Miriam Karpilove was a prolific and widely popular writer of fiction about the changing roles of Jewish women in American immigrant culture. Her publishing career in the American Yiddish press spanned five decades, and her serialized novels became staple fare in the leading Yiddish dailies. Raised in a traditional Jewish home near Minsk, Belorussia at the end of the nineteenth century, she immigrated to the United states in her teens and became one of a small handful of women who achieved success as writers of Yiddish newspaper serials. Her writing is remembered for its pioneering treatment of important contemporary issues of female socialization, gender roles and sexual mores.
Miriam Karpilove was one of the most prolific and widely published women writers of Yiddish prose. Her short stories and novels explore issues important in the lives of Jewish women of her generation. Frequent themes are the upbringing of girls and women in Eastern Europe and the conflicts they experience upon immigration to North America, especially the issue of women's inequality in the context of modernizing romantic norms. For instance, one of Karpilove’s best-known works, Dos Tagebukh fun an Elender Meydl, oder der Kamf Gegn Fraye Libe [The diary of a lonely girl, or the battle against free love], addresses the central anxiety of the young immigrant woman: how to negotiate emotionally satisfying relationships in a new, sexually liberated culture.
Born in a small town near Minsk in 1888, to Elijah and Hannah Karpilov, Miriam Karpilove and her nine siblings were raised in an observant home. Her father was a lumber merchant and builder. Karpilove was given a traditional Jewish and secular education and was trained as a photographer and retoucher. After immigrating to the United States in 1905, she became active in the Labor Zionist movement and spent the latter part of the 1920s in Palestine. She resided in New York City and in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where several of her brothers had settled.
One of a handful of women who made their livings as Yiddish writers, Karpilove debuted in 1906, publishing dramas, feuilletons, criticism, sketches, short stories, and novellas in a variety of Yiddish periodicals during her fifty-year career. Her work appeared in Fraye Arbeter Shtime, Tog, Kibitser, Groyser Kundes, Tsukunft, Forverts, Yidisher Kemfer, Varhayt, and Yidishes Tageblat, among others. She is best known, however, as a writer of serialized novels. More than twenty of these appeared in leading American Yiddish daily newspapers such as Varhayt, Forverts, Morgen-Zhurnal, and Tog. During the 1930s, Karpilove was a member of the Forverts staff, publishing seven novels and numerous works of short fiction in that paper between 1929 and 1937.
Only five of Karpilove’s works were published in book form. Tagebukh fun an Elender Meydl, oder der Kamf Gegn Fraye Libe was translated into English by Jessica Kirzane and published in 2020 by Syracuse University Press as Diary of a Lonely Girl, or the Battle Against Free Love. Several stories by Karpilove have appeared in English translation in recent years. Myra Mniewski’s translation "In a Friendly Hamlet" appears in Have I Got a Story for You (Norton 2016) and Jessica Kirzane’s translation “Freydl” appears in Columbia Journal (March 15, 2019). Kirzane’s translation of excerpts from the novella A Provincial Newspaper appears in Pakn-treger 2019 (translation issue), and her translation of excerpts from the novella Judith appears in Pakn-treger 2020 (translation issue).
Miriam Karpilove died in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1956.
Works by Miriam Karpilove Published in Book Form
In di Shturem Teg [In stormy days] (1909).
Yudis [Judith] (1911).
Tagebukh fun an Elender Meydl oder der Kamf Gegn Fraye Libe [Diary of a lonely girl, or the battle against free love] (1918).
Brokhe, a Kleyn-Shtetldike [Brokhe, a small-town girl] (1923).
A Provints-Tsaytung [A provincial newspaper] (1926).
Glatshteyn, Yankev. “Ershte Trit—Mit Fuftsik Yor Tsurik” [First steps—fifty years ago]. Yidisher Kemfer, March 23, 1956: 5.
Karpilov family tree and personal scrapbook of Miriam Karpilov. Courtesy of Miriam Whaples, Northampton, Mass.
Karpilov, Miriam. Papers. YIVO Archives, NYC.
Leksikon fun der Nayer Yidisher Literatur 8 (1981): 147.
Marmor, Kalmen. “Der Pruv tsu Antviklen Froyen-Shrayberins” [The effort to develop women writers]. In Mayn Lebns-Geshikhte (1959).
Muselevitsh, Iser [Talush]. “Miriam Karpilov” [Miriam Karpilove]. In Yidishe Shrayber (1953).
Reyzen, Zalmen. Leksikon fun der Yidisher Literatur, Prese un Filologye 3 (1929): 575–576.