Columbia University Receives Gift of New York Journalist Murray Kempton's Papers


March 2000 - The personal papers of the late New York journalist Murray Kempton have been left to Columbia University's Rare Book and Manuscript Library, announced the University today. The papers are a gift of the Kempton estate, according to Kempton's literary executor, Barbara Epstein, co-editor of the New York Review of Books, who has cared for them since his death in 1997. The papers go back to the mid-1940s and include an original manuscript; around 11,000 of his newspaper columns from the New York Post, Newsday, where he was a columnist from 1981 to his death in 1997, and other papers; and magazine articles from the New York Review of Books, Esquire, The New Republic, and his early work for the Progressive.

An additional gift of $40,000 from Newsday will help to catalog and maintain the papers.

Epstein said that the primary reason for placing the papers with Columbia was to ensure that they would be preserved and used. "Most of his columns are on yellowing newsprint," she said. "Newspaper writing is thought to be ephemeral, but in this case it certainly isn't." As for the choice of Columbia, Epstein said: "We wanted to keep it in New York, the city which was so much his subject, in order to make it accessible to students, scholars and journalists."

"It's a wonderful record of New York City life and politics," said Jean Ashton, director of Columbia University's Rare Book and Manuscript Library, which will receive the gift. Tom Goldstein, dean of Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, added, "Murray Kempton is an icon of New York journalism. He was the rarest of journalists. He loved his city; he loved the language; he loved where he worked. He wrote journalism that endures. And we couldn't be happier to make sure it endures at Columbia. I want especially to thank Ray Jansen and Newsday for their generous gift."

The Kempton papers will be released to Columbia in stages, as the task of sorting those which are to be part of the gift progresses. A sizeable portion should arrive at Columbia within the calendar year, Epstein said. "He had tremendous respect for his own work," she noted. "He saved virtually all of his writings; and now it is a relief that they will be preserved."

The announcement coincides with both the opening of a newly-constructed library on the ground floor of the Journalism School and a lecture on magazine journalism, part of the Delacorte Lecture series, that Ms. Epstein delivered this week to the Journalism School community.

A New York journalist known for his literary bent and keen social conscience, Kempton was a familiar sight on the streets of Manhattan, speeding around town on his bicycle with earphones -- he was passionately interested in jazz -- clamped to his head.

Kempton graduated from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in 1939 and fought in World War II in the Pacific. He wrote for the New York Post for more than four decades, and in 1981, left the Post for Newsday. He also wrote frequently for the New York Review of Books. He won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1985.

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