Sarah Blacher Cohen (1936-2008) was a woman of many achievements – playwright and producer, professor of English literature, anthologist, Yiddishist. In the midst of her busy life, Sarah began to write about her growing up in an immigrant Jewish family in the small Midwestern city of Appleton, Wisconsin. Though she didn’t live to finish this memoir, she gives us vivid glimpses of her parents’ lives in Minsk, White Russia, their hairbreadth escape to America, her father’s workaday world in Appleton – it included meeting with friends at the Merrytime Tavern, much to his wife’s consternation – the respect he gained in Appleton’s Jewish community, and some of the seminal influences that helped launch Sarah herself into the larger world. Sadly, The Junk Dealer’s Daughter stops abruptly, as if in mid-sentence; yet Sarah has evoked a time and place that is at the same time an homage to the diverse influences of family and community that go into shaping who we ourselves become.
Playwright and professor of English at the University at Albany, State University of New York, Sarah Blacher Cohen served on the faculty for 33 years, teaching courses in Jewish-American literature, playwriting, comedy and the drama of disability. She is the author of Saul Bellow’s Enigmatic Laughter, and Cynthia Ozick’s Comic Art: From Levity to Liturgy. She was the editor of Comic Relief: Essays on Contemporary Literature; From Hester Street to Hollywood; Jewish Wry: Essays on Jewish Humor; and her anthology of plays, Making a Scene: The Contemporary Drama of Jewish-American Women.