Emma Lazarus (1848 -- 1887) is known for her sonnet "The New Colossus" written in 1883 as part of a fundraising effort for the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. Lazarus's poem has become as iconic as the statue itself in celebrating the ideal and promise of America as a beacon of liberty, a refuge to the oppressed, and an inspiration to the world.
Lazarus's poems remain little-known beyond her famous sonnet, and this is most unfortunate. Throughout her short life, Lazarus articulated a vision of the United States and its potential that retains its power to move the reader. Although she never became a practicing Jew, Emma Lazarus became increasingly drawn to Judaism during the later years of her life. She wrote eloquent poetry on Jewish themes, worked to assist the many immigrants coming to the United States from Eastern Europe, and wrote and spoke with courage against the Pogroms in Russia and against anti-Semitism. Lazarus was the first, and still one of the best, Jewish-American poets who addressed both the nature of a secular, pluralistic United States and the role of Judaism within it in her poetry.
Lazarus was born to a wealthy assimilated Jewish family in New York City. She received an excellent education and began publishing poetry at the age of 16. Her youthful poetry is largely of a romantic character. Lazarus began to write about Jewish themes in an 1881 collection of poetry, "Songs of a Semite." Hollander's collection includes a variety of poems from Lazarus's early efforts, poems with Jewish themes, an excellent selection of Lazarus's uncollected poetry (not published in a book) and selections from her translations of Heine and of medieval Jewish poets.