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Series I: Writings, 1907-1990s
Series II: Legal Documents, 1926-1969
Series III: Correspondence, 1909-1993
Series IV: Publishing, 1919-1974
At a Glance
This collection is arranged in five series.
Scope and Content
The Samuel Roth Papers contain annotated books, manuscripts, court documents, business records, copyright statements, unpublished typescripts (by Roth and others), publishing advertisements and materials, as well as correspondence. Among Roth's own works are his poetry, plays, and fiction, including The Transfiguration, an epic Roth thought would bring him fame and success as a writer. Both his unpublished autobiography, Count Me Among the Missing, and his daughter's unfinished memoir of her father, In a Plain Brown Wrapper (as well as her extensive research materials), are also included in the collection.
For certain works, Samuel Roth employed pseudonyms such as David Zorn, and his most frequently used nom de guerre, Norman Lockridge. Interestingly, he often used the latter name to clandestinely correspond with people, such as T.S. Eliot and Ernest Hemingway, who had signed Joyce's International Protest against him.
Blending both the personal and the professional, the Correspondence series houses Roth's numerous prison letters sent from Lewisburg while serving his multiple sentences. Usually addressed to his wife Pauline, Roth shares his thoughts regarding prison life, his numerous literary undertakings, and advises Pauline regarding business matters. Many of Roth's early professional correspondents (1915-1925) are major names of twentieth century modernist literature and poetics, that include: Floyd Dell; (1917): William Stanley Braithwaite, John Gould Fletcher, James Oppenheim, Edgar Lee Masters, George Edward Woodberry, Sara Teasdale Filsinger, Lizette Woodsworth Reese and William Roe Benet; (1918-1919): Jessie Rittenhouse, Shaemus O'Sheel, Louise Bryant, H.D.; (1920-1921): Arthur Symons, Israel Zangwill, T.S. Eliot, Clement Wood, Carl Van Doren, George Bernard Shaw, Aldous Huxley, Edward Gosse, J.C. Squire, Ezra Pound, Leonard Woolf; (1922-25): Sylvia Beach, Avrahm Yarmolinsky, John Herrmann, Ezra Pound, Bryher (Annie Winifred Ellerman), James Branch Cabell, Ford Madox Ford, Harriet Shaw Weaver, Dorothy M. Richardson, Arthur Stanley Eddington, Upton Simclair, Leslie Gordon Philips, Gershon Legman.
The calendar series, part of Roth's editorial efforts, shows how much Roth was, in many ways, ahead of his time in regards to the publishing business and its many sales gimmicks. Similarly, the Publishing series as a whole represents a great testament to Roth's advertising acumen, offering a fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse of the self-publishing business in the years following World War II.
Roth's legal troubles encompassed many years. The prepared packets seem to have, in most cases, been created on-the-go during the trials, while some may have been put together at a later date.
Using the Collection
Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Restrictions on Access
This collection is located on-site.
This collection has no restrictions. Much of the correspondence in boxes 35-38, however, is extremely fragile and therefore access to this material will be determined on a case-by-case basis.
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); Samuel Roth 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.
RBML has also obtained Samuel Roth's library, including copies of his magazines and journals (BEAU, Two Worlds & Two Worlds Monthly, American Aphrodite, and Good Times). In addition, the library holds copies of the many books published by Roth's imprints, as well as a number of books from his own personal library.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
accn number: Source of acquisition--Bettina Hirsch, James Kugel, and Candace A. Kugel. Method of acquisition--Gift; Date of acquisition--2006.
About the Finding Aid / Processing Information
Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library
The processing of this collection was made possible by a grant from the Mellon Foundation
Papers processed Jean-Christophe Cloutier 2009-2010.
Finding aid written Jean-Christophe Cloutier 05/--/2010.
2010-09-30 File created.
2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.
History / Biographical Note
During his career Samuel Roth (1893-1974) 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 literary magazines, namely Beau--the first American "men's magazine--and Two Worlds. 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. After Joyce published the "International Protest" against Samuel Roth in 1927, a petition signed by over one hundred of the world's elite artists and public figures, Roth became a pariah in the publishing world. Falling back upon his ingenuity and keen sense of salesmanship, Roth ended up in the mail-order pornography business, creating Good Times and American Aphrodite: A Quarterly for the Fancy Free. He published a critical treatise on Herbert Hoover, The Strange Career of Mr. Hoover Under Two Flags (1931), which sold well and thus may have 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.
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.