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One of the most prolific, interesting, and wide-ranging contemporary Jewish scholars, Ilan Stavans (Stavchansky), was born in Mexico City on this date in 1961. His Eastern European father was an actor and soap opera star on Mexican television. A professor at Amherst, Stavans has focused a good deal on language and popular culture and has broadened the interest of many American Jews beyond Ashkenazi and European Jewish culture to the Hispanic Jewish world. His books include Tropical Synagogues: Stories by Jewish-Latin American Writers (1994), The Schocken Book of Modern Sephardic Literature (2005, a National Jewish Book Award-winner), Resurrecting Hebrew (2008), Mr. Spic Goes to Washington (2008), his autobiographical A Critic’s Journey (2009), The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature (2011), two works of fiction and a graphic novel — among many, many other titles. Stavans is a scholar and biographer of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Pablo Neruda, a very productive translator, and a world authority about Spanglish (with a 2003 book, Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language). To see him in conversation with Henry Louis Gates, look below.
“Literature is the best way to overcome death.” —Ilan Stavans