Discover the 15 best Jewish Authors who are part of a global Jewish community that has produced some of the most notable fiction and non-fiction books in the world.
The Jewish diaspora is spread all across the world, with Jewish American, Jewish Russian, and Israeli writers producing phenomenal and varied literature. The 20th-century story of Judaism is one of tragedy. World War II and the holocaust saw six million European Jews murdered and countless others displaced.
The horrors of Nazi Germany heavily influenced Jewish literature, as many of the writers in this list committed their lives to ensure the Nazi crimes were never forgotten. However, you’ll also discover other genres, such as surrealism and romance novels, as Jewish literature spans just about every type of literature you can imagine.
- 1. Philip Roth, 1933 – 2018
- 2. Bernard Malamud, 1914 – 1986
- 3. Michael Chabon, 1963 –
- 4. Nicole Krauss, 1974 –
- 5. Jonathan Safran Foer, 1977 –
- 6. Saul Bellow, 1915 – 2005
- 7. Franz Kafka, 1883 – 1924
- 8. Elie Wiesel, 1928 – 2016
- 9. Cynthia Ozick, 1928 –
- 10. Joseph Heller, 1923 – 1999
- 11. Judy Blume, 1938 –
- 12. Nathan Englander, 1970 –
- 13. Gary Shteyngart, 1972 –
- 14. Herman Wouk, 1915 – 2019
- 15. Isaac Bashevis Singer, 1903 – 1991
- The Final Word On The 15 Best Jewish Writers
- FAQs About the Best Jewish Writers
1. Philip Roth, 1933 – 2018
As the winner of the U.S National Book Award For Fiction, Philip Roth is one of the most well-known American Jewish writers. Many of his books are semi-autobiographical, taking his own experiences as a Jewish American in New Jersey as inspiration for his short stories and novels.
He made a name for himself in 1959 with his novella Goodbye Colombus which won multiple awards and quickly became a best seller. It’s a collection of five short stories that follow second and third-generation Jewish characters living successful lives and pursuing professional careers.
A decade after Goodbye Colombus was published, he wrote Portnoy’s Complaint, which is arguably his most well-known book and a great place to start if you want to dive into Philip Roth’s bibliography.
Portnoy’s Complaint was a controversial novel that often goes into explicit detail about the narrator’s private life with themes of sexuality that, at the time of publishing, resulted in heavy criticism and even censorship.
“The danger with hatred is, once you start in on it, you get a hundred times more than you bargained for. Once you start, you can’t stop.”Philip Roth
2. Bernard Malamud, 1914 – 1986
Bernard Malamud is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American Jewish author born to Russian Jewish immigrants in New York City. He grew up in a poverty-stricken family but succeeded in overcoming his socio-economic plight by excelling at school and college.
His work is extremely diverse. He wrote several short stories and eight novels, all of which were well-received by critics, and one of them, The Natural, was even turned into a popular movie starring Robert Redford.
The Natural follows the story of a baseball player called Roy Hobbs, whose promising career is destroyed when he’s shot. The story follows Roy’s recovery from the shooting and the struggle he faces returning to the top of his game.
Although his baseball drama is probably his most well-known title due partly to the film, his most notable work is actually The Fixer which tells the story of antisemitism under the Russian Empire and won Maalamud the Pulitzer Prize.
“There comes a time in a man’s life when to get where he has to go – if there are no doors or windows he walks through a wall.” Bernard Malamud
3. Michael Chabon, 1963 –
Michael Chabon, the Jewish American short-story writer, novelist, and screenwriter, is part of a younger generation of Jewish writers who were born after the end of World War II and the collapse of Nazi Germany.
Chabon was born in Washington, DC, and studied at the University of Pittsburgh, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1984 and later earned a master’s in creative writing in California.
At 25, he published his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, which tells the story of a young man who gets wrapped up in a homosexual relationship and an affair with a beautiful young woman.
If you’re going to read just one of Michael Chabon’s books, then consider picking up a copy of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clat. The novel tells the story of two Jewish cousins, Josef “Joe” Kavalier, who escapes Nazi-occupied Czechia and flees to New York City to stay with his cousin Sammy Klayman.
“The true magic of this broken world lay in the ability of the things it contained to vanish, to become so thoroughly lost, that they might never have existed in the first place.”Michael Chabon
4. Nicole Krauss, 1974 –
Nicole Krauss is one of the late 20th century’s most successful Jewish-American authors. She studied at the University of Stanford and the University of Oxford and married Jonathan Safran Foer, who happens to be another well-known Jewish author.
Although she’s only a couple of decades into her writing career, she has already published four extremely popular novels. Her work has been translated into over 30 languages, making her a globally known writer.
If you’re looking for a quality fiction short story, then consider Nicle Krauss’ To Be a Man, which explores the identity of men and women in the modern world. It was shortlisted for the Orange Prize and named the TIME Book of The Year.
The History of Love is arguably her most successful and widely read novel. It tells the heart-wrenching story of a Polish pair who fall in love just as the Nazis are rising to power. Unfortunately, their relationship is torn apart as they’re forced to flee their homeland. This is a brilliant romantic novel that also explores the tragic Jewish history of the 20th century.
“Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.”Nicole Krauss
5. Jonathan Safran Foer, 1977 –
Jonathan Safran Foer is a Jewish-American author and professor who teaches at New York University. He has published several very successful non-fiction novels. His work primarily focuses on Jewish identity and the Jewish family experience.
He published his first novel, Everything is illuminated, in his mid-twenties and won the Jewish Book Award. The book follows the lives of a Jewish community in Western Ukraine that ends up being converted into a ghetto by the occupying Nazi forces.
The book was turned into a film that tared Elijah Wood and is regarded as a moving story about the holocaust and the lives of everyday Jews who were killed and persecuted during World War II.
Another title to consider reading from this author is Here I Am, which follows several events that deeply impact a Jewish-American family, including war, a bar mitzvah, and the death of a beloved pet.
“You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.”Jonathan Safran Foer
6. Saul Bellow, 1915 – 2005
Saul Bellow is a Jewish author who was born in Canada but spent the majority of his life living in the United States. He’s arguably one of the most successful authors of the 20th century, as he won both the Pulitzer and the Nobel Prize for Literature.
As the world and the Jewish community were coming to terms with the horrors of the holocaust and World War II, Saul Bellow led the Jewish literary circle to rebuild and document stories about the Jewish experience in Europe and beyond.
His career spans several decades, and as a result, it’s difficult to pinpoint a single must-read book. If you’re looking for an enthralling adventure, then consider reading Henderson the Rain King, which is a story about a man who finds himself in a remote African village where he hopes to fill a spiritual void that’s haunted him all his life.
In Herzog, Bellow tells the story of a middle-aged man suffering from a crisis in the wake of his second divorce. The protagonist writes dozens of letters but never sends them, and through these letters, the reader is sucked into the complex world of the indecisive protagonists. The book won the US National Book Award, and Time Magazine dubbed it one of the 100 best novels.
“Losing a parent is something like driving through a plate-glass window. You didn’t know it was there until it shattered, and then for years to come you’re picking up the pieces — down to the last glassy splinter.”Saul Bellow
7. Franz Kafka, 1883 – 1924
Franz Kafka was born in Prague, still part of the Kingdom of Bohemia. He was a German-speaking Jew who became one of the early 20th century’s most respected authors. His work combined elements of realism with fantasy writing, creating narratives that had no equal at the time of writing.
He lived through World War I, and the horrors of trench warfare and the scale of death created by the early industrial war machines profoundly impacted his outlook on the world and his writing.
His novels generally center around lonely protagonists facing bizarre predicaments. In Metamorphosis, traveling merchant battles with the surreal problem of his body slowly turning into an insect.
This sort of surreal literature was revolutionary and inspired the next generation of writers to bend the boundaries of reality in their novels. If you enjoyed learning about the best Jewish authors, you might be interested in reading our guide on the best Lebanese authors.
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”Franz Kafka
8. Elie Wiesel, 1928 – 2016
Elie Wiesel is a Romanian-Jewish holocaust survivor who settles in the US after the collapse of the Nazi regime and has since worked as a professor, activist, and author.
Elie Wiesel was sent to Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1944 age of just 16. Although he survived, his mother, father, and sister were both killed. After the war, he moved to France, where he worked as a journalist before moving to the US in 1956.
His activism and contribution to the global effort to stamp out anti-semitism led to him winning the Nobel Peace Prize. He has written over 50 books, with a majority of them focusing on the Jewish community and their experience throughout the 20th century.
If you’re looking to learn about the holocaust and the Nazi concentration camps, then Night is a must-read. The heartwrenching story follows Elie Wiesel and his father’s experiences in Auschwitz and Buchenwald.
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”Elie Wiesel
9. Cynthia Ozick, 1928 –
Cynthia Ozick is a Jewish-American author known for her short stories and essays. She was born in New York City and often writes about the history of Judaism and Jewish culture. If you want to develop your understanding of the roots of Jewish history, then Cynthia Ozick’s work is perfect.
Her first novel Trust follows a young Jewish woman who is rejected by her family in the US and heads to Europe to find her father, with whom she has had a turbulent relationship. The story gives the reader an insight into the female Jewish experience in the US.
Her novel The Shawl is a brilliant read for anyone looking to understand how Judaism has evolved and adapted to modernity.
“When something does not insist on being noticed, when we aren’t grabbed by the collar or struck on the skull by a presence or an event, we take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.”Cynthia Ozick
10. Joseph Heller, 1923 – 1999
Joseph Heller is one of the most-read authors of the 20th century. He was born in Brooklyn to Jewish-American parents and went on to serve in the U.S. Army during World War II and later studied at the University of Southern California.
His writing career started as a copywriter at an advertising agency. In his spare time, he worked on short stories and eventually became a full-time fiction writer.
His novel Catch-22 became a classic. The surrealist story follows the antihero Captain John Yossarian during World War II and his attempts to survive the bloody conflict.
The story revolves around the ‘Catch-22’ situation whereby combat pilots are bound by a bizarre military regulation that essentially makes it impossible for them to resign from the conflict. The term ‘Catch-22’ has been absorbed into the English language, and the book has sold millions of copies worldwide.
“Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them.”Joseph Heller
11. Judy Blume, 1938 –
The Jewish-American author Judy Blume has written successful books for children, teens, and adults. Her work has been translated into over 30 languages and sold nearly 100 million copies.
Her work encompasses a wide range of topics, although it often carries themes of religion, puberty, and sexuality. In her novel Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margeret follows an 11-year-old girl who expresses talks to God about her life and struggles as she goes through a complex transitional period of her life.
In Forever, Judy Blume was praised for exploring the complexity of teenagehood and sexuality without being judgmental while offering the readers an insight into the complexity of this period for young women.
She has won the best part of 100 literary awards and sits on the board of the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC).
“Each of us must confront our own fears, must come face to face with them. How we handle our fears will determine where we go with the rest of our lives. To experience adventure or to be limited by the fear of it.”Judy Blume
12. Nathan Englander, 1970 –
Nathan Englander is part of a younger generation of Jewish-American short story writers. He was born in New York to an orthodox Jewish family and spent part of his adulthood in Israel before settling in Canada.
His award-winning collection of nine short stories titled For The Relief of Unbearable Urges gives the reader an insight into the orthodox Jewish community.
His book What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank almost won the Pulitzer Prize for its unique narrative. It follows a Jewish couple discussing which one of their non-Jewish friends would have saved them if they were in Holland during the Nazi occupation.
“I feel like people who become writers are people who have been saved by books.”Nathan Englander
13. Gary Shteyngart, 1972 –
Gary Shteyngart is a Jewish writer born in the Soviet Union who later in his life moved to the United States. The native Russian speaker has made a name for himself as one of the top non-fiction Jewish writers.
The Russian Debutante’s Hand Book tells the fictional story of a Jewish immigrant from Russia whose family moves to New York City. Like many first-generation immigrants, the protagonist works for minimum wage.
Feeling like a failure, the young man is sucked into a dark world where his involvement in a Ponzi scheme leads him to leave the US and suffer a brutal attack at the hands of skinheads in an imaginary European city.
Gary Shteyngart’s literary success has been accompanied by an equally successful academic career that has seen him lecture at some of New York City’s finest universities. If you enjoyed reading about the best Jewish authors, you might enjoy our list of the best Egyptian authors. You can also use the search bar at the top right of the page to search for authors in a country or region you are interested in.
“Remember this… develop a sense of nostalgia for something, or you’ll never figure out what’s important.”Gary Shteyngart
14. Herman Wouk, 1915 – 2019
The Jewish-American author Herman Wouk was born into a Russian-Jewish family in New York City in 1915. He lived to the age of 103, surviving both World Wars II and during his long career, he became one of the most successful writers of his generation.
If you’re looking for historical novels that focus on Jewish identity and essential moments in World War II, Herman Wouk is an excellent author.
His book The Caine Mutiny follows the story of a US warship that’s captained by a coward whose decisions are leading the crew to their inevitable demise. The story’s narrator has to choose between following his orders or organizing a mutiny. The book was turned into a successful film and won the Pulitzer Prize.
“Peace, if it ever exists, will not be based on the fear of war, but on the love of peace. It will not be the abstaining from an act, but the coming of a state of mind.”Herman Wouk
15. Isaac Bashevis Singer, 1903 – 1991
Isaac Bashevis Singer was born in Poland to Jewish parents just after the turn of the century. He is known for his contribution to Yiddish language literature, with many of his works only being translated into English post-publishing.
Singer and his family left Poland in the 1930s before Hitler assumed control of Germany and invaded Poland. As a result, they were never directly persecuted by the Nazis. However, the events that unfolded in his homeland and the rest of Europe had a profound impact on Singer’s view of the world.
He is a seminary figure within the Yiddish literary movement, and in 1978, he joined the elite group of writers who won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
During the course of his life, he wrote over 20 books, many of which focused on the Jewish-Polish culture and the Holocaust. His novel Enemies, A Love Story is a deeply emotional story about Holocaust survivors and the often unexplored story of how those who survived had to readjust to ‘normal’ life.
“Two important things are to have a genuine interest in people and to be kind to them. Kindness, I’ve discovered, is everything.”Isaac Bashevis Singer
The Final Word On The 15 Best Jewish Writers
The Jewish community has been persecuted throughout history, with the diaspora spread worldwide. Yet, despite the horrific events of the 20th century, the Jewish literary movement has only grown stronger.
Many of the names in this post have won Nobel Prizes for their work, which ranges from surrealist fiction to hard-hitting stories about the Holocaust. So, if you’re looking to learn more about Judaism and World War II or add some Yiddish literature to your bookshelf, then these 15 Jewish authors have got you covered.
FAQs About the Best Jewish Writers
What are some of the most common themes that feature in Jewish writing?
Members of the Jewish community have been persecuted throughout history, so it is not unusual to see books that focus on this topic. In particular, a lot of 20th-century writers will focus on the Holocaust.
Who are some of the other Jewish writers I may want to check out?
It would help if you also considered reading books by Judy Blume, Nathan Englander, and Joseph Heller.
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