IT WAS DAN WALDEN of Pennsylvania State University who first suggested in 1979 that I attempt a biography of Ludwig Lewisohn. His own interest had brought him to the College of Charleston where I was its Archives Director. I brought out the recently unpublished poetry, short stories, and correspondence I had recently discovered, and his excitement became contagious. In time, I was hooked.
Colleagues at the college proved equally enthusiastic. Lee Drago, Nan Woodruff, and Marty Perlmutter helped me as a New Yorker to better understand the South. But my fellow archivist, and loyal friend, Oliver Smalls, gave me a deeper feel for the region’s eternal outsiders. Though the African-American and Jewish experiences were in so many ways different, this element of being “The Other” in a highly stratified white Christian world was shared by us both, as Lewisohn himself so clearly understood.
Ted Rosengarten, biographer and chronicler of the southern experience, and a fellow New Yorker, taught me much of this history—and provided the first important critique of an earlier draft of Lewisohn’s first thirty years. “Lewisohn deserves a biography,” he recognized. “We need a biography of him, or we will continue to suffer a cultural loss. He was and should be valuable to us, but we have rejected him, more than he ever rejected us. To bring him back from Hades, to show us what we miss by denying him, what is important and beautiful in his work, is your job.” He encouraged me to “commemorate less and doubt more. More Melnick will give us a truer Lewisohn,” he insisted, warning that the “boundaries” between the two of us were too “blurred.” “I miss your wit and skepticism, your sense of the injustice done his name, your judgement of his work and his voyage, your estimation of him as truthteller and liar, your presence as thinker as well as scribe. I miss all the qualities I feel when we talk about Lewisohn … I want to draw out the constellation of Melnick with Lewisohn which has a peculiar power and fascination to me.” If I quote at length it is because Rosengarten’s gift was so very crucial in this process of my drawing this portrait of Lewisohn. I hope I have succeeded in fulfilling his vision.
John Bevan, Academic Vice-President of the College of Charleston, expressed his faith in me and my work on so many occasions, offering financial help that was invaluable. Paul Hamill helped in securing this and other assistance, but more crucially befriended me, offered his expertise as a scholar of the American experience, and has patiently waited to see the fruit of this labor. Perhaps more importantly, they appreciated and understood the politics that made my departure from Charleston so necessary. Lewisohn, too, would have understood.
Stanley Chyet, a scholar of Lewisohn and one of his first students at Brandeis University, deserves special recognition. A real mensch, he has been helpful throughout these years, with ideas, criticism, and support, both for my Lewisohn and in so many other ways.
There is a seemingly endless list of others who proved important or essential at various points. For the many fellow librarians and archivists whose institutions are referred to in the notes, I send my deepest thanks. You are the facilitators without whom some of the best scholarship and writing would have been impossible. So, too, to the many who answered a 1980 author’s query in the New York Times. Nor could I have drawn so clear and colorful a portrait without the permission of Lewisohn’s son, James, to quote from published and unpublished material, no matter how painful it might prove. To him credit is truly due for his courage and his faith in my fair and accurate treatment of his parents’ relationship.
But of the endless legion, particular mention and thanks are due to Max Lerner, Tom Savage, and Milton Hindus, all members of the early Brandeis faculty, the latter being close personal friends; to James Connolly, who introduced me to his mother, the Lewisohns’ housekeeper at Brandeis; to Elihu Winer, for his memories of Lewisohn’s later years; to Leonard Dinnerstein, a thoughtful student of the American Jewish experience; to Martin Bauml Duberman, with whom I shared Lewisohn’s friendship with Paul Robeson; to James Lieberman, whose interest in Otto Rank brought him to Lewisohn; and to Jacob Marcus, who listened to an early presentation of my work one summer so many years ago.
George Max Saiger has long shared my obsession with Lewisohn—we have corresponded and met over many years. I hope this work will only deepen this tie. Roy Lekus, New York filmmaker in Paris, worked indefatigably on a documentary of Lewisohn’s life. We have spent many pleasant days together. His work is worthy of support—only the shortsightedness of those who continue to weaken the arts in America has prevented its completion.
Throughout the years, Abe Peck of the American Jewish Archives, proved ever patient, loyal, and supportive. Grants from the National Endowments for the Humanities, American Philosophical Society, and Southern Jewish Historical Society, American Jewish Archives, South Carolina Committee for the Humanities, College of Charleston, Southern Regional Education Board, and other agencies and institutions were all received with his help. Yet more importantly, he has urged me to finish this work and helped to secure its publication. Many, many thanks.
Arthur Evans’s courage in taking on so large a project as this two-volume work is more noteworthy in an age when the bottom line seems to rule so many publication decisions. My gratitude for this and for his cheerfulness throughout is heartfully offered. So, too, to my so very enthusiastic editor, Jennifer Backer, whose words of encouragement have been the kindest any author could hope to hear. Credit and sincerest thanks are due as well to my two typists, Deborah Tomasi and Richard Teller, whose welcome responses and suggestions were as helpful as always. To learn that Debbie’s office suitemates eagerly awaited each new chapter’s turn in the story was ever so gratifying during the tedious final stages of manuscript preparation. No less so the expert helpfulness of Jonathan Lawrence, my copy editor, who anxiously awaited the second volume of this work after so enthusiastically reading the first and saving me from innumerable endnote lacunae. I am also indebted to Robert Couch, who served as photographer for several of the images in the photo section.
Ultimately, however, it is to my family I want to give my deeper thanks. As always, my ever supportive parents, Evelyn and Lester, and my siblings, Mike, Bill, Don, and Barbara, and their spouses, have listened to the endless tales of Lewisohn. But my sons, Joshua and Ross, deserve as much and more, for the years in which their presence in my life gave balance and joy and fulfillment beyond anything even this accomplishment could ever provide. And it is to Rachel, my life’s companion, who listened to the tales, gave the balance and the joy and the fullest, that my deepest feelings go. Only she can truly understand what this work has meant, and how much more she is to me.