Shmuel Yosef Agnon (1888-1970) was
born in Buczacz, Eastern Galicia. Raised in a mixed cultural
atmosphere, in which Yiddish was the language of the home, and
Hebrew the language of the Bible and the Talmud which he studied
formally until the age of nine, Agnon also acquired a knowledge
of German literature from his mother, and of the teachings of
Maimonides and of the Hassidim from his father. In 1907 he left
home and made his way to Palestine, where, except for an extended
stay in Germany from 1913 to 1924, he has remained to this
At an early age, Agnon began writing the stories which form a chronicle of the decline of Jewry in Galicia. Included among these is his first major publication, Hakhnasat Kalah (The Bridal Canopy), 1922, which re-creates the golden age of Hassidism, and his apocalyptic novel, Oreach Nata Lalun (A Guest for the Night), 1939, which vividly depicts the ruin of Galicia after the First World War. Nearly all of his other writings are set in his adopted Palestine and deal with the replacement of the early Jewish settlement of that country by the more organized Zionist movement after the Second World War. The early pioneer immigrants are portrayed in his epic Temol Shilshom (Only Yesterday), 1945, considered his greatest work, and also in the nightmarish stories of Sefer Hamaasim (The Book of Deeds), 1932.
While these and other works such as Pat Shlema (A Whole Loaf), 1933, and Shevuat Emunim (Two Tales), 1943, are enough to assure his stature as the greatest living Hebrew writer, Agnon has also occupied himself with commentaries on the Jewish High Festival, Yamin Noraim (Days of Awe), 1938, on the giving of the Torah, Atem Reitem (Ye Have Seen), 1959, and on the gathering of Hassidic lore, Sifreihem Shel Tzadikim (Books of the Tzadikim), 1960-1961.
From Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969
This autobiography/biography was written at the time of the award and first published in the book series Les Prix Nobel. It was later edited and republished in Nobel Lectures. To cite this document, always state the source as shown above.
Shmuel Yosef Agnon died on February 17, 1970.
Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1966