Sholem Aleichem was a popular humorist and Russian (Ukrainian) Jewish author of Yiddish literature, including novels, short stories, and plays. He did much to promote Yiddish writers, and was the first to pen children's literature in Yiddish. His work has been widely translated.
The musical "Fiddler on the Roof" (1964), loosely based on Sholem Aleichem's stories about his character Tevye the Milkman, was the first commercially successful English-language play about Eastern European Jewish life.
From 1883 on, he produced over forty volumes in Yiddish, to become a central figure in Yiddish literature by 1890. Most writing for Russian Jews at the time was in Hebrew, the liturgical language used largely by learned Jews.
Besides his prodigious output of Yiddish literature, Sholem Aleichem also used his personal fortune to encourage other Yiddish writers. In 1890, Sholem Aleichem lost his entire fortune in a stock speculation. Over the next few years, he wrote for an Odessa newspaper and for Voskhod, the leading Russian Jewish publication of the time, as well as in Hebrew for Ha-melitz, and for an anthology edited by Y.H. Ravnitzky. It was during this period that he first contracted tuberculous.
In 1914, most of Sholem Aleichem's family immigrated to the United States, where they made their home in New York City. Sholem Aleichem's son Misha was ill with tuberculosis at the time and therefore inadmissible under United States immigration laws. Misha remained in Switzerland with his sister Emma, and died in 1915, an event which put Sholem Aleichem into a profound depression. He died in New York in 1916, and was laid to rest at Mount Carmel cemetery.