Friday, December 28, 2012

Leo Rosten papers

The Brandeis University Archives & Special Collections Department is proud to count among its holdings the Leo Rosten papers. In 1908, the man who would become known professionally as Leo Calvin Rosten was born in Łódź, Poland. Having moved to the U.S. with his parents in 1911, Rosten was raised in Chicago. He earned his BA and PhD in Political Science from the University of Chicago before going on to conduct postgraduate work at the London School of Economics.

While best known as a humorist and for The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N (1937) and The Joys of Yiddish (1968), Rosten’s work and writing both crossed a number of genres. A scholar, novelist, lexicographer, scriptwriter, journalist, playwright, biographer, and essayist, he was a hugely prolific public intellectual. Many of his pieces for Look Magazine dealt with major contemporary political and social issues, and he is generally considered to have brought an understanding of Yiddish and its reflection of Jewish culture to American consciousness. In Rosten’s New York Times obituary of 1997, The Joys of Yiddish was described as “the de facto standard reference work on the language, serving as a bridge between the world of Mr. Rosten's forebears and that of the more assimilated readers of our own age.”(1) That his writing was widely read and influential is evident from the myriad of fan letters he received, particularly those from many of the most famous political, literary, and artistic names of the period, including Allan Bloom, Ray Bradbury, William F. Buckley, Jr., Norman Cousins, John Kenneth Galbraith, Cary Grant, J. Edgar Hoover, Henry Kissinger, Groucho Marx, Bill Moyers, Richard Nixon, Gregory Peck, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and Thornton Wilder.

In addition to his literary accomplishments, Rosten’s long career included a variety of professional experiences, many of which informed his writing. First published in The New Yorker under the name Leonard Q. Ross, the Hyman Kaplan stories were inspired by the people Rosten had met while teaching English to speakers of other languages during the Depression. He also served at the Office of War Information during World War II, worked for the Rand Corporation, edited Look Magazine (from 1949-1971), and taught political science at a number of prestigious universities.

Created and donated by Rosten himself, the collection at Brandeis comprises a meticulous catalogue of his long and fascinating career. It includes seventy-five boxes of note cards of research material, draft and final manuscripts, typescripts, galleys and printers’ copies, texts of numerous interviews and speeches, tapes of his readings, various publicity materials, correspondence, book reviews and other newsclippings, fan mail, dictionaries, reference books, and files from his time at the Office of War Information. Items such as his academic hood, writing utensils, passport, and appointment books grant us a more intimate view into Leo Rosten’s personal life.

The Archives & Special Collections Department at Brandeis also boasts stewardship of an annotated typescript of “Mr. Kaplans Hobo,” a Rosten short story published in The New Yorker. While not technically part of the Leo Rosten papers, as it was recently donated to Brandeis by an unconnected donor, this item, signed by the author, with editor’s notes, continues the work of the main collection in providing significant and rare insight into the thinking and methods of this extraordinary man and the era in which he lived.

(1) Fox, Margalit. “Leo Rosten, a Writer Who Helped Yiddish Make Its Way Into English, Is Dead at 88,” The New York Times, February 20, 1997.

description by Surella Evanor Seelig, Archives & Special Collections Coordinator

Friday, November 30, 2012

Albert Eugene Kahn papers

The Albert Eugene Kahn papers, recently processed, consist of 2.5 linear feet of materials primarily related to the 1942 book Sabotage! The Secret War Against America, by Albert E. Kahn and Michael Sayers. The majority of the collection dates from 1941-1943 and comprises primary-source research materials, such as newspapers and first-person accounts, used by Kahn in writing Sabotage! In addition to the research materials, the collection contains a manuscript galley copy of Sabotage!, correspondence, publicity materials for Sabotage!, and a limited amount of materials relating to the political newsletter The Hour and the unpublished book The White Paper.

Left, Michael Sayers; Right, Albert Kahn

Albert Eugene Kahn was born May 11, 1912, in London; he was educated in the United States, graduating from Dartmouth College in 1932. In 1934, he married Henriette Warner and moved to California. At the height of the Great Depression, Kahn volunteered to lead an ambulance tour to raise money for Loyalist forces fighting in the Spanish Civil War. It was during this tour that he was exposed to the vast economic differences around the country, which greatly affected him, and in 1938 he joined the Communist Party of the United States. In 1939 Kahn was named editor of The Hour, a newsletter that worked to expose Nazi espionage, sabotage, and propaganda operations in the United States. In the late 1940s, Kahn was blacklisted from mainstream publishing in the United States as a result of his outspoken opposition to the Cold War. He continued writing political works, along with biographies and memoirs, until his death of a heart attack on September 17, 1979. 
As editor of the The Hour, an anti-fascist newsletter produced for the use of news editors, columnists, and radio commentators, Kahn became acquainted with Michael Sayers. Together they proposed writing a book detailing the actions of the America First Committee, an isolationist committee formed to advocate to keep the United States out of World War II; as it grew, the group came to have members with Nazi ties and Nazi sympathies. Many of the primary-source materials in the collection at Brandeis are related to Kahn’s investigation of the America First Committee, including newsletters, lists of members, and first-person accounts of meetings. The book was to be titled The White Paper; however, it was never published, as the America First Committee was dissolved shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the entry of the United States into war.

Kahn and Sayers had already signed a contract for a book with Harper & Bros, and the collection includes their correspondence back and forth as they decide with the publisher their next work. Out of the research conducted for The Hour came Sabotage! The Secret War Against America, published in 1942. Kahn detailed acts of sabotage committed in the United States by Japanese and German saboteurs, psychological sabotage, fifth column activities, and acts of counter-sabotage conducted by the government, along with a chapter devoted to the America First Committee. Sabotage! was an immediate best seller when first published, with Harper & Bros quickly selling out of the first printing. However, its run was short-lived; documents in the collection show discussions relating to slashing the price to move remaining copies and repackaging the remaining copies as “Victory Editions.”

The Albert Eugene Kahn papers contain materials documenting the creation of Sabotage! all the way through its publication. The original contract signed by Kahn and Sayers is a part of the collection, along with statements regarding their royalties and expenses. The publicity materials contain copies of advertisements promoting Sabotage! in industry publications along with those seen by the general public. Kahn also kept newspapers containing advertisements or reviews of his book, and it appears that he subscribed to a clipping service that made sure he would not miss a mention of either himself or his book. All the illustrations used in Sabotage! are found in the collection, many as photostats, and the original illustrations used in the book are marked up or pasted onto a page indicating where they belong in the book. The collection also contains a manuscript galley copy of Sabotage! along with an advance copy of the Reader’s Digest volume that contains an excerpt.

Included in the correspondence are letters sent by Kahn to various government officials, including J. Edgar Hoover, both asking for assistance and informing them of the publication of his book. Kahn was diligent about answering his “fan mail,” and it is interesting to read the letters sent to him and the copies of his replies. Many of the letters thank him for bringing awareness to the topic of sabotage in the United States, and one comes from a serviceman on guard duty against sabotage asking for a copy of the book so his unit would know more about the enemy they are fighting. Also in the correspondence are letters of complaint, some of which threatened legal action. At least one reader did proceed with a libel suit, as indicated in the folder “Materials related to libel case.”

The Albert Eugene Kahn papers are a treasure trove for researchers interested either in sabotage occurring in the United States preceding and during World War II or in the America First Committee, because of its extensive newspaper collection and primary-source documents obtained by Kahn for his own research.

Finding aid to Albert Eugene Kahn papers, 1934-1944 

description by Bonnie McBride, Archives & Special Collections Intern and Simmons College M.S. candidate in Library and Information Science