Hadassah Magazine's 2016 Harold U. Ribalow Prize Award to Jim Shepard for The Book of Aron

Friday, January 6, 2017


January 6, 2017 - NEW YORK Hadassah Magazine is pleased to announce that Jim Shepard, author of The Book of Aron (Knopf), is the recipient of the 2016 Harold U. Ribalow Prize, according to Lisa Hostein, executive editor of the award-winning publication.

For the past 33 years, Hadassah Magazine has awarded the Ribalow Prize to an author who has created an outstanding work of fiction on a Jewish theme. Shepard, who is the author of four short story collections and seven novels, accepted the award at a ceremony at Hadassah’s national office in New York City on December 19, 2016.

The other 2016 Ribalow Prize finalists were Safekeeping, by Jessamyn Hope (Fig Tree), and A Reunion of Ghosts, by Judith Claire (Harper Collins). This year’s judges included Alan Tigay, Hadassah Magazine editor emeritus; Molly Antopol, 2015 Ribalow Prize winner for The UnAmericans; and Sharon Pomerantz, author of Rich Boy.

Set in the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto, The Book of Aron centers on 8-year-old Aron, a homeless child and the book’s narrator, and his relationship with his savior, Dr. Janusz Korczak, the renowned historical figure who was an author, pediatrician, children’s activist and orphanage director. Korczak, who was forced by the Nazis to relocate his facility within the walls of the ghetto, ultimately followed his young charges to Treblinka. Called by the Washington Post, “A masterpiece,” The Book of Aron also received the Sophie Brody Medal for Achievement in Jewish Literature from the American Library Association, the PEN/New England Award for Fiction, was named an ALA Notable Book of 2015 and was a finalist for the Jewish Book Award and the Andrew Carnegie Medal of Excellence. 

Hadassah National President Ellen Hershkin states, “Jim Shepard’s The Book of Aron is a profoundly moving and devastating novel about the Holocaust — a testament to love and sacrifice against a horrifying landscape of loss and betrayal.”

“Jim’s novel adds an important voice to the ever-growing body of Holocaust literature,” says Hostein, noting that it is especially poignant having been written by a non-Jew. “As Jim noted in his acceptance remarks: ‘A commonplace claim about the relationship between the Holocaust and the arts has been that the enormity of the suffering defeats any attempt at adequate representation.’ “ He went on to say that by ‘making a child our guide to such horrific regions,’ he hoped the book‘could operate as a reminder of just how hard we all have to work as human beings to overcome our inherent inability to fully inhabit anyone else’s pain.’”

Matthew Thomas, a fellow writer and friend of Shepard, also spoke eloquently at the award ceremony about Shepard’s embrace of the most difficult challenge: “Some have argued there is something grotesque in making art of the Holocaust, but I will argue the opposite: There is something grotesque in not telling the story of the Holocaust every day to anyone who will listen. Silence leads to denial, or the loss of collective memory, or the presumption of familiarity, the sort that safely dresses the wounds in the gauze of history. “

Harold Ribalow’s daughter, Reena Ribalow, who assisted in screening this year’s finalists, states: “The Book of Aron is the ultimate monument to Jewish loss, the Holocaust.” In remarks read at the prize ceremony, she calls the book “a searing, hallucinatory testament of a novel, composed of detail upon unbearable detail—a devastating historical mosaic of incomprehensible cruelty and barbarism.”

A professor at Williams College, Jim Shepard’s latest work, The World to Come, a collection of short stories, will be published in February 2017.His seven novels and four short story collections include Like Y`ou’d Understand, Anyway, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and won the Story Prize. His short fiction has appeared in, among other magazines, The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, McSweeney’s The Paris Review, the Atlantic, Esquire, Tin House, Granta, Zoetrope, Electric Literature and Viceand has often been selected for The Best American Short Stories and the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories. Shepard, 59 lives in Williamstown, MA with his wife and three children.

Hadassah Magazine’s annual literary award was established in 1983 by the friends and family of the late Harold U. Ribalow, an editor, writer and anthologist, known for his passion for Jewish literature and his interest in promoting the work of new writers. Ribalow was the author of some 15 books that shared in common aspects of Jewish interest but which covered a wide range of subjects. In addition, Ribalow was the founder and editor of Hadoar, for many years the only Hebrew weekly in the world outside Israel and a member of the Jewish Academy of Arts & Sciences. Recent recipients of the Harold U. Ribalow Award include: Molly Antopol (The UnAmericans, W.W. Norton & Co 2015); Helene Wecker (The Golem and the Jinni, Harper 2014); and Francesca Segal (The Innocents, Hachette Books 2013).

Alfred A. Knopf was founded in 1915 and has long been known as a publisher of distinguished hard cover fiction and non-fiction. Its list of authors include: Toni Morrison, John Updike, Anne Rice among many others, as well as such classic writers as Thomas Mann, John Hershey and John Cheever.


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