Why are so many authors who are Jewish prefer not to be labeled as ‘Jewish Authors’?

By Fredric Price on March 9, 2020

From Rebecca Mitrani:

Q: Why are so many authors who are Jewish prefer not to be labeled as ‘Jewish Authors’?

A: It’s said of many famous American authors who are Jewish that they don’t define themselves as ‘Jewish writers.’ It’s hard to square that from the likes of Philip Roth, author of Operation Shylock, The Plot Against America, Goodbye, Columbus, Portnoy’s Complaint, The Human Stain, and the ‘Zuckerman’ novels. Or from Michael Chabon, author of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, and Gentlemen of the Road. 

Now, of course this doesn’t mean that they only wrote novels where Jews were the main characters. But a disproportionate amount of their oeuvre does include stories about Jews. Let me state that by mentioning these two great writers, I’m not suggesting that they are the only ones who don’t describe themselves as Jewish writers. And, let me also be clear that there are writers such as Dara Horn who do proudly identify as Jewish authors.

What’s the reluctance? Is it that they feel they’ll  be pigeonholed into a smaller market? So they do this for business reasons? Some people have said that Jews purchase about 50% of literary fiction, so I wouldn’t think that this stands up to scrutiny. Perhaps that they don’t want to be labeled as such only to be read and studied at Jewish Studies departments of universities? Or are they simply uncomfortable in their Jewish skins? Or maybe there’s no great analytical reason; it just is this way and they haven’t given it much thought.

It is said that Camille Pissarro, the great Impressionist painter would walk into a room and exclaim, “I am a Jew,” a remarkable statement given the anti-Semitism in France during the age of Dreyfuss. Whether or not it is literally true, he did not hide his Jewishness. This, coming from a man whose wife wasn’t Jewish, and likely never attended a synagogue after he moved to Europe from his native St. Thomas.

Especially in this time of rising anti-Semitism, I’d like to hear of more authors whose characters or stories revolve around the Jewish experience who don’t shy away from being called a Jewish author.

This, from a Jewish blogger.