Irena Klepfisz

1941 –

Irena Klepfisz, born on April 17, 1941, in the Warsaw Ghetto, is a Jewish author and academic. After immigrating to the United States, Klepfisz received a BA in English from the City College of New York and went on to receive a PhD in English from the University of Chicago. 

Klepfisz is the author of six books of poetry: Between Worlds/Pomiędzy światam (słowo/obraz terytoria, 2024); Her Birth and Later Years: New and Collected Poems, 1971–2021 (Wesleyan University Press, 2022), winner of the 2023 Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry and a finalist for a 2023 National Jewish Book Award; A Few Words in the Mother Tongue (Eighth Mountain Press, 1990), nominated for a Lambda Award in Poetry; Keeper of Accounts (Persephone Press, 1982); and Periods of Stress (Out and Out Books, 1975). Her collection Different Enclosures, published by Onlywomen Press in 1985, also includes a selection of prose. Additionally, Klepfisz both contributed to and coedited, with Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz, The Tribe of Dina: A Jewish Women’s Anthology (Beacon Press, 1986). 

Along with Clare Kinberg and Grace Paley, she founded The Jewish Women's Committee to End the Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Active in lesbian and feminist movements, Klepfisz cofounded Conditions (full title: Conditions: a feminist magazine of writing by women with a particular emphasis on writing by lesbians) which ran from 1976 to 1990. She also contributed to the first Jewish lesbian anthology, titled Nice Jewish Girls: A Lesbian Anthology (Beacon Press, 1989). Inspired by the bilingual writing of Gloria Anzaldúa, she began experimenting with mixed-language Yiddish and English poetry. 

Klepfisz has been the recipient of poetry grants and fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2016, she received the Dreaming in Yiddish Award from the Adrienne Cooper Fund for her engagement with Yiddish language and culture.  

From 1993 to 2018, Klepfisz taught Jewish women’s studies at Barnard College and was a guest scholar at other institutions. She taught English and women's studies for ten years at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility. An advocate of the Yiddish language, she also taught at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.