Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library Acquires Archives of Samuel Roth, Publisher and Writer


NEW YORK, April 29, 2008 Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library has acquired a large collection of annotated books, court documents, business records, copyright statements, unpublished typescripts, and letters from the estate of Samuel Roth (1893–1974), the writer, publisher, and entrepreneur.

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During his career Roth established bookstores in New York City that published and sold books, magazines, and erotica, and operated a mail order operation that defied Post Office censors for two decades. He founded two successful literary magazines, including Beau, the first American “men’s magazine.” As a publisher, Roth was frequently accused of violating the copyrights of authors such as D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce, and was responsible for the first, unauthorized editions of Lady Chatterley's Lover and Ulysses. He published a critical treatise on Herbert Hoover that helped defeat the President in 1932. In 1951 he issued My Sister and I, purportedly a memoir by Nietzsche about his incestuous relationship with his sister. Its authenticity is still being debated.

A self taught writer, Roth wrote poetry and essays throughout his life. His early poetry won praise from Edwin Arlington Robinson, Maurice Samuel, Marie Syrkin, Harriet Monroe, Israel Zangwill, and Louis Untermeyer.

“Samuel Roth publicized himself as a literary Johnny Appleseed, bringing to ordinary Americans the modern literature of two continents, despite its sexual explicitness. He was also a master of prurient advertising of borderline mail order sex pulps and sensational human interest stories. He put himself in the direct line of fire that municipal, state and federal law enforcement officials and moral entrepreneurs reserved for pariah capitalists, ” said Jay Gertzman, Professor Emeritus at Mansfield University and author of Bookleggers and Smuthounds: The Trade in Erotica, 1920-1940. “Researchers will find Roth’s archives valuable not only for a study of Roth but of New York publishing history and the history of censorship,” continued Gertzman.

Roth last achieved notoriety in 1957 as the appellant in the Supreme Court case, Roth v. United States. The minority decision in the case opened the way to Constitutional protection for expression previously censored for indecency, and became a template for the liberalizing First Amendment decisions of the 1960s.

The archive contains letters and/or manuscripts from Edwin Arlington Robinson, Maurice Samuel, Frank Tannenbaum, Israel Zangwill, Clement Wood, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Aldous Huxley, H.D., Claude McKay, George Sylvester Viereck, Harry Roskolenko, and Gay Talese. It also contains Roth’s FBI files and transcripts of court cases and photographs, as well as Roth’s own writings, including his anti Semitic screed Jews Must Live, his prison memoir, his large body of unpublished essays and novels, his personal letters, and his own poetry. Both his unpublished autobiography and his daughter's unfinished memoir of her father are also included in the collection.

When organized and processed, the Roth archive will be available for use. For further information, call the RBML at 212-854-5153.

Columbia University Libraries/Information Services is one of the top five academic research library systems in North America. The collections include over 10 million volumes, over 100,000 journals and serials, as well as extensive electronic resources, manuscripts, rare books, microforms, maps, graphic and audio-visual materials. The services and collections are organized into 25 libraries and various academic technology centers. The Libraries employs more than 550 professional and support staff. The website of the Libraries at www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb is the gateway to its services and resources.

The Rare Book & Manuscript Library owns over 500,000 rare books in some 20 book collections and almost 28 million manuscripts in nearly 3,000 separate manuscript collections. It is particularly strong in English and American literature and history, classical authors, children‘s literature, education, mathematics and astronomy, economics and banking, photography, the history of printing, New York City politics, librarianship, and the performing arts. Individual collections are as eclectic as they are extensive. For more information, please see: www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/indiv/rbml/

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