Ilan Stavans (born Ilan Stavchansky on April 7, 1961) is a
Mexican-American essayist, lexicographer, cultural commentator,
translator, short-story author, publisher, TV personality, and teacher
known for his insights into American, Hispanic, and Jewish cultures.
He is the author of Quixote (2015) and a contributor to the Norton
Anthology of Latino Literature (2010).
4 The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature
5 Cultural studies
7.1 Complete book-length original works
9 External links
Ilan Stavans was born in
Mexico to a middle-class Jewish family from
the Pale of Settlement. His father Abraham was a popular Mexican soap
opera star. Living in Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East, he
ultimately immigrated to the
United States in 1985. Upon completing
his graduate education in New York City, he settled in New England
where he lives with his wife, Alison, and his two sons, Joshua and
Isaiah. His journey is the topic of his autobiography On Borrowed
Words: A Memoir of Language (2001). He received a master's degree from
the Jewish Theological Seminary and a Doctorate in Letters from
Columbia University. He was the host of the syndicated PBS show
Conversations with Ilan Stavans, which ran from 2001 to 2006.
He is best known for his investigations on language and culture. His
love for lexicography is evident in
Dictionary Days: A Defining
Stavans's work is wide-ranging, and includes both scholarly monographs
such as The Hispanic Condition (1995) and comic strips in the case of
Latino USA: A Cartoon History (with Lalo Alcaraz) (2000). Stavans is
editor of several anthologies including The Oxford Book of Jewish
Stories (1998). A selection of his work appeared in 2000 under the
title The Essential Ilan Stavans. In 2004, on the occasion of the
100th anniversary of Pablo Neruda’s birth, Stavans edited the
1,000-page-long The Poetry of Pablo Neruda. The same year he edited
the 3-volume set of Isaac Bashevis Singer: Collected Stories for the
Library of America.
He has also displayed a strong interest in popular culture. Among
other topics, he has written influential essays on the Mexican
comedian, Mario Moreno ("Cantinflas")," the lampooner José Guadalupe
Chicano leader César Chávez, and the Tejana singer
Selena, as well as a book about the board game Lotería! (with Teresa
Villegas), which includes Stavans’s own poems. He was also featured
in one of the Smithsonian Q&A books.
Since 1993 he has been on the faculty at Amherst College,
Massachusetts, where he is the Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin
American and Latino Culture. He is on the editorial board of the
literary magazine The Common, based at Amherst College. He has also
taught at various other institutions, including Columbia University.
In 1997, Stavans was awarded a
Guggenheim Fellowship and has been the
recipient of international prizes and honors, including the Latino
Literature Prize, Chile’s Presidential Medal, and the Rubén Darío
Stavans at the
Santiago International Book Fair
Santiago International Book Fair 2017
He has portrayed
Jewish-American identity as Eurocentric and
parochial. He has been a critic of the nostalgia generated by life in
the Eastern European shtetl of the 19th century. He is recognized for
his explorations of
Jewish culture in the Hispanic world. In 1994 he
published the anthology Tropical Synagogues: Stories by Jewish-Latin
American Writers (1994). From 1997 to 2005 he edited the Jewish Latin
America series at the University of New
Mexico Press. And his
anthology The Schocken Book of Modern Sephardic Literature (2005) was
the recipient of the National Jewish Book Award. Some of his essays on
Jewish topics are included in The Inveterate Dreamer. His work has
been translated into a dozen languages.
His inspirations range from
Jorge Luis Borges
Jorge Luis Borges to
Edmund Wilson and
Walter Benjamin. (In his autobiography, Stavans recounts the episode,
in the early stages of his career, when, in order to find his own
style, he burned his collection of dozens of Borges’s books,
p. 9.) He has written a small biography of the
Oscar "Zeta" Acosta and a book-long meditation on Octavio Paz. In
2005, in a series of interviews with Neal Sokol called Ilan Stavans:
Eight Conversations, Stavans traces his beginnings, calls Hispanic
civilization to task for its allergy to constructive self-criticism,
discusses the work of Borges, Franz Kafka, Isaac Babel, Sholem
Aleichem, Gabriel García Márquez, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Octavio
Paz, Samuel Johnson, Edward Said, Miguel de Cervantes, and others, and
reflects on anti-Semitism and anti-Hispanic sentiment.
Stavans has devoted many years of study to the work of Gabriel García
Márquez. His biography, Gabriel García Márquez: The Early Years,
slated for publication in 2010, is the first of two planned volumes.
The biography traces Gabriel García Márquez's artistic development
from childhood to the publication of One Hundred Years of Solitude in
Spanish in 1967 and its English translation by
Gregory Rabassa in
1970. Julia Alvarez, author of How the García Girls Lost Their
Accents, has called this biography "an engaging, informative study
tracking the small beginnings of a literary giant and his magnum opus.
It is also a love story: that of an important contemporary critic and
thinker with a writer, his life, and his text. Stavans enlightens us,
not just about one literary figure, but about the culture and history
of a whole hemisphere in a book that never feels plodding or overtly
academic. Stavans is a magical writer himself."
In A Critic’s Journey, published in 2009 by University of Michigan
Press, Stavans writes about his life and work as a cultural critic.
The book is a collection of pieces that brings together three
cultures: Jewish, American, and Mexican. It includes pieces on writing
On Borrowed Words, the Holocaust in Latin America, the growth of
Latino studies in the U.S. academy, Stavans' relationship with The
Jewish Daily Forward, and translation in the shaping of Hispanic
culture, as well as pieces on Sandra Cisneros, Richard Rodríguez,
Isaiah Berlin, and W. G. Sebald, and close readings of the Don Quixote
and the oeuvre of Roberto Bolaño.
Since the late 1990s, Stavans has devoted his energy to reinvigorating
the literary genre of the conversation not as a promotional tool but
as a patient, insightful instrument to explore them in intellectual
depth.[clarification needed] Neal Sokol interviewed Stavans in a
book-long volume Eight Conversations (2004) on his Jewish and Latino
heritage; translator Verónica Albin discussed the way the word
“love” has changed through the age in the book Love and Language
(2007) as well as on topics like libraries and censorship in Knowledge
and Censorship (2008), and Canadian journalist Mordecai Drache (Zeek:
A Jewish Journal of Thought and Culture) probes him on the Bible as a
work of literature in With All Thine Heart (2010). In the U.S. Latino
literary tradition, writers like
Gloria Anzaldúa and Richard
Rodriguez have also practiced the conversation as a meditative form.
As a sociolinguist, Stavans is known as a world authority in
Spanglish, the hybrid form of communication that emerges at the
crossroad where Spanish and English speakers interact. He has edited a
Spanglish words called Spanglish: The Making of a New
American Language (2003) that includes an essay on historical analysis
of the development of this linguistic phenomenon. Stavans writes that
its first manifestations date back to 1848 when the Treaty of
Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed after the
Mexican-American War ended and
a large portion of Mexican land was sold to the United States. He
describes various distinctive varieties of Spanglish, such as Cubonics
(Cuban-American), Dominicanish (Dominican-American), Nuyorican (Puerto
Rican in New York), and
Chicano (Mexican American). He also
establishes differences across generational and geographical lines,
stating that recent immigrants are prone to use a type of Spanglish
that differs from second- or third-generation Latinos. Stavans studies
Spanglish by making comparisons with
Black English and with
Yinglish (the type of
Yiddish used by Jewish immigrants to the
United States and their children). And he reflects on the cultural
Spanglish and jazz, rap, hip-hop, and graffiti.
In 2002, Stavans published in the Barcelona newspaper
La Vanguardia a
Spanglish translation of the first chapter of Cervantes’ Don Quixote
de la Mancha. The translation has been controversial throughout the
world, garnishing celebrations and attacks. Critics accuse Stavans of
Spanglish to call attention to himself. Supporters say that the
translation is an indication that the Latino community in the United
States has come of age. Stavans has responded to the reactions with
interviews in which he argues that
Spanglish is today’s
manifestation of “mestizaje,” the crossbreeding of racial, social,
and cultural traits of Anglos and Latinos similar to what occurred
during the colonization of the Americas in the sixteenth century.
The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature
In 2011, after thirteen years of preparation, Stavans, as general
editor, published The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature, a
2,700-page compendium that includes more than two hundred authors and
covers from the colonial period (the earliest author included is Fray
Bartolomé de las Casas) to the present time. The anthology features
Puerto Ricans on the island and
the mainland, and other Latinos. It also features a section with
samples by Latin American writers such as
Octavio Paz and Roberto
Fernández Retamar discussing the United States.
The Norton Anthology followed in the footsteps of similar ventures
devoted to women's literature and African-American literature. It was
greeted with an enthusiastic reception.
Booklist gave it a starred
review. It was noted in, among other places, The Boston Globe,
Smithsonian, the American Book Review, World Literature Today,
Literal, and NPR’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook.
Erica Jong said
Ilan Stavans has spread a feast of
Latino literature before us.”
Cornel West called it ”an instant classic.” And Felipe
University of Notre Dame
University of Notre Dame stated:
“Imaginatively conceived, painstakingly executed, stunningly broad,
profoundly stirring, endlessly engaging, this book can change the way
the world thinks about America and the way Americans think about
themselves.” However, it was criticized for its subjective approach,
including few authors born in Central America.
His views on language are polemical in their approach to word and
structure formation. Stavans believes that dictionaries and language
academies are buffers whose improbable function is to provide
continuity for a language but suggests that such continuity,
especially in the age of electronic communication, is fatuous. He
accuses the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language in
colonialism, among other things. He has also studied the Iberian
conquest of the Americas in the 16th century from a linguistic
perspective. Translation, for Stavans, represents appropriation. He
defined modernity as “a translated way of life” and has written
and lectured on the role translators perform as communicating vessels
across epochs and habitats.
Since 2013, Stavans has been the publisher of Restless Books, an
imprint based in Brooklyn. Producing books of fiction and nonfiction,
graphic novels, travel writing, criticism, and visual arts, the
company describes itself as "an international publisher for readers
and writers in search of new destinations, experiences, and
James Bridle of
The Guardian wrote that Restless
"finally delivers on the promise of electronic books to go wider and
deeper into world literature than paper publishing has ever been able
Complete book-length original works
2015 - Quixote: The Novel and the World
2014 - A Most Imprefect Union (with Lalo Alcarez)
2012 - El Iluminado (with Steve Sheinkin)
2012 - Return to Centro Historico: A Mexican
Jew Looks for His Roots.
2011 - José Vaconcelos: The Prophet of Race
2011 - What is la hispanidad?: A Conversation (with Iván Jaksic).
2010 - With All Thine Heart: Love and the Bible (with Mordecai
2010 - Gabriel García Márquez: The Early Years.
2009 - A Critic's Journey
2008 - Resurrecting Hebrew.
2008 - Mr. Spic Goes to Washington, illustrations by Roberto Weil.
2008 - Knowledge and Censorship (with Verónica Albin).
2007 - Love and Language (with Verónica Albin).
2006 - The Disappearance: A Novella and Stories.
Dictionary Days: A Defining Passion.
2005 - Conversations with
Ilan Stavans (with Neal Sokol).
2003 - Lotería!, art by Teresa Villegas, essay and riddles by Ilan
2003 - Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language.
2001 - On Borrowed Words: A Memoir of Language.
2001 - Octavio Paz: A Meditation.
2001 - The Inveterate Dreamer: Essays and Conversations on Jewish
2000 - The Essential Ilan Stavans.
2000 - Latino U.S.A.: A Cartoon History, illustrations by Lalo López
1998 - The Riddle of Cantinflas: Essays on Popular Hispanic Culture.
1996 - Art and Anger: Essays on Politics and the Imagination.
1996 - The One-Handed Pianist and Other Stories.
1995 - Bandido. Oscar 'Zeta' Acosta and the
1995 - The Hispanic Condition: Reflections on Culture and Identity in
1994 - Tropycal Synagogues.
1993 - Imagining Columbus: The Literary Voyage.
Ilan Stavans (PBS, La Plaza)
Morirse está en hebreo / My Mexican Shivah (2006) Directed by
^ " http://www.restlessbooks.com/aboutrestless/
^ "Conversations with Ilan Stavans". The University of Arizona Press.
Retrieved 18 January 2017.
^ "MY MEXICAN SHIVAH [DVD]". Queens Library. Retrieved 18 January
Faculty page at Amherst.edu
Ilan Stavans in Conversation
ISNI: 0000 0001 2099 3933
BNF: cb13484125h (data)