The University of Wisconsin Press

Biography and Letters / Judaica / Photography / Film / American Studies

Isaac Bashevis Singer and the Lower East Side
Photographs by Bruce Davidson
With introductions by Isaac Bashevis Singer, Ilan Stavans, Jill Meredith and Gabriele Werffeli

Terrace Books

Singer's own New York

In 1973, the Yiddish writer and Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer collaborated with New York documentary photographer Bruce Davidson to make a surreal film, Isaac Bashevis Singer's Nightmare and Mrs. Pupko's Beard. This film was at once a documentary about Singer's New York and a dramatization of one of his short stories. The film grew out of the pair's friendship as residents of the same building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and their common interest in New York City street life. During and after production, Davidson made numerous portraits of Singer and also returned to the Lower East Side for a documentary series of photographs.

A selection of these stunning images made between 1957 and 1990 is available here for the first time. The book also includes portraits of Singer, stills from the film, the black and white portfolio known as The Garden Cafeteria, and selections from Davidson's Lower East Side series. The Garden Cafeteria was a collaboration depicting denizens of the East Broadway restaurant frequented by Singer during his trips to The Jewish Daily Forward. The portfolio has never before been published nor exhibited in its entirety. Included is an introduction by Singer himself on Davidson's images; an in-depth interview with Davidson about his art, aesthetic and political views, and his Jewishness; and a reflective, contextual essay by Ilan Stavans on this collaboration between the writer and the photographer. Through Davidson's lens we see Singer's literary world of Holocaust survivors and émigrés from Eastern Europe—a displaced culture in its twilight.

  • Published in conjunction with an exhibition by the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College
  • 2004 is the centennial year of Singer's birth

Bruce Davidson worked as a freelance photographer for Life magazine and joined Magnum Photos in 1958. As a documentary photographer, he produced two photo essays, "Brooklyn Gang" and the "Freedom Rides." He photographed the Civil Rights Movement, including a rally in Harlem, Ku Klux Klan cross burnings, and the marches in Birmingham and Selma, Alabama. In 1966 he won the first photography grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to document East 100th Street in Harlem; this work was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art. His most recent project is Subway, a book and exhibition of New York City culture.

The Terrace Books logo is designed in the shape of a book with a Union chair in silhouette on the cover. The words Terrace Books, Madison, Wisconsin appear also.

Ilan Stavans is the Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College. He is the author of On Borrowed Words, Spanglish, and The Schocken Book of Modern Sephardic Literature. His work has been translated into a dozen languages. Stavans is also editor of the three-volume Isaac Bashevis Singer: Collected Stories published by the Library of America. He is the focus of another book by the UW Press, Ilan Stavans: Eight Conversations, by Neal Sokol.

Media & bookseller inquiries regarding review copies, events, and interviews can be directed to the publicity department at or (608) 263-0734. (If you want to examine a book for possible course use, please see our Course Books page. If you want to examine a book for possible rights licensing, please see Rights & Permissions.)

October 2004
120 pp. 7 x 10
50 b/w, 8 color photos

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Paper $26.95 t
ISBN 978-0-299-20624-6
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