Award-winning university lecturer publishes new book examining life and troubled times of the author and political activist Lily Tobias

Dr Jasmine Donahaye, Senior Lecturer in creative writing at Swansea University, has just published The Greatest Need, a biography of Lily Tobias, a Jewish writer from Wales who wrote compellingly about Jewish life and experience in the 20th century.

The Greatest Need A writer, critic and editor, Dr Donahaye works in several genres, including poetry and creative non-fiction. To coincide with the publication of the biography, Lily Tobias’s 1931 novel, My Mother’s House, has been republished in the Honno Classics series, with an introduction by Dr Donahaye (Tobias’s 1933 novel Eunice Fleet, which is about conscientious objectors, was republished by Honno, with an introduction by Dr Donahaye, in 2004).

The daughter of immigrant parents, Lily Tobias grew up in Ystalyfera in the Swansea valley. She was passionately engaged as a writer and activist in the fight for women’s right to vote, as a pacifist shielding conscientious objectors during the First World War, and in the right to self-determination of Welsh and Jewish people. She moved from Ystalyfera to Swansea, and then lived in Cardiff before moving to London and finally Haifa in British Mandate Palestine in the 1930s, where she lived until her death at the age of 96 in 1984.

‌Lily Tobias wrote four novels, a collection of short stories, and the first stage dramatization of Daniel Deronda as well as extensive journalism. Her fiction was always topical and drew on her own unique mix of cultures, focusing on her pacifism and internationalism. The aunt of poet Dannie Abse and Labour MP Leo Abse, she was known in her own period as a writer of note.

Dr Jasmine Donahaye Dr Donahaye (left), said:  “When I first discovered Lily Tobias’s out-of-print books some fifteen years ago, I was dismayed that she had been lost from view. The subject matter of her writing was fascinating and unusual, and her life, as I discovered, was marked by trauma and tragedy, but she was an impressive and courageous woman who carried on against the odds. Now with this biography and the republication of her moving and unique first novel, I hope she can be rightly recognised for her remarkable literary and political contributions as a Welsh and Jewish author.”

Dr Donahaye’s previous books include the monograph Whose people? Wales, Israel, Palestine (University of Wales Press), and two poetry collections, Self-Portrait as Ruth (Salt) and Misappropriations (Parthian). Her memoir, Losing Israel, will be published by Seren in June.

In 2014, Dr Donahaye was named as one of 16 professional artists to receive a Creative Wales Award from the Arts Council of Wales. The £20,000 award is for ‘Slaughter’, an experimental writing project centred on slaughterhouses and their environments. She takes up her Creative Wales Award in September.

Learn more about The Greatest Need

Picture credit: Keith Morris Photography