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Dwight Macdonald papers

Call Number: MS 730
Scope and Contents

The Dwight Macdonald Papers consist of seventy-three feet of correspondence, manuscripts, notes, printed matter, photographs, and memorabilia extending mainly from 1920 to 1978. They constitute a remarkably large fraction of the biographically and historically important papers that can ever have passed through Macdonald's hands. Almost all major aspects of his personal and public life are well documented except that there are very few items related to his work on the editorial staffs of Fortune and Partisan Review. Many other prominent intellectuals are represented by rich and voluminous correspondence. The papers also contain valuable material for studies of these subjects among many others: Exeter and Yale in the 1920s; Communism and the Trotskyist movement in the 1930s and 1940s; little magazines in the same period; American assistance to refugees from Franco's Spain; international pacifist sentiment during and after World War II; the Congress for Cultural Freedom; opposition to the war in Vietnam; film criticism; and interpretation of mass culture.

The Dwight Macdonald Papers are arranged in six series:

  1. I Correspondence
  2. II Research and Writing
  3. III Teaching and Lectures
  4. IV Trotskyist Movement
  5. V politics Magazine
  6. VI Miscellany

Series I, Correspondence, has two sections: Family and General. The Family correspondence consists of letters that Macdonald exchanged with his close relations--principally his parents, brother, wives, and sons--and letters that they exchanged with other persons. Researchers seeking an extended private view of Macdonald's life should also examine his correspondence with Exeter classmate Dinsmore Wheeler in the General section.

The General section contains all non-family correspondence in the papers with these partial exceptions: routine editorial exchanges and reader response to books and articles (Series II); correspondence related to academic appointments (Series III); letters related to the Trotskyist movement (Series IV) and the editing and publication of politics (Series V); and miscellaneous correspondence connected with personal business and the literary executorship of the Delmore Schwartz estate (Series VI). The folder listing for this section has cross-references to incoming letters in the later series that have an interest independent of Macdonald's role in the activities documented in those series. Correspondence related to certain special subjects--"The Camacho Letter," "The Encounter Row," "The Franco Letter," "Mission to Moscow," and "The Nation Letter," among others--has been kept together as Macdonald left it. Persons whose letters are filed under these headings are listed under their own names with appropriate cross-references.

The correspondence in the General section has much to offer the historian or biographer whose interest is in American and European intellectual life between the 1920s and the 1970s. The letters are full of important ideas and observations, and there are many extended arguments between Macdonald and his correspondents that show them developing and refining their positions in the course of controversy.

It would require several pages to list all of Macdonald's correspondents who have contributed importantly to twentieth-century intellectual and cultural life, but these are some of the leading thinkers and writers with whom he has exchanged numerous or important letters: Daniel Aaron, Lionel Abel, James Agee, Sherwood Anderson, Hannah Arendt, W.H. Auden, Daniel Bell, Peter Blake, William F. Buckley, Jr., Nicola Chiaromonte, Helen Constas, Dorothy Day, John Dos Passos, F.W. Dupee, T.S. Eliot, James T. Farrell, Waldo Frank, Nathan Glazer, Paul Goodman, Esther Dette Hamill, Elizabeth Hardwick, Geoffrey T. Hellman, Will Herberg, Irving Howe, Jane Jacobs, John K. Jessup, Alfred Kazin, Irving Kristol, Melvin Lasky, Mary McCarthy, Norman Mailer, Ralph Manheim, George L.K. Morris, George Orwell, William Phillips, Ezra Pound, Philip Rahv, Kenneth Rexroth, David Riesman, Diego Rivera, Bertrand Russell, Delmore Schwartz, William Shawn, Stephen Spender, Carlo Tresca, Diana Trilling, Lionel Trilling, Leon Trotsky, Niccolo Tucci, Peter Viereck, Edmund Wilson, Richard Wollheim, and George Woodcock.

Macdonald's correspondence with many lesser-known individuals is also of considerable value. In his Trotskyist period he exchanged letters with Max Shachtman, James P. Cannon, and other members of the Socialist Workers Party. His pacifists stance in the politics period brought him in touch with GIs and civilians who shared his ideas. He heard about wartime Germany from Fritz T. Kaeser and Melvin Lasky and about postwar Germany and France from Emil Henk, Helmut Hirsch, and Mario Levi. His extensive correspondence with such European radicals as Victor Serge, Jean and Andrée Delecourt, and Jean Malaquais provides information about politics and culture in postwar Europe.

In his capacities as editor, critic, and friend, Macdonald received unpublished writings from many authors. These are among the most prominent writers who are represented in Series I by manuscripts as well as correspondence: James Agee, Peter Blake, Nicola Chiaromonte, Anton Ciliga, Eldridge Cleaver, Helen Constas, Jean and Andrée Delecourt, James T. Farrell, Ernst Federn, Hans Gerth, Morgan Gibson, Joseph Gould, Lawrence Grauman, Jr., Henry Hellman, Georges Henein, Sander Katz, Hans Kohn, Karl Korsch, Lucien Laurat, Eric Lee, Gershon Legman, Mario Levi, Robert Jay Lifton, John A. Lukacs, David McDowell, Norman Mailer, Ralph Manheim, Durham Miller, Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, Leo Moulin, A.J. Muste, Justin O'Brien, George Orwell, Henry M. Paechter, Kenneth Patchen, Dachine Rainer, John Crowe Ransom, Wilhelm Reich, Charles Rembar, Kenneth Rexroth, Diego Rivera, Ray McLeod Robinson, Selden Rodman, Maximilien Rubel, Derek S. Savage, Delmore Schwartz, Victor Serge, Wilfrid Sheed, Stephen Spender, Leon Trotsky, Niccolo Tucci, Peter Viereck, and John B. Wheelwright. Other manuscripts on political subjects are listed by author and title in Series IV and V.

Series II, Research and Writing, has four sections: Early Writings, Books and Pamphlets, Shorter Writings, and Subject File.

Early Writings consists mainly of notes, themes, and student publications, most of which Macdonald wrote at Exeter and Yale.

Books and Pamphlets and Shorter Writings consist of research material, notes, drafts, proofs, publications, editorial correspondence, reader response, and requests for reprint rights related to Macdonald's books, pamphlets, articles, and certain unpublished writings. Letters to the editor, both published and unpublished, have been filed in Series I, General, except when there were bulky notes, drafts, or research material. Other published and unpublished writings can be found in the other sections of this series and in Series III, IV, and V.

The Subject File consists of notes, research material, and drafts arranged by subject. The two largest groupings are research material and drafts related to Macdonald's unfinished book on United States Steel and the miscellaneous papers related to his writings on mass culture. The research material in this section includes important mimeographed and printed matter on these subjects among others: anarchism, pacifism, civil liberties, urban renewal in New York City, the war in Vietnam, and the New Left.

Series III, Teaching and Lectures, consists of notes, drafts, administrative records, correspondence, and student essays related to Macdonald's academic appointments and occasional lectures. Tapes of Macdonald's lectures at the University of Texas have been transferred to Historical Sound Recordings in Sterling Memorial Library. These are listed in an appendix.

Series IV, Trotskyist Movement, is a consolidation of much of the important political material in the papers. Among the major items are these: Macdonald's bibliography and notes on the movement, his writings for The New International, correspondence and mimeographed material documenting the split between the Socialist Workers Party and the Workers Party, and miscellaneous correspondence. Other important correspondence is filed under these names in Series I, General: Albert Goldman, Philip Gray, Freda Kirchwey, Felix Morrow, Max Shachtman, The Socialist Appeal, the Socialist Workers Party, and Leon Trotsky.

Series V, politics Magazine, consists of notes by Dwight Macdonald; published and unpublished manuscripts by Macdonald and others; correspondence with readers and contributors; proofs, dummies, and published copies of the magazine; financial records; and promotional matter. These papers are valuable for studying the business as well as the editorial aspect of publication; they provide much insight into the financial problems of a little magazine. Much of the correspondence with contributors and readers is in Series I, General, under these names among others: Lionel Abel, Bruno Bettelheim, Dorothy Brumm, Andrea Caffi, Nicola Chiaromonte, Lewis A. Coser, H.V. Crehan, Robert Dahl, Joel Dirlam, George P. Elliott, Jon Evans, Henry Geiger, Ethel Goldwater, Paul Goodman, Bertha Gruner, Zellig Harris, W.B. Hesseltine, Milton R. Konvitz, Karl Korsch, Melvin J. Lasky, Norman Matson, Judith Miller, C. Wright Mills, Norman Mini, George Orwell, William Petersan, Daniel Rosenblatt, Porter Sargent, Daniel Seligman, Victor Serge, Julian Symons, Niccolo Tucci, and George Woodcock.

Series VI, Miscellany, has six sections: Personal, Family, Photographs, Schwartz Estate, Legal and Financial, and Travel.

The Personal section consists of memorabilia, address and date books, clippings, and a few personal writings.

The Family section consists of miscellaneous papers created by or related to Macdonald's parents and children.

The Photographs section has snapshots and portraits of Dwight Macdonald, his family, and his friends.

The Schwartz Estate section consists of correspondence, notes, and drafts related to Macdonald's literary executorship of the Delmore Schwartz estate.

The Legal and Financial section consists of divorce agreements, wills and related correspondence, letters about the schooling of Michael and Nicholas G. Macdonald, and miscellaneous financial papers.

The Travel section consists of memorabilia related to Macdonald's travels, mainly in Western Europe, between 1933 and 1968.

Seven cartons of pamphlets, serials, newspapers, books, and government documents were separated from the papers for distribution to other parts of the Library's collections. Some of the pamphlets, mainly political publications from the 1930s and 1940s, have been incorporated in the Pamphlet Collection in this department. A list of selected titles is appended to this register. The serials, consisting mainly of political and literary magazines published in the 1930s and 1940s, included several copies of each of these titles: Chimera, Dialectics, East and West, Fact, Hound & Horn, International Review, Living Marxism, Modern Monthly, Pacifica, and Townsman. There were also copies of The Dial and The Little Review, published between 1923 and 1925, and of Eros and The Realist, published between 1961 and 1964, and single numbers of many other magazines. The newspapers consisted of American underground publications from the late 1960s and a file of the Indian paper Harijan for 1946 and 1947. The government documents were mainly federal publications on economic subjects.

The Dwight Macdonald Papers were purchased from Dwight Macdonald in 1975 and 1978.

Conditions Governing Access

Original audiovisual materials, as well as preservation and duplicating masters, may not be played. Researchers must consult use copies, or if none exist must pay for a use copy, which is retained by the repository. Researchers wishing to obtain an additional copy for their personal use should consult Copying Services information on the Manuscripts and Archives web site.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright for unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by Dwight Macdonald has been transferred to Yale University. These materials may be used for non-commercial purposes without seeking permission from Yale University as the copyright holder. For other uses of these materials, please contact

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

Purchased from Dwight Macdonald, 1974-1978; and Mrs. Macdonald, 1984-1985. Gift of Leonard Vanderpot, 2009.


Arranged in six series and two additions: I. Correspondence. II. Research and Writing. III. Teaching and Lectures. IV. Trotskyist Movement. V. politics Magazine. VI. Miscellany. 1984 July Addition. 1985 November Addition.

Majority of material found within 1920 - 1978
94.25 Linear Feet
Related Names
Macdonald, Dwight, 1906-1982
Language of Materials