Fri, 11 Jun 1999 15:41:24 -0400 (EDT)

CONTACT: Michelle Sampson msampson@ajhs.org


Henry Roth, one of the most secretive writers in American literature, the author of Call it Sleep, Shifting Landscape, and the Mercy of a Rude Stream series, died in October 1995 at the age of 89. Compared in his silence to Salinger and Ellison, Henry Roth fascinated the literary public with his stunning talent and his amazing yet curious 60 years of silence from writer's block. His papers, many long assumed burned, currently are on long-term deposit at the American Jewish Historical Society in Waltham, Massachusetts and can be viewed by appointment only until they are relocated to New York City's Center for Jewish History in Spring 2000. The papers consist of 68 boxes (33.5 linear feet) of materials and offer considerable insight into Roth's literary achievements and personal life.

While the bulk of the Henry Roth Papers document Roth's personal and professional life from the 1960s until his death, material from as early as 1918 appears in the collection. The papers contain correspondence with family, friends, literary agents, and other authors and artists with whom Roth maintained friendships and working relationships. Of particular interest is Roth's correspondence with political activist Eldridge Cleaver; his sister Rose Broder; childhood friend and first husband to Margaret Mead, Luther Cressman; New York City painter and muralist Stuyvesant Van Veen; literary promoter and critic Harold Ribalow; editor Mario Materassi, and the inspiration for Call it Sleep, poet and professor Eda Lou Walton.

The collection also contains more than one hundred journals and notebooks dating back to 1925 in which Roth noted his daily activities, snatches of overheard conversations, and descriptions of interesting individuals from which he gleaned much of the material for his short stories and novels. The latter portion of the papers includes published and unpublished manuscript materials both by and about Roth. Materials devoted to the first four volumes of the Mercy of a Rude Stream (A Star Shines Over Mt. Morris Park, A Diving Rock On the Hudson, From Bondage, and Requiem for Harlem) are particularly well documented. The collection also contains articles that appeared in newspapers, books, and journals throughout the world; several copies of Roth's monographs, many signed and/or inscribed by him; and topical files that contain photographs, ephemera, and biographical information. Please see the accompanying "Highlights" page for a select listing of unique items in the Roth papers. The Henry Roth Papers constitute a rich source of information for students, scholars and critics. The depth and breadth of the collection promise to provide unusually comprehensive insight into Roth's life and works.

Founded in 1892, the AJHS is the nation's oldest ethnic historical organization. The Society has amassed the world's largest collection of books, documents, paintings, objects, posters, and photographs illustrating the Jewish experience on the American continent. The Society is pleased to announce the addition of the Henry Roth Papers to our collections.

For additional information, please write or call The American Jewish Historical Society 2 Thornton Road Waltham, MA 02453 781/891-8110 or visit the Society's web site at http://www.ajhs.org


Over 100 journals and notebooks in which Roth recorded his deepest thoughts, daily occurrences, and rough manuscript drafts. In a particularly enlightening journal entry from August 2, 1971, Roth discusses the writing process and laments the source of the writer's block which plagues him nearly his entire life. Journals and notebooks range 1925-1992.

Many letters between Henry and Muriel and Henry's father, Herman; several letters between Roth and his sons; dozens of letters from Henry's sister, Rose Broder including her final letters expressing hurt and anger over the biographical details of incest included in the Mercy of a Rude Stream series.

Manuscript of a Yiddish play by Herman Roth, Henry's father, entitled "Sin of Divorce," 1939-1940. Also included is Henry Roth's English translation, circa 1989.

"Green idea book" in which Roth sporadically recorded current events and issues that would later appear in his writings. Dated 1925-1975.

Notebook kept during his time as an intern at the Augusta State Hospital, Maine. Contains curious notes to himself in regards to his training, duties, and patients with whom he had contact.

Rough drafts of many short stories, a few poems, and his later novels including the as yet unpublished Maine Sampler. Many contain Roth's handwritten changes for future drafts.

Correspondence between Roth and Eda Lou Walton, Luther Cressman, first husband to Margaret Mead, and numerous other friends and acquaintances.

Publications and unpublished manuscripts about Roth including two screenplays of Call it Sleep, several dissertations and theses, and articles and interviews written over the years.

Correspondence between Roth and editors Mario Materassi, Peter Mayer, Harold Ribalow, and Roslyn and Bill Targ.

Drafts of letters to President Jimmy Carter and letters between Roth and Zionist Chaim Herzog and political activist Eldridge Cleaver.

Fan mail to Roth from the 1950s-1990s.

Michelle R. Sampson, Associate Archivist American Jewish Historical Society 2 Thornton Road Waltham MA 02453 phone : 781-891-8110 fax : 781-899-9208 web page : http://www.ajhs.org

In the fall of 1999, the Society plans to join forces with three major forces in the area of Jewish history--the Leo Baeck Institute, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, and the Yeshiva Museum--to form the Center for Jewish History in New York City. You can find out more about this venture from the Center's web page at http://www.cjh.org


Document URL: http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/50s/roth-papers.html
Last modified: Thursday, 31-May-2007 09:41:52 EDT