5 Phenomenal Jewish American Poets You Should Be Reading
May marks Jewish American Heritage Month, a special time to recognize the accomplishments and contributions of Jewish Americans. Nearly 7 million Americans identify as Jewish—a fact that makes continued representation in literature and poetry important. From Emma Lazarus to Allen Ginsberg, Jewish Americans have been among the most influential and talented poets throughout the country’s history. These five contemporary voices are carrying on that legacy and tradition today.
1. Hadara Bar-Nadav (@hadarabar on Twitter)
Former National Endowment for the Arts fellow Hadara Bar-Nadav views her Jewish and Israeli identity as a primary source of poetic inspiration. Bar-Nadav writes about family heritage—including her family’s silence surrounding the horror of the Holocaust—illustrates stereotypes that Jewish people still face, and reckons with the idea and role of God. These themes are heavily present in her six books.
2. Elizabeth Powell (@astriditkin on Twitter)
Pushcart Prize recipient Elizabeth Powell regularly speaks about how Judaism has influenced her work. In fact, her collection Willy Loman’s Reckless Daughter is based on Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman, a quintessentially Jewish text. Powell has also presented at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Conference as part of a Jewish women writers panel. Powell’s three books of poetry explore vast inspirations, including politics, the impact of elegy, and Yiddish theatre.
3. Rosebud Ben-Oni (@RosebudBenOni on Twitter)
Rosebud Ben-Oni references her upbringing in the first sentence of her author bio, expressing pride to have grown up in a multi-racial and multi-faith family. Her experience as the daughter of a Mexican mother and Jewish father helps shape her poems, which have appeared in prestigious journals like The American Poetry Review, Guernica, and POETRY. “I had to learn to tell these conflicting stories,” Ben-Oni said in an interview with Lit Hub, in which she spoke about her father’s Orthodox childhood, her mother’s conversion, and the disapproval she faced in Hebrew school. She continues to shed light on these experiences in her three books, including the 2019 Alice James Award winner If This Is the Age We End Discovery.
4. Lynn Melnick (@LynnMelnick on Twitter)
Brooklyn-based poet Lynn Melnick previously received a grant from the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, an organization that promotes “fresh ways of thinking about Jews and gender” through artistic projects. Melnick carries this mission forward in all of her work, which occurs at the intersection of Judaism and feminism, and has garnered comparison to the prolific Anne Carson. Her collection Landscape with Sex and Violence was called “vital reading for the #MeToo movement” by The San Francisco Chronicle. Her forthcoming book, I’ve Had to Think Up a Way to Survive, combines lyrical essays about Dolly Parton and moving, personal memoir.
5. Aaron Samuels (@PoetryAaron on Twitter)
Cave Canem fellow Aaron Samuels burst into the poetry scene with his debut collection, Yarmulkes and Fitted Caps, in 2013. The collection captures the experience of growing up Black and Jewish, a theme Samuels has continued to explore as poet, speaker, and entrepreneur. Samuels is the founder of Blavity, an online media company he describes as a “tech company for forward-thinking Black millennials pushing the boundaries of culture and the status quo.”
For more Jewish poetry recommendations, check out the titles honored in the National Jewish Book Awards.