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Ruth Seid

SEID, RUTH (1913–1995), U.S. novelist who wrote under the pen name Jo Sinclair. Born in Brooklyn, the fifth child of Ida (Kravetsky) and Nathan Seid, she grew up in Cleveland. Although family poverty precluded higher education, Seid was determined to be a writer and read voraciously in Cleveland public libraries. During the depression, she worked as a researcher, editor, and writer for the WPA and wrote fiction and plays in her spare time. In 1938, she befriended Helen Buchman, a married woman with a family, who invited Ruth to live in her home and supported her writing ambitions.

Seid took on her pseudonym in order to publish in magazines such as Esquire, which only accepted work written by men. This non-ethnic, androgynous pen name reflected Seid's ambiguous literary identity, which straddled religious, racial, and gender categories. Her first published story, "Noon Lynching," in New Masses, 20 (1936), is one of many she wrote that dealt with African American characters. Other early stories addressed poverty, self-hatred, sexuality, and Seid's own experiences in the work world. Critics have identified central Jewish themes in her novels as well as in such short stories as "Second Blood," The Medal," and "The Red Necktie." In 1946, Seid published her first novel, Wasteland, which won the prestigious $10,000 Harper Prize. In his PM review of the novel, Richard Wright praised its representation of Jewish family life and called it a "monumental psychological study." The novel centers on a self-hating photographer, Jacob Braunstein, who changes his name to John Brown to hide his Jewish identity. Urged by his lesbian sister Debby, Brown consults a psychiatrist to work out his neuroses. The novel is organized around references to Passover and the seder. The Holocaust also hovers in the background; at the conclusion of the novel, Jakes embraces his Jewish American identity by enlisting in the army to fight on behalf of America and European Jewry.

After Wasteland, Seid published Sing At My Wake (1951) and The Changelings (1955), a novel dealing with Jewish and Italian responses to African Americans moving into their neighborhood. The novel treats issues of sexuality, as well, and is considered a gay-lesbian classic. Seid's well-received fourth novel, Anna Teller (1960), about a Hungarian immigrant Jewish family, headed by a formidable matriarch, has strong Holocaust themes. With the rise of feminist, ethnic, and queer studies in the closing decades of the 20th century, interest in Seid/Sinclair's writing increased. Three of her novels were reissued and an abridged version of her memoir, The Seasons: Death and Transfiguration (1993), was published. Sinclair spent her last years in Jenkintown, Penn., with her partner Joan Sofer.


"Jo Sinclair," in: Current Biography (1946), 557–59; G. Wilentz, "Jo Sinclair (Ruth Seid)," in: A. Shapiro et al. (eds.), Jewish American Women Writers (1994); S. Horowitz, "Jo Sinclair," in: P.E. Hyman and D.D. Moore (eds.), Jewish Women in America, vol. 2 (1997), 1087–9.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.