MIAMI, JULY 24 -- Isaac Bashevis Singer, the fragile, impish storyteller who won the 1978 Nobel prize for literature for his novels and stories of ghetto Jews of Eastern Europe, died today. He was 87.

Singer, who divided his time between New York and a home in Surfside, Fla., had been ill in a nursing home for several months, said his wife, Alma.

Singer's native tongue was the Yiddish of Poland's Jews, and he wrote in no other language, even after mastering the English of his adopted country.

The first Singer story translated into English was "Gimpel the Fool" in the Partisan Review in 1950.

The son of a rabbi and grandson of two others, Singer was born in the brewery town of Radzymin on July 14, 1904. He rebelled at a future in the rabbinate and followed his older brother, Israel Joshua Singer, into a career as a secular writer.

Singer moved to New York in 1935. He divorced his wife, who moved to Israel with their 5-year-old son after World War II.

Singer married Alma Haimann, a German emigre, in 1940 and became a U.S. citizen three years later.

After several relatively unproductive years, he wrote a sweeping novel of Jewish family life in Warsaw, "The Family Moskat," which in 1950 became his first novel translated into English. It was the foundation of a trilogy completed by "The Estate" in 1965 and "The Manor" in 1967.

Singer branched out into children's stories and wrote three plays, two of which ran off-Broadway, and the other, "Yentl," with which he made his debut as a Broadway playwright in 1975 at age 71.

In addition to his wife, Singer is survived by a son, Israel Zamir, and four grandchildren.