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Selden Rodman papers

Call Number: MS 871

Scope and Contents

Selden Rodman was a prolific and versatile writer of poetry, plays and prose, political commentary, art criticism, Latin American and Caribbean history, biography, and travel writing - publishing a book almost every year of his adult life. The papers consist of a number of miscellaneous published and unpublished works, correspondence with acclaimed writers and artists, as well as handwritten journals kept between 1938 and 2000, which document his personal life and contain notes for many of his written publications.

Social, intellectual, and cultural historians alike will find much of benefit in Rodman's journals and correspondence. The journals document Rodman's ties to a variety of literary and artistic luminaries of the last century, including James Agee, Theodore Dreiser, W. H. Auden, Robert Frost, Jackson Pollock, Andrew Wyeth, Ernest Hemingway, Edward Hopper, Willem de Kooning, e.e. cummings, Diego Rivera, Norman Mailer, Allen Ginsberg, Octavio Paz, and Pablo Neruda and will be of interest to historians of twentieth-century art and culture. Historians of the Old Left may be interested in his evolving political consciousness and personal contacts formed while working with Common Sense, his critical and incisive accounts of the military's pervasive anti-semitism and anti-communism during World War II, and his struggles to maintain his political and artistic ideals in a politically and culturally conservative postwar context. Rodman's fascination with and travels to Haiti, specifically, and Latin America more broadly, may be of interest to historians studying the work of American intellectuals in Latin America. On a more personal side, Rodman had many romantic interests during his lifetime, and historians of gender and sexuality may be interested in, amongst other things, Rodman's frank representation of his relationships with women, sexual encounters, and extra-marital affairs. Moreover, Rodman's sustained engagement with current affairs and the remarkable span of his journals, which literally cover everything from the bombing of Pearl Harbor to that in Oklahoma City, gives readers one individual's perspective on some of the most important moments in twentieth-century American history.


  • 1935-2000


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright for unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by Selden Rodman is held by Carole Cleaver Rodman. After the lifetime of Carole Cleaver Rodman, copyright passes to Yale University. Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Selden Rodman, 1979-1997. Gift of the Estate of Selden Rodman, 2003. Gift of Richard Emmet Aaron, 2007.


Arranged in three series and one addition: I. Correspondence, 1944-1984; II. Journals, 1938-2000; III. Writings, 1951-1986.


5.26 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers consist of published and unpublished writings, correspondence with a small number of acclaimed writers and artists, and handwritten journals kept between 1938 and 2000 that document the career and personal life of Selden Rodman.

Biographical / Historical

Selden Rodman was born February 19, 1909, in New York City to architect Cary Selden and wealthy socialite Nannie Van Nostrand (Marvin) Rodman. In 1927, Rodman went to Yale, where he helped found and edit the sardonic Harkness Hoot, and graduated in 1931.

After graduation and a transformative tour of Europe that included a stop in the Soviet Union, Rodman and traveling companion Alfred Bingham founded Common Sense (1932-1946), a "magazine of social protest," which boasted contributing editors like John Dewey, Upton Sinclair, Roger Baldwin, Lewis Mumford, and Max Eastman. The magazine posed a radical challenge to the politics of the New Deal, "attempting to find a place independent of both old liberalism and the newly fashionable intellectual Marxism," according to Bingham. In The Politics of Upheaval, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. described the monthly political magazine as the "most lively and interesting forum of radical discussion in the country." While Bingham oversaw political and economic commentary, Rodman handled cultural matters, persuading writers like John Dos Passos, Theodore Dreiser, and W. H. Auden to contribute to the magazine. Rodman continued his work with Common Sense until enlisting in 1943, serving first in an automatic weapons battalion and later as master sergeant in the foreign nationalities section of the Office of Strategic Services.

During the war, Rodman made a trip to Haiti as an intelligence officer in 1944, when his play The Revolutionists was produced by the Haitian government. The play was such a diplomatic success that shortly after the war the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs sponsored a second trip to Haiti, where he became co-director for the Haitian Centre d'Art (1949-1951). In this position, he directed and decorated the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Trinité and initiated the famous mural painting movement in Haiti. During his tenure, Haitian folk art and famous outsider artists, like Hector Hyppolite, achieved international renown.

While posted in Washington D.C. during the war, Rodman made his entree into the world of contemporary American art, meeting influential art critic Clement Greenberg, Peggy Guggenheim, and Sam Rosenberg. By the 1950s, Rodman had become president of the Haitian Art Center in New York City and was quickly incorporated into both American art and literary circles—now internationally acclaimed with the ascendancy of American abstract expressionism and Beat poetry. Rodman interviewed many of these emerging artists and poets, including Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Allen Ginsberg, Franz Kline, and Mark Rothko for numerous publications including Conversations with Artists (1957) and Tongues of Fallen Angels (1972). Rodman also wrote a humanist's critique of these same abstract expressionists in his book The Insiders (1960), which denounced the artistic movement as void of content and championed instead figural artists like Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth, Ben Shawn, and Mark Tobey as the truly great contemporary American artists.

By 1960, Rodman had turned his attention to Latin America, returning first to Haiti and then traveling throughout Central and South America for the next fifteen years to publish travel guides and books on both the modern and folk arts of Latin America. While maintaining his permanent residence in Oakland, New Jersey, Rodman traveled to Mexico, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, throughout the Caribbean, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Brazil, and Ecuador, where he befriended famous writers and artists, such as Diego Rivera, Octavio Paz, and Pablo Neruda. Following this tour, Rodman settled part-time in Haiti until 1992, writing plays and histories of Haitian art, expanding his private art collection, and coordinating exhibitions of Haitian art in Haiti and in the United States. In so doing, Rodman became a leading expert on Haitian art and culture.

During his lifetime, Rodman had many romantic interests, marrying Eunice Clark in 1933, Hilda Clausen in 1938, writer Maia Wojciechowska in 1950, and journalist, poet, and playwright Carole Cleaver in1962. He had one daughter with Maia, Oriana ("Beebe"), and two children with Carole, daughter Carla Pamela and son Van Nostrand.

Rodman spent his remaining years with his fourth wife Carole in Oakland, New Jersey. Having already written over forty books, plays, and exhibition catalogs in his lifetime, Rodman published his final book, Geniuses & Other Eccentrics, in 1997—a fitting recollection of his many celebrated friends. Selden Rodman died November 2, 2002.

Guide to the Selden Rodman Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Annemarie Strassel
August 2003
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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