Literary luminaries receive Koret awards

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Cynthia Ozick's "Quarrel & Quandary: Essays," meanwhile, is the winner in the biography-autobiography and literary studies category.

"At the center of Ozick's capacious, vivid, literary imagination is the beauty — and also the intermittent terrors — of Jewish life. A penetrating, eloquent, collection of essays," noted judge Frances Malino, the Sophia Moses Robison professor of Jewish studies and history at Wellesley.

Other winners are two works by leading academic interpreters of Jewish culture: Kenneth Seeskin's "Searching for a Distant God: The Legacy of Maimonides," in the philosophy and thought division, and David B. Ruderman's "Jewish Enlightenment in an English Key: Anglo-Jewry's Construction of Modern Jewish Thought" in the history classification.

The awards are given by the S.F.-based Koret Foundation in cooperation with the National Foundation for Jewish Culture in New York. Winners will each receive a $10,000 prize at a New York City award reception on April 23.

Pulitzer Prize-winning "Maus" artist-writer Art Spiegelman will be the featured speaker at the event.

The Koret Jewish Book Award winners were chosen from 19 finalists. Publishers had nominated nearly 300 top writers.

According to Richard Siegel, executive director of the NFJC: "All four prize winners are quite distinguished, each in his or her own way. This year, two literary luminaries — Cynthia Ozick and Philip Roth — joined two academic notables as winners, but the decision was far from pre-ordained. Deliberations were very serious, and all the winning books truly superb."

Stanford University Professor Steven J. Zipperstein, who chairs the Koret project, said the awards are designed "to break down or at least to bridge barriers between academic and popular books. Their goal is to offer readers a larger, more interesting, more variegated Jewish bookshelf than they might otherwise know."

Regarding Roth, Rosenfeld said: "'The Human Stain' is the latest contribution to Roth's ongoing fictionalization of American reality and, not coincidentally, of the place of the Jew within it. Tangled issues of identity-crossing that have surfaced before in his novels come powerfully to the fore."

Ruderman's book, Zipperstein noted, is "bold and original, illuminating hitherto neglected Jewish thinkers in the rough-and-tumble world of Georgian England."

Ruderman is the Joseph Meyerhoff professor of modern Jewish history and director of the center for advanced Judaic studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

Zipperstein called Seeskin's winning study of Maimonides a "deeply engaging, intelligent work that makes one of the most complex of all Jewish philosophers accessible, even relevant. A remarkable work of synthesis and fresh analytic insight."

Seeskin is professor of philosophy and director of the center for the writing arts at Northwestern University.