Rachel Tzvia Back

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Rachel Tzvia Back

Rachel Tzvia Back is an English-language Israeli poet, translator and literary researcher.


Born in 1960, in Buffalo, New York, Back was raised in the US and Israel. The seventh generation of her family in Israel, Back returned there for good in 1980.[1] She currently resides in the Galilee, in the north of the country. Back studied at Yale University, Temple University, and received her PhD from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Currently a senior lecturer of English literature at Oranim Academic College, Israel, Back was appointed Brownstone Visiting Associate Professor at Dartmouth College in the US in 2009. Back has taught also at the Hebrew University, Bar-Ilan University and Tel-Aviv University, and has been guest writer at numerous US universities, including Columbia, Barnard, Princeton, Rutgers, NYU, Wesleyan, Williams and others. From 1995-2000, Back was the Israeli Academic and Administrative Director of the Wesleyan and Brown Universities Overseas Program in Israeli and Palestinian Studies, based in Jerusalem.

Literary career

Back's most recent poetry collection, A Messenger Comes (2012), is described by the poet Irena Klepfisz as "poetry that, without apology, centers on grief and its faithful companion, memory"; according to poet Hank Lazer, this collection is "a harrowing & inspiring book of poems."[2] Among her previous poetry collections is Litany (1995), Azimuth (2001), The Buffalo Poems (2003), and On Ruins & Return: Poems 1999-2005 (2005).

In 1996, Back was awarded the Israeli Absorption Minister's Prize for Immigrant Writers for her poetry collection Azimuth, which was then translated into Hebrew by Israeli poet Aharon Shabtai (published by Kibbutz HaMeuchad, 2000). Poet Peter Cole noted of Azimuth that "with grace and gravity, with a gentle, quiet tenacity, Rachel Tzvia Back brings the poetics of indeterminacy to bear on Israel's over-determined landscape. Her verse hurts as the land itself has been hurt: its rippling music is delicate and achieved, its evocation of intimacy stunning."[3] Back's subsequent poetry collections The Buffalo Poems and On Ruins & Return track the cycle of violence marking the lives of Palestinians and Israelis. Poet Andrew Mossin noted that "with its passionate interrogation and representation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, [Back's] work has its basis in personal, observed experience of a conflict that appears to be without end." Mossin also observed that Back's On Ruins & Return "continues the journey of her earlier volume, Azimuth, to inscribe in a poetry of psalmic intensity and astringent care the geographic, political and po-ethical realities of present-day Israel."[4]

Back's poetry has appeared in numerous literary journals including The American Poetry Review, Sulfur, Bridges, Tikkun and Modern Poetry in Translation, and in several anthologies including the SUNY Press anthology Dreaming the Actual: Contemporary Fiction and Poetry by Israeli Women Writers.[5] She also participated in a reading series in America, entitled Poetry of a Punished Land: 5 Israeli Poets, which was co-sponsored by the Israeli Ministry of Culture and Wesleyan University.

In 2002, Back's critical monograph Led by Language: the Poetry and Poetics of Susan Howe, was published by University of Alabama Press.

In 2005, Back's translations of preeminent Hebrew poet Lea Goldberg in Lea Goldberg: Selected Poetry and Drama were awarded a PEN Translation Grant. This collection of poetry is the most extensive edition of Goldberg's work in English to date.[6] Back was also the editor and primary translator of the English edition of the groundbreaking anthology With an Iron Pen: Twenty Years of Hebrew Protest Poetry, which American poet Adrienne Rich referred to as "a historic collection."[7] Additional books of translation include Night, Morning: Selected Poems of Hamutal Bar Yosef and work collected in The Defiant Muse: Hebrew Feminist Poetry from Antiquity to the Present (The Feminist Press, 1999) and Hebrew Writers on Writing (Trinity University Press, 2008).[8] In her longitudinal pursuit to bring under-recognized fine Hebrew poets to the awareness of English readers, Back is currently working on a volume of the selected poems of Hebrew poet Tuvia Ruebner.

In 2015, Back was a finalist for National Literary Translation Award in Poetry and the National Jewish Book Award in Poetry for the collection In the Illuminated Dark: Selected Poems of Tuvia Ruebner.

Grants & awards

  • 2015 National Translation Award Finalist
  • 2015 National Jewish Book Award Finalist
  • 2012 Dora Maar Fellowship of Brown Foundation Fellows Program
  • 2012 Translation Grant from the Rabinovich Foundation
  • 2008 Fundación Valparaíso Writer's Residence Award
  • 2006 Scholar's Travel Grant from the Ford Foundation
  • 2006 Research Grant from the Sherman Institute
  • 2005 Hadassah-Brandeis Institute Research Award
  • 2005 PEN Translation Grant
  • 2005 Blue Mountain Artists Residence Fellowship
  • 2000 Allan Bronfman Prize for Academic Excellence, Hebrew U.
  • 1996 Absorption Minister’s Prize for Immigrant Writers



  • A Messenger Comes (Singing Horse Press, 2012)
  • On Ruins & Return: Poems 1999-2005 (Shearsman Books, 2005)
  • Azimuth (Sheep Meadow Press, 2001)
  • Chapbooks: The Buffalo Poems (Duration Press, 2003) & Litany (Meow Press, 1995)


  • In the Illuminated Dark: Selected Poems of Tuvia Ruebner (HUC Press, 2014)
  • With an Iron Pen: Twenty Years of Hebrew Protest Poetry (SUNY Press, Excelsior Editions, 2009)
  • Night, Morning: Poems by Hamutal Bar Yosef (Sheep Meadow Press, 2008)
  • Lea Goldberg: Selected Poems & Drama (Toby Press, 2005)

Critical work

  • Led by Language: the Poetry and Poetics of Susan Howe (University of Alabama Press, 2002)


  1. ^ "The Drunken Boat". The Drunken Boat. Retrieved 2012-09-08.
  2. ^ "A Messenger Comes". Singing Horse Press. 2012-06-22. Retrieved 2012-09-08.
  3. ^ "Azimuth: Rachel Tzvia Back". UPNE. 2012-06-20. Retrieved 2012-09-08.
  4. ^ "Jacket 35 - Early 2008 - Rachel Tzvia Back: On Ruins and Return reviewed by Andrew Mossin". Jacket Magazine. Retrieved 2012-09-08.
  5. ^ "Rachel Tzvia Back". Festivaldepoesiademedellin.org. Retrieved 2012-09-08.
  6. ^ "Rachel Tzvia Back – Author Page". Shearsman Books. Retrieved 2012-09-08.
  7. ^ "With an Iron Pen". SUNY Press, Excelsior Editions. Retrieved 2012-09-08.
  8. ^ "Rachel Tzvia Back - eXchanges Journal of Literary Translation - The University of Iowa". eXchanges. Retrieved 2012-09-08.

External links

  • Marginalia / Los Angeles Review of Books Review of In the Illuminated Dark
  • Jewish Book Council Review of In the Illuminated Dark
  • The Forward review of In the Illuminated Dark
  • The Forward review of A Messenger Comes
  • Review of A Messenger Comes
  • Review of On Ruins & Return
  • Selections from The Buffalo Poems in The Drunken Boat
  • About Rachel Tzvia Back plus selected poems in World Poetry Movement
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