Co-founder of UBC’s Creative Writing Department, and longtime editor of Prism International, Jacob died on August 21, 2012, at the age of 88. Husband, father, grandfather, uncle, brother, writer, teacher, mentor, editor – none of these words capture the inherent decency and integrity of this Depression-era kid from Wisconsin.
In 1949 Jake moved to New York City with dreams of being a filmmaker. Instead, he became a youth social worker in Manhattan. There, he met his wife and lifelong love, Alice Shafran. They moved to Seattle in 1956 where Jake worked as a teaching fellow at the University of Washington. In 1957, Jake accepted Canadian poet Earle Birney’s invitation and became an instructor in UBC’s English department, where he and longtime friend Jan DeBruyn, started one of Canada’s leading literary magazines: Prism International. Several years later, he and Birney formed Canada’s first Creative Writing Department.
Jake was an author of excellent short stories and plays, including the critically hailed short story, The Prince. As a professor and editor, he helped several generations of writers, including the family’s lifelong friend and renowned author Wayson Choy. When Jake retired from UBC in 1989 after 33 years, a scholarship for fledgling screenwriters was endowed in his name.
Jake’s other great passions were for politics and sports. He was a champion of social justice and the underdog. He was an active and excellent tennis player – a fixture at the Jericho Tennis Club, and a Canadian Doubles Tennis Champion.
Jake took greatest satisfaction in his family, always believing that his wife, Alice, was the smartest and most beautiful woman he’d ever known. He took great pride and interest in daughter Julie and son Mike remarking that “my children are my greatest work of art.” He derived no small measure of joy from his grandsons and cared very much for his brother, Harry.
His family loved him deeply and will miss him profoundly. He was a mensch in every way. Donations may be made to the Jacob Zilber scholarship at UBC’s Creative Writing Department http://memorial.supporting.ubc.ca/