‘Commentary’ Archive Heads to Texas
Ransom Center in Austin is a hotbed of Jewish literary papers
Commentary, the legendary Jewish journal that became synonymous with neoconservatism under the 35-year editorship of Norman Podhoretz, has donated its archive to the University of Texas’ Harry Ransom Center in Austin, a press release reported. there it will join the archives of such Jewish writers as Norman Mailer, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Bernard Malamud, Leon Uris, and David Mamet, as well as that of the Jewish acting maven Stella Adler and the papers of Ferdinand Fornizetti, the commandant of the prison where Alfred Dreyfus was first held. (The Ransom Center is also home to David Foster Wallace’s archive.) “It’s a nice acquisition,” Richard Oram, associate director and Hobby Foundation librarian, said yesterday. “We’re not the New York Public Library, but we do have I think one of the largest collections of American Jewish and even New York Jewish writers outside New York.”
The Commentary archive contains correspondence and galleys related to the journal, which was for most of its life funded by the American Jewish Committee (though it no longer is), from its 1945 founding through 1995. Authors include Isaac Babel, Thomas Mann, Jean-Paul Sartre, Hannah Arendt, James Baldwin, Mailer, Malamud, Saul Bellow, William F. Buckley, George W. Bush, Henry Kissinger, and Philip Roth, according to the center. “Even George Orwell,” added Oram, “although he belongs to the early, pre-Norman Podhoretz era—unfortunately for that era, there’s very little or no correspondence.”
Oram said that the Ransom Center’s involvement with Jewish-American literature began in earnest with the 1993 acquisition of the Singer archive.
Last year in Tablet Magazine, Benjamin Balint, author of a history of the journal, traced how it served in the 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s as a crucial incubator for distinctly Jewish-American literature, publishing, among many other things, two of the stories that appeared in Roth’s seminal 1959 collection, Goodbye, Columbus.
And in 2003 in the Forward, Tablet editor-in-chief Alana Newhouse traced Commentary’s arc from cozy literary journal to major political power player to, well, cozy political journal (with, might I add, a scrappy, essential online presence!).