Jacob Zilber was a renowned playwright, respected teacher and mentor, and, most of all, devoted husband, father and grandfather. Jacob passed away peacefully in his sleep on August 21st, 2012 and will be dearly missed by his family, friends and the UBC literary community.
Born in depression-era Wisconsin in 1924, Jacob earned Honours in General Scholarship from the University of Wisconsin in 1948 and a Master of Arts from the University of Washington in 1957. Of course, Jake also earned a doctorate in real life, fighting with valour as a young man in World War II and being a committed and empathic social worker in the tough New York City neighbourhoods of the late 1940s and early 1950s, experiences that profoundly shaped his approaches to teaching and writing.
In 1957, at the invitation of distinguished poet, and then Head of the English Department, Earle Birney, Jacob joined UBC as a Lecturer teaching a class on writing fiction. Jacob became an Assistant Professor in 1962, then Associate Professor in 1965 and made full Professor in 1975, staying on at UBC until his retirement some 32 years later in 1989.
In 1965, Jacob helped Earle Birney form the Department of Creative Writing, one of the very first such departments in North America and the very first of its kind in Canada. Among Jacob’s former students are some of today’s most well-known and respected Canadian authors, including Linda Svendsen, Morris Panych, Lionel Kearns, and Wayson Choy. Through his work at UBC, and through Prism International, the literary magazine he co-founded and at one time edited, Jacob tirelessly nurtured a new generation of literary talent. Himself a prolific writer, he also published short stories in numerous Canadian and American magazines, including the widely anthologized short story The Prince, and his plays have been performed in Canada, Germany and off-Broadway in New York.
Jacob was passionate about creative writing in all its forms, and especially committed to encouraging future writers. His enthusiasm for teaching and writing continues today in the Creative Writing Program at UBC where current students and award-winning alumni find a place of shared creativity.