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Ilan Stavans Papers

Identifier: RG 2333

Scope and Contents

Series I, “Correspondence,” is the largest series in the collection. Subseries I contains letters which Ilan Stavans sent to his family between 1984 and 1992. The bulk of these letters are sent from New York City to Mexico City during Stavans’ time as a student at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Subseries II consists of postcards that Stavans sent to his family during the same time period. Many of these were sent during Stavans’ travels. Subseries III contains a collection of telegrams sent to Ilan Stavans’ paternal grandparents, Srulek Stavchansky and Bela Stavchansky (née Altschuler), in 1930, congratulating them on their marriage. Subseries IV contains correspondences, from 1963-1964, connected to Srulek Stavchansky’s illness (Stavchansky was diagnosed with cancer in 1963 and died from it in 1965). Subseries V consists of manuscripts that Stavans sent from New York City to his parents in Mexico City: poems, short stories, journalism, and literary criticism. Subseries VI, entitled “miscellaneous correspondence,” consists of various other letters and correspondences, including a letter in Yiddish from Stavans’ mother, Ofelia Stavchansky née Slomianski, to Stavans, and correspondences between extended family members in Polish and Yiddish, sent in the first half of the 20th century.

Series II contains IDs and government documents, including immigration papers and vital records. It also contains Bela Stavchansky’s handwritten will.

Series III consists of Bela Stavchansky’s writing during the 1980s and 1990s in Mexico. The first subseries is dedicated to the manuscripts of her memoir, Mi Diario. It includes two handwritten manuscripts and one manuscript that Ofelia Stavchansky typed. The second subseries contains drafts of Bela Stavchansky’s writing for newspapers. This subseries includes many drafts of her articles, as well as some clippings of their published form.

Series IV contains photographs of Ilan Stavans’ family. These stretch through multiple generations and countries. Most are labeled or described in English, Spanish, or Yiddish.

Series V, “Miscellaneous Items,” contains various assorted documents, including newspaper clippings and items from Poland in Polish and Yiddish.

Series VI contains audio from Ilan Stavans’ early professional life.

Series VII contains three religious items from Mexico: a tallis, an afikomen cover, and a challah cover.


  • Creation: 1900s-2000s

Biographical / Historical

Ilan Stavans was born in Mexico City in 1961. Currently the Lewis-Sebring Professor of Humanities and Latin American and Latino Culture, a position he has held since 1993, Stavans is an essayist, lexicographer, translator, literary critic, teacher, and editor, author of short stories, poems, essays, biographies, cookbooks, literary studies, children’s books, and dictionaries, as well as editor of anthologies. He is a consultant to the Oxford English Dictionary, co-founder of the Great Books Summer Program, and publisher of Restless Books.

His books (as author, editor, and translator) include The One-Handed Pianist and Other Stories (1996), The Oxford Book of Jewish Stories (1997), The Riddle of Cantinflas (1998), On Borrowed Words: A Memoir of Language (2001), Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language (2022), Isaac Bashevis Singer: Collected Stories (2004), The Poetry of Pablo Neruda (2004), Dictionary Days: A Defining Passion (2005), The Disappearance: A Novella and Stories (2007), The Schocken Book of Modern Sephardic Literature (2008), Gabriel García Márquez: The Early Years (2010), The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature (2011), The FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Latin America Poetry (2011), Cesar Chavez: An Organizer’s Tale (2021), On Self-Translation (2015), Borges, the Jew (2016), The Seventh Heaven: Travels through Jewish Latin America (2019), How Yiddish Changed America and How America Changed Yiddish (2020), Selected Translations: Poems 2000-2020 (2021), And We Came Outside and Saw the Stars Again (2021), Jewish Literature: A Brief Introduction (2022), The People’s Tongue: American and the English Language (2023), and others. Films include My Mexican Shivah (2006, feature), The Silence of Professor Tösla (2018, animated), half a dozen TED talks (animated, 2015-2021). Stavans has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, International Latino Book Award, National Jewish Book Award, Samuel Minot Jones Award, Natan Prize, Pablo Neruda Medal (Chile), Rubén Darío Distinction (Nicaragua), and Jabuti Prize (Brazil), as well as awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts, and the New York State Council on the Arts, among others.

Raised in a Yiddish-speaking milieu, his languages also include Spanish, Hebrew, English, Ladino, French, and Portuguese. His grandparents immigrated from Belarus, Poland, and Ukraine to Mexico. His father was a telenovela and theater actor, his mother a psychologist. He has two siblings, Darián and Liora.

Stavans received a bachelor’s degree from Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana Xochimilco (Mexico), a master’s degree from The Jewish Theological Seminary (New York City) and a doctorate from Columbia University (New York City). His work, adapted into films, TV, theater, and radio, is translated into twenty-five languages.


4 Boxes

Language of Materials


Spanish; Castilian





Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States