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Last modified: Tuesday, March 14, 2006

"The Writer Uprooted": Exiled Jewish authors to tell their stories in landmark conference

Writers to explore living under oppression and emigrating to America

EDITORS: Norman Manea, featured in the news release below, will deliver the keynote address at a conference at Indiana University Bloomington where 11 Jewish immigrant authors will reflect on the ties between exile and creativity. "The Writer Uprooted: Contemporary Jewish Exile Literature" is scheduled for March 22-24 at the Indiana Memorial Union. To arrange individual interviews, contact Ryan Piurek, IU Media Relations, at 812-855-5393 or

March 14, 2006

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Norman Manea was 5 years old when he and his family were deported from their native Romania and sent to a Nazi labor camp in Ukraine.

The year was 1941. According to a story that appeared in a 2003 New Yorker magazine profile, Manea spent the next four years living among thousands of Romanian Jews in the rain and cold, witnessing death and horrible suffering. "What I understood then was that crying and hunger, cold and fear belonged to life, not to death," Manea later wrote. "Nothing was more important than survival."

Writer Uprooted

Oil on canvas by renowned Polish artist and Holocaust survivor Samuel Bak. Courtesy of Pucker Gallery, Boston.

Print-Quality Photo

The Russian Army liberated the internment camp of Transnistria in 1944. When the surviving members of Manea's family returned to Romania after World War II, the country had been taken over by communists. In the years after the family's return, Manea's father was jailed, his mother was forced to work long hours in a canning factory, and Manea turned to fiction writing. His large body of work, beginning in 1960, is preoccupied with his traumatic experience as a child living through the Holocaust and unhappiness with daily life in a totalitarian state.

Despite many chances to leave his homeland for Israel, Manea chose to stay. His reasons for staying, as outlined in the New Yorker article, are complicated. They included having to learn a new language, his skepticism that leaving Romania would ensure his happiness, and a belief that life's circumstances don't affect the search for happiness.

Manea was ultimately forced to leave Romania in 1986. After spending a year in West Berlin, he arrived in the United States. He has lived in the United States ever since. Today, he is considered one of the most internationally famous contemporary Romanian writers.

Manea represents the post-World War II generation of Jewish immigrant authors who detail what it's like to live in totalitarian countries and then emigrate to America.

From March 22 to 24, Indiana University Bloomington and the Robert A. and Sandra S. Borns Jewish Studies Program will host a landmark conference, "The Writer Uprooted: Contemporary Jewish Exile Literature," featuring presentations by 11 immigrant authors and scholars now living and writing in the United States. It is believed to be the first sizable gathering of such writers ever held in the nation. Manea will deliver the keynote address on "Nomadic Language" on March 22 at 7:30 p.m. in the Indiana Memorial Union's State Room East. Conference sessions will begin on March 23 at 9 a.m. in the IMU Oak Room. IU Emeritus Professor Matei Calinescu will present the first lecture.

All conference sessions are free and open to the public. They will take place in the IMU Oak Room.

"American culture, including its literature, has been enriched over many decades by the work of its immigrant authors," said Alvin Rosenfeld, founder of the Jewish Studies Program at IU Bloomington and director of the Institute of Jewish Culture and the Arts.

The writers who will participate in the conference "represent two different generations. Some have been doubly cursed in that they have lived through the tyrannies of Nazism and communism," Rosenfeld added. "Their writing provides valuable insight into what it means to come to a new land and, in some cases, a new language; what it's like to live in a condition of exile; how to deal with questions of personal and cultural dislocation; and what you can do to recover and be creative in a new country."

Alvin Rosenfeld

Photo by: IU Home Pages

Alvin Rosenfeld

After noticing an increasing number of books by new immigrant authors, Rosenfeld, a renowned Holocaust scholar, began to conceptualize "The Writer Uprooted" conference around the idea of "what it means to be uprooted and re-routed" and the problem of "starting out life in one country and moving to another." He envisioned the conference as a place where immigrant writers can share common experiences and attendees can begin to acquire a global perspective on American culture and the immigrant experience. For those who can't attend the conference, Rosenfeld plans to publish a book based on the proceedings. The conference is being funded in part by a grant from IU's New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities Program.

"This country really is very culturally diverse," said Rosenfeld, a first-generation American whose parents were born in Ukraine. "Some may say 'diverse' has become a hackneyed word by now, but the fact is that America continues to absorb people from all over the globe. While we hear voices of those who oppose immigration and want to resist further waves of newcomers, I think America is constantly renewed and revitalized by creative minds who arrive here from all over the world. In order to get a handle on what's happening in today's America, we need to become cognizant of new voices among us."

The conference will feature writers from six different European nations: the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Russia. The list of authors includes Manea, who has won both a Guggenheim fellowship and a MacArthur Fellows Award and whose books have been translated into more than 10 languages. It also includes Matei Calinescu of Romania, who is an emeritus professor of comparative literature and West European studies at IU Bloomington; prolific Polish writer Henryk Grynberg; and Zsuzsanna Ozsvath, whose work describes the Holocaust experience in her native Hungary.

IU sponsors of the conference include the New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities Program, Robert A. and Sandra S. Borns Jewish Studies Program, Dorit and Gerald Paul Program for Jewish Culture and the Arts, Lilly Library, Office of International Programs, Department of English, Polish Studies Program, Russian and East European Institute, Department of West European Studies, Department of Comparative Literature and Indiana University Press.

In connection with the conference, the Lilly Library will showcase an exhibition of the private papers and publications of Norman Manea. Visitors are welcome to view this exhibition on March 21 to 24 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

For more information on the conference, including a list of all participants and a schedule of events, contact Melissa Deckard at 812-856-6014 or or Ryan Piurek, IU Media Relations, at 812-855-5393 or