At the turn of the twentieth century, tuberculosis was a leading cause of death across America, Europe, and the Russian Empire. The incurable disease gave rise to a culture of convalescence, creating new opportunities for travel, literary reflection, and the creation of financial support networks. In this paper, Sunny Yudkoff will explore how the lives and work of Yiddish writers were transformed by a tubercular diagnosis. Such writers include Sholem Aleichem, the Yiddish humorist whose work would one day be transformed into Fiddler on the Roof. Tracking the literary histories of Sholem Aleichem and others, this project reconsiders the foundational relationship between disease, biography, and literature.
Sunny Yudkoff is an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the Department of German, Nordic, and Slavic, as well as the Center for Jewish Studies. Her first book, Tubercular Capital: Illness and the Conditions of Modern Jewish Writing, was published in December, 2018 by Stanford University Press. Her work has appeared in Prooftexts, Studies in American Jewish Literature, and Literature and Medicine, among other venues. She is also the peer review editor of the digital publication, In geveb: A Journal of Yiddish Studies.
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