Mary Antin (1881–1949)
From Becoming Americans: Four Centuries of Immigrant Writing
She learned English at the age of fourteen—shortly after her family immigrated to Boston. She published her first poem in a Boston newspaper a little over a year later. At eighteen she enjoyed moderate success with her first book, her own loose translation of letters she had written in Yiddish to her uncle, describing her journey to America, and she used the money to put herself through high school. And at the age of 31 she enjoyed the windfall from her second book, a national best seller, and found herself standing in front of a standing-room-only crowd of more than 1,000 readers in New York’s Waldorf Astoria.
Mary Antin was born in Polotzk in modern-day Belarus. Her immensely popular book The Promised Land (an ode to America and especially to its public education system, including its libraries) is considered by many scholars and critics to mark the beginning of Jewish literature in America. In the section titled “My Country” she describes her (successful) efforts as a child trudging through the streets of Boston and looking for a publisher of her first poem, a panegyric on George Washington.