Irena Klepfisz, “Her Birth and Later Years: New and Collected Poems”
Join the Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies, the Department of Germanic Languages, and the Institute for the Study of Sexuality and Gender on Wednesday, November 8, at 6:30 PM for a conversation with lesbian poet, essayist, political activist, and Yiddishist Irena Klepfisz and Agnieszka Legutko, Director of the Yiddish Language Program at Columbia University, about Klepfisz’s latest book, Her Birth and Later Years: New and Collected Poems, 1971-2021 (Wesleyan UP, 2022). This event will take place in the Yavitz-Calder Lounge on the first floor of Uris Hall.
Irena Klepfisz was born in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1941. She survived the war hiding in an orphanage and later in the Polish countryside with her mother. After the war they lived in Lódz and Sweden before settling in New York in 1949. Klepfisz’s poetry broke new ground in its brazen lesbian voice, while also finding new ways to poetically investigate the trauma of the Holocaust. Klepfisz played a key role in the emergent Jewish lesbian movement starting in the 1970s. She has been dedicated to the recovery and transmission of women’s writing in Yiddish, as an active scholar, translator, and teacher. Her own poetry engages the Yiddish language, writing bilingually to create a Jewish feminist poetics for the past and present.
Klepfisz recently ended 22 years of teaching Jewish Women’s Studies at Barnard College. She has been a recipient of an NEA fellowship and NYFA grant in poetry and a finalist for the poetry Lambda Award. In 2016 she was honored to receive the Dreaming in Yiddish Prize from the Adrienne Cooper Fund and currently serves on the Board of the Workers Circle. The author of A Few Words in the Mother Tongue (poetry) and Dreams of an Insomniac (essays), she is preparing the manuscript for a bilingual collection of her poetry and prose to be published next year by the Polish publishing house słowo/obraz terytoria (word/image territories).
Agnieszka Legutko is Lecturer in Yiddish and Director of the Yiddish Language Program at Columbia University. She specializes in modern Yiddish literature, language, and culture, women and gender studies, and spirit possession in Judaism. She is the author of a historical guidebook, Krakow’s Kazimierz: Town of Partings and Returns (2004, 2009), and her publications have appeared in several journals and essay collections on Yiddish literature and culture, such as Cwiszn, Bridges, Lilith, Jewish Quarterly, Silent Souls? Women in Yiddish Culture (2010), Dybbuk: Na Pograniczu Dwóch Światów (2017), and Theatermachine: Tadeusz Kantor in Context (2020). She received her Ph.D. in Yiddish studies with distinction from Columbia University and her research interests include trauma, memory, performance, and the body represented in Jewish literature, theater, and film. She is currently completing a manuscript exploring the trope of dybbuk possession in modern Jewish cultures.
Supported by the generosity of the Radov and Kaye families.
While all IIJS events are free and open to the public, we do encourage a suggested donation of $10.
Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies