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Using the Collection
Note: some material may be restricted or offsite
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At a Glance
This collection is arranged in three series.
The majority of the collection consists of personal and professional correspondence between Ben Sonnenberg, Jr., Grand Street contributors, and other writers associated with the New York literary scene. The correspondence is primarily literary in scope, with writers often responding to criticism of manuscripts and works in progress, as well as providing "updates" on work and home life. In addition to letters from contributors, the series includes letters from other editors-some amicable, others less so-which provide an incisive portrait of the New York literary culture in the mid-1990s.
Also included in the collection are administrative and financial records from Grand Street magazine, manuscripts of Sonnenberg's own work, and a small amount of family and personal correspondence. Overall, the material is in excellent condition, with the exception of newspaper clippings and magazine articles, many of which are acidic and have been either separated or photocopied to preserve their integrity.
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.
Box 8, folders 8 through 10 are restricted until 2022.
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); Benjamin Sonnenberg papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.
Ted Hughes, Letters to Ben Sonnenberg, 1961-2000 Emory University
The Sally Belfrage Papers, Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, New York University
Grand Street Records, Rare Book and Manuscript Library Butler Library, Columbia University
Materials may have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Ownership and Custodial History
Purchase, May 2002.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
2002-2003-11: Source of acquisition--Ben Sonnenberg. Method of acquisition--Purchase; Date of acquisition--May 2002.
About the Finding Aid / Processing Information
Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Papers processed Katie Gradowski 07/01/2008.
Papers catalogued Lea Osborne 12/16/2008.
2009-01-22 File created
2009-04-20 xml document instance created by Lea Osborne
2013-10-24 xml document instance edited by Patrick Lawlor
2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.
2022-01-06 Expired restrictions removed. kws
History / Biographical Note
Native New Yorker Ben Sonnenberg, Jr., is best known as the founder and editor of Grand Street, an influential literary and cultural magazine based in New York City in the mid-1980s and 1990s. Sonnenberg's exposure to the New York literary scene began early in his life: he was the son of Benjamin Sonnenberg, the famous press agent who transformed the family home at 19 Gramercy Place into a central hub for the city's business and literary circles. Sonnenberg both resisted and embraced his cosmopolitan upbringing, recalling his childhood as that of a "younger son in a family of great English furniture." In and out of private schools as a child, he eschewed college in favor of a rigorous program of reading and self-education, traveling abroad and establishing close relations with other writers including W.S. Merwin and Ted Hughes, both with whom he would correspond extensively over the next three decades. In 1963, Sonnenberg completed his first play, Jane Street, shortly before returning to New York to pursue his literary career.
In 1981, Sonnenberg invested his inheritance in founding Grand Street, a "little magazine" dedicated to literature, politics, and cultural criticism. Hailed in the tradition of The Dial and the Partisan Review, Grand Street quickly established itself as a major New York literary organ, with Sonnenberg hosting informal gatherings with friends and contributors at his apartment on Riverside Drive. As an editor, Sonnenberg was known for unprecedented generosity and trust in his writers, as well as his oft-spoken desire to enfranchise rising talent: "[I want] the money to go into their pockets," he frequently said of his contributors. Early contributors included writers like Susan Minot and Anne Carson, whose work he assiduously promoted in Grand Street and through private foundations; the magazine also regularly published works by Edward Said, Arthur Danto, Grover Amen, James Salter, Padgett Powell, James Laughlin, Alice Munro, Edward Sorel, and others.
Through the 1980s, Sonnenberg's work at Grand Street was increasingly inhibited by failing health. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 34 and spent most of his adult life as a paraplegic, composing his correspondence and literary materials by dictation. Sonnenberg retired from the magazine in 1989; in 1991 he published his memoir, Lost Property: Memoirs and Confessions of a Bad Boy, a well-received account of his adolescence and his subsequent years abroad. Sonnenberg continues to write poetry and film criticism, with essays appearing in Raritan, The Nation, and other venues. He lives in New York with his wife, Dorothy Gallagher.