Isaac Bashevis Singer (Yiddish: יצחק באַשעװיס זינגער; November 21, 1902 – July 24, 1991) was a Polish-born Jewish-American author. The Polish form of his birth name was Izaak Zynger and he used his mother's first name in an initial pseudonym, Izaak Baszewis, which he later expanded to the form under which he is now known. He was a leading figure in the Yiddish literary movement, writing and publishing only in Yiddish, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978. He also was awarded two U.S. National Book Awards, one in Children's Literature for his memoir A Day Of Pleasure: Stories of a Boy Growing Up in Warsaw (1970) and one in Fiction for his collection, A Crown of Feathers and Other Stories (1974).
Singer had many literary influences; besides the religious texts he studied, he grew up with a rich array of Jewish folktales and worldly Yiddish detective-stories about "Max Spitzkopf" and his assistant "Fuchs.; He read Russian, including Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment at the age of fourteen;. He wrote in memoirs about the importance of the Yiddish translations donated in book-crates from America, which he studied as a teenager in Bilgoraj: "I read everything: Stories, novels, plays, essays... I read Rajsen, Strindberg, Don Kaplanowitsch, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Maupassant and Chekhov." He studied many philosophers, among them Spinoza, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Otto Weininger. Among his Yiddish contemporaries, Singer considered his older brother to be his greatest artistic example; he was also life-long friend and admirer of the author and poet Aaron Zeitlin.
Of his non-Yiddish-contemporaries, he was strongly influenced by the writings of Knut Hamsun, many of whose works he later translated, while he had a more critical attitude towards Thomas Mann, whose approach to writing he considered opposed to his own. Contrary to Hamsun's approach, Singer shaped his world not only with the egos of his characters, but also using the moral commitments of the Jewish tradition known from his youth and embodied by his father in the stories about Singer's youth. There was a dichotomy between the life his heroes lead and the life they feel they should lead — which gives his art a modernity his predecessors did not express. His themes of witchcraft, mystery and legend draw on traditional sources, but they are contrasted with a modern and ironic consciousness. They are also concerned with the bizarre and the grotesque.
Another important strand of his art is intra-familial strife, which he experienced firsthand when taking refuge with his mother and younger brother at his uncle's home in Biłgoraj. This is the central theme in Singer's big family chronicles, such as The Family Moskat (1950), The Manor (1967), and The Estate (1969). Some critics believe these show the influence of Thomas Mann's novel Buddenbrooks; Singer had translated Mann's Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain) into Yiddish as a young writer.