Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Charles Reznikoff Papers
MSS 0009  
View entire collection guide What's This?
PDF (138.54 Kb) HTML
Search this collection
Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Biography
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information
  • Publication Rights

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Charles Reznikoff Papers
    Identifier/Call Number: MSS 0009
    Contributing Institution: Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego
    9500 Gilman Drive
    La Jolla, California, 92093-0175
    Languages: English
    Physical Description: 9.7 Linear feet (26 archives boxes, 1 oversize folder)
    Date (inclusive): 1912-1976
    Abstract: 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 Family Chronicle, 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.
    Creator: Reznikoff, Charles, 1894-1976

    Scope and Content of Collection

    Accession Processed in 1977
    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.
    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.
    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.
    The PERSONAL ARTIFACTS series contains mailing lists, address books, Reznikoff's law school notes, photos, and other personal ephemera.
    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.
    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 1976; 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.
    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.
    The CERTIFICATES AND DIPLOMAS series contains various personal documents including Reznikoff's high school diploma and his law degree.
    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 readings.
    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 Directions published 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 was Holocaust. He died on 22 January 1976 after suffering a heart attack the previous day.
    Selected Bibliography:
    Rhythms (1918), Poems (1920), 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), Holocaust (1975), 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).

    Preferred Citation

    Charles Reznikoff Papers, MSS 0009. Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego.

    Acquisition Information

    Acquired 1977, 1989, 1990.

    Publication Rights

    Publication rights are held by the creator of the collection.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Barnes, Djuna -- Correspondence
    Creeley, Robert, 1926-2005 -- Correspondence
    Degnan, June Oppen -- Correspondence
    Dembo, L. S. -- Correspondence
    Fauchereau, Serge -- Correspondence
    Hindus, Milton -- Correspondence
    Ignatow, David, 1914-1997 -- Correspondence
    Laughlin, James, 1914-1997 -- Correspondence
    Lowenfels, Walter, 1897-1976 -- Correspondence
    Martin, John, 1947- -- Correspondence
    Niedecker, Lorine -- Correspondence
    Oppen, George -- Correspondence
    Padgett, Ron, 1942- -- Correspondence
    Rakosi, Carl, 1903-2004 -- Correspondence
    Reznikoff, Charles, 1894-1976 -- Archives
    Williams, William Carlos, 1883-1963 -- Correspondence
    Zukofsky, Louis, 1904-1978 -- Correspondence
    American poetry--20th century
    Diaries--20th century.