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Table of Contents
Using the Collection
Note: some material may be restricted or offsite
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Series I, Correspondence
Series II, Writings
Subseries II.1, Early Writing, 1957-1963
Subseries II.2, Reviews and Essays, 1958-2008, undated, bulk 1970s-1980s
Subseries II.3, Later Reviews and Essays, 1980s-2008, undated
Subseries II.4, Speeches, Conference Talks, Introductions, 1973-2007, undated
Subseries II.5, Essay Collections and Nonfiction Books, 1997-2012
Subseries II.6, Fiction, 1965-2014, undated, bulk 1965-1979
Subseries II.7, Writing Notes, 1947-2008, undated
Series IV, Memorabilia, Personal Papers, 1939-2011, bulk 1939-2008
At a Glance
This collection is arranged in eight series and several subseries.
There are approximately 26 linear feet of records in this collection. The bulk of the collection is composed of Leonard's professional writing, including manuscript drafts, typescripts, and galley proofs of his articles, essay collections, and novels as well as speeches, transcripts of television reviews, notebooks, and notes, including drafts of unpublished essay collections, notes for an unfinished memoir, and unpublished short fiction. The collection also includes books from Leonard's library, Leonard's extensive personal and professional correspondence, contracts, business files with itineraries and schedules for speaking engagements, research files on travel"Selected Reading" and clippings of articles and essays about Leonard.
Among the collection's personal papers are assorted materials from his memorial service, files on his mother Ruth and late brother Kenneth Leonard, personal scrapbooks, awards, trophies, business cards, address books, passports, identification cards, and personal memorabilia. Additionally, the collection contains a large assortment of photographs and artwork (signed by Kurt Vonnegut and Edward Koren), as well as multimedia documenting Leonard's reviews and interviews on CDs, DVDs, floppy disks, videocassette tapes, and cassette tapes.
Using the Collection
Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Restrictions on Access
You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.
This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.
This collection has no restrictions.
Terms Governing Use and Reproduction
Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); John Leonard Papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.
No additions are expected.
Materials may have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
2014.2015.M141: Source of acquisition--John Leonard. Method of acquisition--Gift; Date of acquisition--6/8/2015.
2015.2016.M004: Source of acquisition--John Leonard. Method of acquisition--Gift; Date of acquisition--7/2/2015.
About the Finding Aid / Processing Information
Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Papers processed by Sierra Eckert (GSAS) 2015-2016.
Finding aid written by Sierra Eckert (GSAS) June 2016.
2016-06-30 File created.
2016-06-30 XML document instance created by Catherine C. Ricciardi
2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.
History / Biographical Note
John Leonard (1939-2008) was a renowned cultural and literary critic, best known for his work as the editor of The New York Times Book Review. He attended Harvard University from 1956-58, where he gained his first editorial experience working on the Harvard Crimson before dropping out of Harvard to attend University of California, Berkeley. During the 1960s, he worked as a union and community organizer and as one of a handful of leftist journalists at the conservative magazine, National Review.
Leonard joined The New York Times in 1967, working first as an editor for the Book Review, then as a book critic, and in 1971, as the editor in chief of The New York Times Book Review, a position he served in until 1975. He continued contributing to the Book Review until his death, going on to also write extensively for Harper's Monthly, The New York Review of Books, The Nation, and New York Newsday. Under his leadership, the NYTBR became what Slate magazine would later describe as "the voice of the antiwar movement." Leonard used the platform of the book review as a wider lens to comment upon the cultural turmoil of the 1970s, publishing an early and controversial review of books on the Vietnam War to comment on war crimes.
An "omnivorous" cultural commentator, Leonard wrote on an extensive array of topics, ranging well beyond literary fiction into television, film, politics, and culture. In addition to also reviewing books for The New York Review of Books, The Atlantic Monthly, The Village Voice, The Los Angeles Time Book Review, and The Washington Post Book World, Leonard was also the television critic for Life Magazine and New York Magazine, a columnist for Newsday, a book reviewer for National Public Radio's Fresh Air, and a commentator for CBS Sunday Morning. He wrote four novels and six essay collections and co-edited The Nation with his wife Sue Leonard from 1995 to 1998. Leonard's essays and reviews mix cultural commentary and literary criticism, intermingling reviews on contemporary fiction with commentary that ranged in scope from U.S. race relations to the Persian Gulf War. In the words of Joan Didion, a friend and colleague from his early years with National Review, Leonard "was quite simply our most thrilling observer."
One way Leonard's work helped expand and redefine American cultural criticism and the role of the public intellectual was in bringing a critical eye to new objects and genres. As a television as well as literary critic, his reviews brought serious attention to the role of the television program as a genre in American culture. He was the first reviewer to recognize the work of authors such as Toni Morrison, Don DeLillo, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Mary Gordon, the latter of which described him in her retrospective as having done "a great deal to create a new breed of critic," one who took women writers seriously within the largely male-dominated literary field of the 1970s. Kurt Vonnegut, a close friend, described reading Leonard's writing as akin to listening to a lecture by "the smartest man who ever lived." By his own reckoning Leonard had read and reviewed over 13,000 books over the course of his life. In 2007, the National Book Critics Circle honored Leonard with the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award.
John Leonard died of lung cancer on November 5, 2008.