Emma Lazarus inhabits a rare place among writers whose work, galvanized by prophetic social awareness, in turn galvanizes change, and through its use of new subject matter and its formal innovation significantly expands literary tradition. One of the most gifted poets writing between the outbreak of the Civil War and the advent of modernism, she is considered the nineteenth century's greatest Jewish-American author. Activist, humanitarian, progressive, early feminist, and proto-Zionist—influenced by George Eliot's anticipation of a Jewish state in Daniel Deronda (1867) and moved by Jewish victims of Russian and eastern European pogroms—Lazarus helped shape the burgeoning native literature, contributing a distinctly hybrid American poetics. She produced a diverse body of work constituting a form of activism for “outsiders,” ethnic minorities, while crossing cultures, negotiating her identities as a Jew, an American, and a woman.Less
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