Alphabetical 4: a short bio of Walter Abish
Walter Abish was born into a Jewish, middle-class family in Vienna, Austria, on 24 December 1931. After the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in 1938, Adolph and Frieda Rubin Abish fled with their son first to Italy and then to Nice, France, where Abish attended school. In 1939 his father, a perfumer, was interned as an enemy alien in Les Milles until just ten days before the German invasion of France in May 1940, when the Abish family was able to leave on one of the last ships to sail from Marseille to Shanghai. They settled down in Shanghai from 1940 to 1948. Reflecting on the period, Abish has said, "I spent my childhood in China, seeing an incredibly corrupt society slowly disintegrate. It was as if all the life processes were accentuated and crowded into the period of time I lived in Shanghai."
The Abishes remained in China until December 1948, when they departed for Israel before the communist defeat of the Kuomingtang. In Israel, Abish served in the army; at the same time, he developed two strong interests: architecture and writing. Abish was serving in the tank corps of the Israeli army when he began writing poetry—in English—at age eighteen. After leaving the army, Abish studied architecture, which led to a job with a firm that designed small communities. In 1956 he met an American woman, Cecile Gelb, who was working in city planning in Israel and who was eventually to become a highly respected sculptor and photographer. They married, and, after living in England for a while, they came to New York in late 1957. For six months following his arrival Abish was sequestered in a sanatorium at the foot of the Rocky Mountains as a result of a spot detected on his lung in London. Abish became a U.S. citizen in 1960. His first published work was a fiction piece called "Frank's Birthday," which appeared in a magazine called Confrontation, issuing in Spring 1970 from Long Island University in New York. Throughout the early seventies Abish published short stories in other cutting-edge magazines like The Element, Extensions, and Statements: New Fiction.
Abish’s Major works include:
Duel Site (New York: Tibor de Nagy Editions, 1970).
Alphabetical Africa (New York: New Directions, 1974).
Minds Meet (New York: New Directions, 1975).
In the Future Perfect (New York: New Directions, 1977; London: Faber & Faber, 1984).
How German Is It (New York: New Directions, 1980; Manchester, U.K.: Carcanet, 1982).
99: The New Meaning, photographs by Cecile Abish (Providence, R.I.: Burning Deck, 1990).
Eclipse Fever (New York: Knopf, 1993; London: Faber & Faber, 1993).
Double Vision: A Self Portrait (New York: Knopf, 2004)
(I assembled this short bio from various sources. I will eventually post references to each of these sources, but I didn't feel it was necessary to cite each source for this bio. I will cite any sources I use in future posts.)