spill out your wrath) (Warsaw, 1909); Afn yam (On the sea) (Warsaw: Progres, 1910), 48 pp.; Novelen (Stories) (Warsaw, 1910), 190 pp.; Di yudishe melukhe un andere zakhen (The Jewish state and other matters) (New York: Naytsayt, 1919), 318 pp., second edition (New York: Idish leben, 1929); Nyuyorkish un andere zakhn (New York-ish and other matters) (New York: Aleyn, 1931), 196 pp.; Fun korbn minkhe (Of the afternoon offering) (New York: Aleyn, 1941), 32 pp.; Der shrayber geyt in kheyder (Los Angeles: Aleyn, 1945), 126 pp.; Ksovim, ed. Sh. Miller (Los Angeles: L. Shapiro ksovim-komitet, 1949), 400 pp. His translations include: Stanisław Wrzosek, Di yesoydes fun der shtats-ordnung in eyropa un ameriḳa (The foundations of the order of the state in Europe and America [original: Zasady ustroju państwowego na Zachodzie]) (Podgórze: Kultur, 1906), 60 pp.; Victor Hugo, Der giber in keyten (The strongman in chains [original: Les Miserables]) (Warsaw: B. Shimin, 1911), 259 pp.; Walter Scott, Der shvartser riter (The Black Knight) (Warsaw: Bikher-far-ale, 1912), 362 pp.; Rudyard Kipling, Dos bukh fun dzhongl (The Jungle Book) (Vilna: B. A. Kletskin, 1912), 301 pp.; Charles Dickens, Di sreyfe in londoner turme (The fire in a London prison [original: Little Dorrit]) (Vilna: B. A. Kletskin, 1924), 316 pp. Translations of his writings include: Malkhut hayehudim, mivḥar sipurim (The Jewish state, selected stories), trans. Naftali Ginaton (Tel Aviv: Y. L. Perets, 1966), 236 pp.; “White Challah,” “Smoke,” “The Rebbe and the Rebetsin,” and “Eating Days,” in Irving Howe and Eliezer Greenberg, eds., A Treasury of Yiddish Stories (New York: Viking Pres, 1954), pp. 325-41, 449-71; The Jewish Government and Other Stories, trans. with an introduction by Curt Leviant (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1971), 186 pp.; “In the Dead Town,” trans. David Roskies, Mosaic 12 (1971), pp. 10-23.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 4; Chaim Zhitlovsky, in Dos naye leben (New York) 7 (1909); V. Tsukerman, in Dos naye land (New York) (October 1911); Shmuel Niger, Vegn yudishe shrayer, kritishe artiklen (On Yiddish writers, critical articles), vol. 2 (Vilna, 1912), pp. 103-22; Bal-Makhshoves, Geklibene shriftn (Selected writings), vol. 3 (Warsaw, 1929); Leo Kenig, in Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) (June 5, 1931); Leyzer Grinberg, in Getseltn (New York) 3 (1945); Yankev Glatshteyn, In tokh genumen (In essence) (New York, 1947), pp. 116-24; Sh. Miller, in L. Shapiro, Ksovim (Writings) (Los Angeles, 1949), pp. 7-33; Yankev Botoshanski, Pshat, perushim oyf yidishe shrayber (Literal sense, commentaries on Yiddish writers) (Buenos Aires, 1952), pp. 31-68; Shmuel Leshtsinski, Literarishe eseyen (Literary essays), vol. 1 (New York: Gershuni, 1938), pp. 98-105, vol. 2 (New York: Gershuni, 1955), pp. 161-68; A. Mukdoni, In varshe un in lodzh (In Warsaw and in Lodz), vol. 1 (Buenos Aires, 1955); Nakhmen Mayzil, Noente un eygene, fun yankev dinezon biz hirsh glik (Near and one’s own, from Yankev Dinezon to Hirsch Glick) (New York, 1957), pp. 158-68; Gershon Sapozhnikov, Fun di tifenishn, eseyen (From the depths, essays) (Buenos Aires, 1958); Y. Ḥ. Biletski, Masot (Essays), vol. 1 (Tel Aviv, 1960), pp. 285-92; Leyvik Khanukov, Literarishe eseyen (Literary essays) (New York: IKUF, 1960), pp. 38-42; Shiye Rapoport, in Tsukunft (New York) (October 1962); H. Leivick, Eseyen un redes (Essays and speeches) (New York, 1963); Avrom-Ber Tabatshnikov, Dikhter un dikhtung (Poets and poetry) (New York, 1965), pp. 421-32; Shaye Shpigl, Geshtaltn un profiln, literarishe eseyen (Figures and profiles, literary essays) (Tel Aviv, 1971), pp. 138-46; Yeshurin archive, YIVO (New York); Avrom Novershtern, in Di goldene keyt (Tel Aviv) 106 (1981), pp. 121-48; Curt Leviant, “Lamed Shapiro, Master Craftsman of the Yiddish Short Story,” unpublished M. A. Thesis (Columbia University, 1957); Esther Frank, “An Analysis of Four Short Stories by Lamed Shapiro,” Working Papers in Yiddish and East European Jewish Studies 28 (January 1978); David G. Roskies, Against the Apocalypse: Responses to Catastrophe in Modern Jewish Culture (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984), pp. 147-57.