Scope and Content of Collection
Title: Charles Reznikoff Papers
Identifier/Call Number: MSS 9
Mandeville Special Collections Library
La Jolla, California 92093-0175
Language of Material:
9.7 Linear feet
26 archives boxes, 1 oversize folder
Date (inclusive): 1912-1976
The papers of a distinguished American literary figure. Reznikoff was a prolific writer of poetry, prose, essays, and chronicler
of Judaism and the American Jewish experience. He worked both as an editor and contributing author on
The Menorah Journal
, and was in close association with such noted writers as Ezra Pound, George Oppen, and William Carlos Williams. The correspondence,
which provides documentation of the literary community of 40s, 50s, and 60s America, as well as providing insights into Reznikoff's
personal life, includes letters from Robert Creeley, David Ignatow, Denise Levertov, George Oppen, John Perlman, Willilam
Carlos Williams, and Louis Zukofsky. Also included are the various exchanges between Reznikoff and his numerous publishers.
The bulk of the collection consists of Reznikoff's writings, ranging from original source materials up to finished typescripts,
and includes thousands of pages of revisions. Most of the materials in the collection date from the 1940's to the early 1970's.
The 1989 addition to the Reznikoff papers consists primarily of letters written by Reznikoff to his wife Marie Syrkin between
1928 and 1939. Also included are Reznikoff's letter of will to his wife dated 1961; letters of condolence to Marie following
the poet's death in 1976; and several miscellaneous correspondences. In addition, Reznikoff's personal copies (with annotations)
of eight of his published works have been included. The 1991 addition to the Reznikoff papers contains personal letters from
Reznikoff to Marie Syrkin written in 1930 before their marriage; financial records which detail Reznikoff's activities between
1947 and 1976; and miscellaneous memorabilia.
Reznikoff, Charles, 1894-1976
Scope and Content of Collection
Accession Processed in 1977
The Reznikoff collection is arranged in six series: 1) CORRESPONDENCE, 2) WRITINGS, 3) REVIEWS, 4) PERSONAL ARTIFACTS, 5)
MATERIALS RELATING TO REZNIKOFF'S PARENTS, and 6) WORKS BY AND ABOUT REZNIKOFF'S FRIENDS.
SERIES 1: CORRESPONDENCE
The CORRESPONDENCE series fills five archives boxes and includes letters from such celebrated literary figures as Robert Creeley,
David Ignatow, Denise Levertov, George Oppen, John Perlman, William Carlos Williams, and Louis Zukofsky. Also included are
the various exchanges between Reznikoff and his numerous publishers. These are revealing of the untiring energy with which
Reznikoff pursued the publication of his works -- in both Europe and America -- and include a surprising amount of rejection
letters! The correspondence section is in alphabetical order, with each particular correspondent assigned one file.
SERIES 2: WRITINGS
The WRITINGS series is broken into eight subsets: "books," "the idea file," "lectures and readings," "
Menorah Journal materials," "miscellaneous notes," "notes on composition theory," "poetry," and "miscellaneous writings. The "books" section
includes original drafts, typescripts, manuscripts, carbons, hand-written notes, paste-ups, and reviews; organized according
to the title of each book, with the books listed alphabetically. The "books" subset comprises 12 archive boxes, more than
half the entire Reznikoff collection. The "idea file" subset was organized by Reznikoff. It is a collection of short sketches,
observations, verse fragments, and "situations"; organized alphabetically, with an index. The "lectures and readings" subset
consists of drafts of public readings of both prose and verse. The "
Menorah Journal materials" subset consists of eight short stories written for
MJ, as well as an article on
MJ written by Reznikoff for
Midstream. The "miscellaneous notes" subset is made up of character sketches and other random notes concerning possible subjects for
later works. The "notes on composition theory" subset contains notes on some aspects of writing dialogue, the use of rhythm,
and the problem of writing history. The "poetry" subset includes finished works, with some corrections, from 1973 - 1975.
The "miscellaneous writings" subset includes random unfinished notes for prose and verse from as early as the 1930s. Included
in the "Miscellaneous Writings" section are materials concerning Julius Rosenmann, an old man Reznikoff met while walking
in New York. Rosenmann provided Reznikoff with much material for writing, along with a $10,000 legacy.
SERIES 3: REVIEWS
The REVIEWS series contains only those reviews not previously listed under their respective titles in the Writings series.
Thus all reviews pertaining to
Holocaust are listed under
Holocaust in the Writings section.
SERIES 4: PERSONAL ARTIFACTS
The PERSONAL ARTIFACTS series contains mailing lists, address books, Reznikoff's law school notes, photos, and other personal
SERIES 5: MATERIALS RELATING TO REZNIKOFF'S PARENTS
MATERIALS RELATING TO REZNIKOFF'S PARENTS includes writings by Nathan and Sarah Reznikoff, both of whose memoirs were used
by Charles as the basis of later writings. The original manuscript of Sarah Reznikoff's autobiography is in an extremely fragile
condition, and photocopies on acid-free paper have been made for preservation purposes.
SERIES 6: MATERIALS RELATING TO RESNIKOFF'S FRIENDS
MATERIALS RELATING TO REZNIKOFF'S FRIENDS include materials by George Oppen and Marie Syrkin (Reznikoff's wife), as well as
reviews of other poets' works.
The Charles Reznikoff papers provide a fascinating look into the life and writings of an important American author. Perhaps
the most useful aspect of the collection is its opening-up for review the very processes by which Reznikoff wrote and re-wrote,
for we can here follow his thoughts from early notes and rough drafts up through his multiple revisions. The insights provided
by the materials, coupled with the wealth of biographical information contained in the collection, offer the reader a rich
source of information on the personal life and aesthetic praxes of this remarkable author.
Accession Processed in 1990
The accession to the papers of Charles Reznikoff processed in 1990 is comprised of two archives boxes and contains two series:
1) CORRESPONDENCE and 2) AUTHOR'S COLLECTION.
In the CORRESPONDENCE series, there are two folders of letters written by the poet to his wife between 1928 and 1939; an informal
letter of will dated 1961; several letters written to Marie following Reznikoff's death in 1969; and a few miscellaneous correspondences.
The AUTHOR'S COLLECTION series includes the author's annotated copies of the following published works:
Five Groups of Verse (1927);
Going To And Fro And Walking Up And Down (1941);
By The Waters of Manhattan (1962);
Testimony: The United States (1885-1890) (1965);
"JOB" in Chelsea 24/25 (October, 1968);
Testimony: The United States(1891-1900) (1968);
By the Well of Living and Seeing and The Fifth Book of the Maccabees (1969); and
By the Well of Living and Seeing: New and Selected Poems (1974). These items were acquired along with the original collection of Reznikoff's papers, but they were previously shelved
in the Archive for New Poetry's "Author Collection."
Accession Processed in 1991
The accession to the Charles Reznikoff Papers processed in 1991 contains a significant collection of letters from Charles
to his future wife, Marie Syrkin; financial records; and memorabilia. The materials are organized into four series: 1) CORRESPONDENCE;
2) CERTIFICATES AND DIPLOMAS; 3) FINANCIAL RECORDS; and 4) MISCELLANEOUS MATERIALS.
SERIES 1: CORRESPONDENCE
The most important element in the CORRESPONDENCE series is the strikingly personal collection of love letters from Reznikoff
to Marie Syrkin, written before their marriage in 1930. The letters are undated.
SERIES 2: CERTIFICATES AND DIPLOMAS
The CERTIFICATES AND DIPLOMAS series contains various personal documents including Reznikoff's high school diploma and his
SERIES 3: FINANCIAL RECORDS
In the FINANCIAL RECORDS series, a record of Reznikoff's activities between 1947 and 1976 can be traced through entries in
income and expense journals and notebooks. Reznikoff meticulously noted all his expenses including income derived from poetry
SERIES 4: MISCELLANEOUS MATERIALS
Finally, the MISCELLANEOUS MATERIALS contain a photograph of Reznikoff, two poems by the poet, and Al Lewin memorabilia.
Charles Reznikoff's long and productive life began 31 August 1894 in Brooklyn, New York. His parents, Nathan Reznikoff and
Sarah Yetta Wolvovsky Reznikoff, were Russian Jews who had recently immigrated to the United States. Reznikoff's family moved
throughout the city, and the anti Semitism which Charles often encountered had a lasting effect on his work. When he was twelve
Reznikoff's family moved to a section of Brooklyn that was isolated from the Jewish community; Reznikoff once described it
as a place where "the hatred for Israel smoldered." He later wrote that he would have to rush home from high school in order
to avoid the taunts of children leaving their grade school.
Despite his self consciousness and feelings of insecurity, Reznikoff was an excellent student. He finished grammar school
three years ahead of the rest of his class and graduated from Boys High School in Brooklyn in 1909 at the age of fifteen.
By the time he was sixteen Reznikoff was already certain that he wanted to become a writer. He studied journalism at the University
of Missouri, but soon found that journalists' priorities were different than his -- they were more interested in news than
in writing, while it was the writing itself that Reznikoff cared about.
Reznikoff left the University of Missouri after one year and returned to New York. He first worked at his parents' hat manufacturing
business. Ten in 1912 he entered New York University's Law School. In 1915 he graduated second in his class, and the next
year at the age of twenty two was admitted to the Bar of the State of New York. Although his training as a lawyer proved to
be a long lasting influence on his poetry, Reznikoff actually practiced for a very brief period. He once said "I wanted to
use whatever mental energy I had for my writing."
Reznikoff's first book of poetry,
Rhythms, was published in 1918. It was a small volume that he printed on a press he had installed in the basement of his parents'
home. After 1918 he held a number of jobs in order to support himself, but from this time on found ways to devote the majority
of his time to writing. In 1919 he privately printed
Rhythms II; then in 1920 Samuel Roth published Poems the first of his works to be published commercially. During the 1920's Reznikoff's
reputation slowly grew, and he was able to publish some of his work in magazines; he also wrote four plays during that decade.
In 1930 Reznikoff married Marie Syrkin, who later became a distinguished professor at Brandeis University. Although his work
still failed to make a commercial impact, Reznikoff continued to gain attention in the 1930's. Along with Louis Zukofsky,
George Oppen, and Carl Rakosi, he became known as one of the principal proponents of the Objectivist group of poets. The poets
formed the Objectivist Press, with whom Reznikoff published three of his works.
During the late thirties Reznikoff worked as a screen writer in Hollywood. When he returned from the West Coast he again took
up his life of free lance writing. Marie Reznikoff has written that she and Charles grew estranged during the forties; when
she was hired by the English department at Brandeis University, her husband stayed in Manhattan, and the Reznikoffs usually
spent only holidays and weekends together. Charles supported himself by working on a number of projects, many of which dealt
with the place of the Jewish community in America.
Reznikoff did not publish any poetry from 1941 through 1959, when Inscriptions: 1944 1956 appeared. Three years later, New
By the Waters of Manhattan: Selected Verse, and in 1965 New Directions published
Testimony, which, along with
Holocaust, has been called one of Reznikoff's two major works. Marie Syrkin retired in 1966, and the Reznikoffs moved into a luxurious
Manhattan apartment. Reznikoff continued to write through these years; the final work to be published during his lifetime
Holocaust. He died on 22 January 1976 after suffering a heart attack the previous day.
Uriel Acosta: A Play and a Fourth Group of Verse (1921),
Chatterton, the Black Death, and Meriwether Lewis: Three Plays (1922),
Coral, and Captive Israel: Two Plays (1923),
Nine Plays, Five Groups of Verse (1927),
By the Waters of Manhattan (1930),
Jerusalem the Golden, Testimony, In Memoriam: 1933 (1934),
Early History of a Sewing Machine Operator, Separate Way (1936),
Going To and Fro and Walking Up and Down (1941),
The Lionhearted (1944),
The Jews of Charleston (1950),
Inscriptions: 1944-1956 (1959),
By the Waters of Manhattan: Selected Verse (1962),
Family Chronicle (1963),
Testimony: The United States 1885-1890: Recitative (1965),
Testimony: The Unites States (1891-1900): Recitative (1968),
By the Well of Living and Seeing and The Fifth Book of the Maccabees (1969),
By the Well of Living and Seeing: New & Selected Poems, 1918-1973 (1974),
Poems 1918-1936: Volume I of the Complete Poems of Charles Reznikoff (1976),
Poems 1937-1975: Volume II of the Complete Poems of Charles Reznikoff,
The Manner "Music" (1977).
Charles Reznikoff Papers, MSS 0009. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UCSD.
Publication rights are held by the creator of the collection.
Subjects and Indexing Terms
Creeley, Robert, 1926-2005
Degnan, June Oppen
Dembo, L. S.
Ignatow, David, 1914-1997
Laughlin, James, 1914-1997
Lowenfels, Walter, 1897-1976
Martin, John, 1947-
Rakosi, Carl, 1903-2004
Reznikoff, Charles, 1894-1976 -- Archives
Williams, William Carlos, 1883-1963
Zukofsky, Louis, 1904-1978
American poetry--20th century