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"America's Best Magazine?: Commentary in the 1960s"

By Ady Wetegrove

A case of materials from the Commentary magazine archive is on display in the lobby for the Morris Dickstein lecture. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
A case of materials from the Commentary magazine archive is on display in the lobby for the Morris Dickstein lecture. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.

In conjunction with tonight’s lecture by author Morris Dickstein, an accompanying display case in the Ransom Center’s lobby features items from the Center’s Commentary magazine archive. Dickstein’s lecture, titled “America’s Best Magazine?: Commentary in the 1960s,” takes place tonight at 7 p.m. in the Prothro Theater. The Commentary magazine archive was donated to the Center in 2011.

Materials on display include a 1961 subscriber survey, a 1986 exchange of letters between Allen Ginsberg and Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz, and the May 1952 issue of the magazine, which contains the first American publication of “Diary of Anne Frank.”

This program is co-sponsored by the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies at The University of Texas at Austin. The Albert and Ethel Herzstein Charitable Foundation made a generous donation to support this program and the cataloging of the Commentary magazine archive.

The event will be webcast live at 7 p.m. CST.

Morris Dickstein to discuss Commentary magazine

By Emily Neie

Cover of the February 1960 issue of Commentary magazine.
Cover of the February 1960 issue of Commentary magazine.

Author Morris Dickstein presents the lecture “America’s Best Magazine?: Commentary in the 1960s” this Thursday, April 18, at 7 p.m. at the Harry Ransom Center. In 2011, Commentary magazine donated its archive to the Center, and the collection is now open for research.

Founded in November 1945, shortly after World War II, Commentary was established to reconnect assimilated American Jews and Jewish intellectuals with the broader Jewish community and to bring the ideas of young Jewish intellectuals to a wider audience.

Throughout its history, Commentary has published significant articles on historical, political, cultural, and theological issues in addition to fiction and memoirs. The magazine became a major outlet for leading figures to establish their intellectual careers. The archive spans from 1945 to 1995 and consists mainly of editorial correspondence, galleys, other records, and correspondence with a number of writers whose archives reside at the Ransom Center, including Norman Mailer, Bernard Malamud, and Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Commentary underwent a dramatic shift in 1960 under the editorship of Norman Podhoretz, who applied more rigorous critical standards and made greater use of strong-minded New York intellectuals such as Irving Howe, Alfred Kazin, and Mailer. The magazine responded to all of the major controversies of the decade, from the Eichmann trial and the civil rights movement to the Vietnam War and the Columbia student uprising.

According to historian Richard Pells, Professor Emeritus at The University of Texas at Austin, “no other journal of the past half century has been so consistently influential, or so central to the major debates that have transformed the political and intellectual life of the United States.”

Dickstein is Distinguished Professor of English and Theatre at the CUNY Graduate Center. His most recent book, Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression, received the Ambassador Book Award in American Studies in 2010.

The event is free, but donations are welcome. Seating is limited. Line forms upon arrival of the first patron, and doors open 30 minutes in advance. The program will be webcast live.

This program is co-sponsored by the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies at The University of Texas at Austin. The Albert and Ethel Herzstein Charitable Foundation made a generous grant to support this program and the cataloging of the Commentary archive.

Hyde Park host provided home away from home for scholars

By Elana Estrin

Cultural Compass: Can you tell us about some of your most memorable guests?

Martha Campbell: Oh, heavens!

Martha Campbell, 73, is not your typical B&B owner. During the time she hosted Ransom Center scholars at her home between 1995 and 2010, Campbell helped one renter woo her future husband, competed with a guest in a bake-off, hosted a frequent renter’s book launch, and became a close friend and confidante to many of the scholars who stayed with her.

“When I first started doing this, I thought: ‘How would I feel if I were a stranger in a strange place? How would I want to be treated?’ That’s guided me through the years,” Campbell said.

Campbell quickly became a legend among the Ransom Center scholars, in part for her breakfasts. Vanessa Guignery, past guest and former Ransom Center fellow, reports that Campbell served fruit, juice, muffins, and either waffles, pancakes, or french toast every morning.

“Other scholars stayed with other people who were very nice, but there was no breakfast. So each time I arrived at the Ransom Center and said, ‘Mmm I had waffles for breakfast!’ the other scholars would say, ‘Stop it!’ Everybody wanted to stay with Martha,” Guignery says.

Campbell’s hospitality didn’t stop at breakfast. She invited her guests to dinner parties with her friends and to Austin’s famed live-music concerts. (“I got a kick out of introducing them to Texas music.”)

“It wasn’t just coming back, closing the door, and that’s it. She didn’t make you feel as though you were actually paying to be there. It truly felt like home,” Guignery says.

Campbell’s guests have formed a network, and many of them became close friends and colleagues. During one of Guignery’s stays, Campbell invited two Norman Mailer scholars staying elsewhere, Michael and Donna Lennon, over for a wine and cheese party. Guignery told Michael Lennon about her work on British writer Julian Barnes, whose archive Guignery was researching at the Ransom Center. He suggested that she publish a collection of interviews with Barnes, put her in touch with an editor, and three years later Guignery published Conversations with Julian Barnes. The book now sits on Campbell’s table.

Campbell made her own contributions to her guests’ work. She introduced a few scholars studying spiritualist writers like W. B. Yeats and Arthur Conan Doyle to a spiritualist church down the street. During one of his stays with Campbell, Michael Lennon was invited to read at the Ransom Center’s monthly Poetry on the Plaza event. He asked Campbell if she happened to have any beat poetry around, and he ended up reading from her copy of A Coney Island of the Mind by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, which she bought at the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco in 1960.

Built in 1910, exactly 100 years before Campbell hosted her last guest, the home is a registered historical landmark in Austin’s Hyde Park neighborhood. Campbell started housing renters in 1994, soon after her husband passed away.

“I had never had a job. I always thought I couldn’t do anything since I always had my husband,” Campbell says. “Every time I did something like change a light bulb or carry something heavy or fix a toilet, I kept getting more and more self-confidence to live by myself. So I grew as a person along with the house. It really made me a different person. The house is kind of the third big chapter of my life.”

Before hosting Ransom Center scholars, Campbell housed mathematicians and scientists visiting The University of Texas at Austin. Her very first renter was a Japanese man who spoke little English.

“When he left, he looked really forlorn, so I gave him a hug. Then I thought, ‘Am I supposed to do that?’ When I cleaned his room, I found five or six beautiful origami cranes placed around the room. I found out later that was a compliment. He came back once to say hello, so I figured I must’ve done a pretty good job,” Campbell said.

Though she stopped renting in 2010, Campbell periodically hosts informal gatherings for current Ransom Center scholars and staff.

“Somebody said I fall in love with all my guests. I think it’s true. I have a charming man who has breakfast with me, talks to me like what I have to say is important, he stays for a month, then another one comes and takes his place,” Campbell laughs.

 

Please click the thumbnails below to view full-size images.

 

Commentary Magazine Archive Donated to Ransom Center

By Elana Estrin

Commentary magazine has donated its archive to the Ransom Center. Founded in November 1945, just months after World War II, Commentary magazine was established to reconnect assimilated American Jews and Jewish intellectuals with the broader Jewish community and to bring the ideas of young Jewish intellectuals to a wider audience.

According to historian Richard Pells, Professor Emeritus at The University of Texas at Austin, “no other journal of the past half century has been so consistently influential, or so central to the major debates that have transformed the political and intellectual life of the United States.”

Throughout its history, Commentary has published significant articles on historical, political, cultural and theological issues in addition to fiction and memoirs. The magazine has a reputation for featuring many of the leading intellectual and cultural figures of the time.

Spanning from 1945 to 1995, the archive consists mainly of editorial correspondence, galleys and other records. The collection contains correspondence with a number of writers whose archives reside at the Ransom Center, including Norman Mailer, Bernard Malamud and Isaac Bashevis Singer, in addition to correspondence with S. Y. Agnon, Hannah Arendt, James Baldwin, Saul Bellow, William F. Buckley, George W. Bush, Henry Kissinger, George Orwell, Amos Oz, Philip Roth, Elie Wiesel, Tom Wolfe, and A. B. Yehoshua.

 

Please click the thumbnails to view larger images.

 

The Art of the Letter: What we can learn from illustrated letters in the collections

By Elana Estrin

Al Hirschfeld's 1954 letter to Edward Weeks.  © Al Hirschfeld. Reproduced by arrangement with Hirschfeld's exclusive representative, the Margo Feiden Galleries, Ltd., New York. www.alhirschfeld.com.
Al Hirschfeld's 1954 letter to Edward Weeks. © Al Hirschfeld. Reproduced by arrangement with Hirschfeld's exclusive representative, the Margo Feiden Galleries, Ltd., New York. www.alhirschfeld.com.

John Steinbeck stamped his letters with a winged pig, Muhammad Ali’s letterhead alludes to his catchphrase “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” and Al Hirschfeld signed his letters with a spiral-eyed self-portrait. Read about what we can learn from these and other illustrated letters found across the Ransom Center’s collections.

In the galleries: Mailer's character timeline for "Harlot's Ghost"

By Courtney Reed

Norman Mailer's character timeline for 'Harlot's Ghost.' Click image to view larger version.
Norman Mailer's character timeline for 'Harlot's Ghost.' Click image to view larger version.

Norman Mailer was among the most prominent cultural and literary figures in late twentieth-century America. His talent as a writer was apparent early in his career; he received a Pulitzer Prize nomination for his debut novel, The Naked and the Dead, which was published in 1948 when he was only 25 years old. In the 1950s Mailer began publishing commentary about such topics as race, feminism, sexuality, politics, literature, art, culture, and society, in magazines including Dissent, Esquire, Partisan Review, and The Village Voice, which he co-founded in 1955.

Norman Mailer’s 1991 novel, Harlot’s Ghost, is a sprawling, 1,300-page chronicle of the Central Intelligence Agency that blends both fictional and factual characters and events.

On a detailed timeline of the novel, Mailer charts world events and various characters’ activities over more than five years. Mailer created a systematic grid; dates on the left side chronicle the events of various subject headings that run across the top of the chart, including Hunt & Cuban Exiles, JFK, and Judith Campbell. The timeline is covered in pencil and black, red, green, and blue ink.

The chart can be seen in the current exhibition Culture Unbound: Collecting in the Twenty-First Century, on display through July 31.

Mailer remained a prolific writer and cultural commentator throughout his long and colorful career. The Ransom Center acquired Mailer’s archive, which fills more than 1,000 archival boxes and makes it the Ransom Center’s largest single-author collection, in 2005.

Photo Friday

By Jennifer Tisdale

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

Norman Mailer’s paper-clipped and marked-up copy of “American Tragedy” by Lawrence Schiller and James Willwerth. Photo by Pete Smith.
Norman Mailer’s paper-clipped and marked-up copy of “American Tragedy” by Lawrence Schiller and James Willwerth. Photo by Pete Smith.
Additional materials for the Norman Mailer papers were received and inspected. Photo by Pete Smith.
Additional materials for the Norman Mailer papers were received and inspected. Photo by Pete Smith.
Students in the ‘Culture Unbound’ exhibition, specifically in the reading nook filled with books featured in the exhibition. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
Students in the ‘Culture Unbound’ exhibition, specifically in the reading nook filled with books featured in the exhibition. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
A student walks by the exterior banner for the exhibition 'Becoming Tennessee Williams.' Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
A student walks by the exterior banner for the exhibition 'Becoming Tennessee Williams.' Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
Undergraduate intern Kelsey Harmon shows some of John Fowles’ personal effects: his desk, typewriter, and a set of brass knuckles. The desk and its contents are being prepared to go on exhibit in the Center’s Reading and Viewing Room later this spring. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
Undergraduate intern Kelsey Harmon shows some of John Fowles’ personal effects: his desk, typewriter, and a set of brass knuckles. The desk and its contents are being prepared to go on exhibit in the Center’s Reading and Viewing Room later this spring. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.