Reznikoff, Charles, 1894-1976

Alternative names
Birth 1894-08-31
Death 1976-01-22

Biographical notes:

Charles Reznikoff (1894-1976), was a writer, editor, and poet. Born in Brooklyn, New York, he studied both journalism and law. He is most well-known for By the Waters of Manhattan (1962), a selected edition of his poems. His poetry was influenced by Yiddish sources and his fiction and plays typically dealt with Jewish themes, especially the plight of urban Jews in the United States. His non-fiction writing included The Jews of Charleston: A History of an American Jewish Community (1950), which was co-authored with Uriah Z. Engelman. He also served on the editorial staffs of: Corpus Juris, an encyclopedia of law, The Menorah Journal and Jewish Frontier (a Labor Zionist publication).

From the guide to the Charles Reznikoff Papers, 1950s, (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Writer, editor, and poet.

From the description of Papers, [1950s]. (Rhinelander District Library). WorldCat record id: 22588101

American poet, author, and founder of the Objectivist school of poetry.

From the description of Papers, 1916-1979. (University of Arizona). WorldCat record id: 28168557

American poet, dramatist, and historian of Judaism and the American Jewish experience. Born 31 August 1984 in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Jewish immigrants from Russia. One of the first Objectivist poets.

Author of more than 20 books of poetry, prose, and drama, including Testimony, a history of early 20th century United States, and Holocaust, a history of European Jewry during World War II.

From the description of Papers, 1912-1976. (University of California, San Diego). WorldCat record id: 18494562


Charles Reznikoff's long and productive life began 31 August 1894 in Brooklyn, New York. His parents, Nathan Reznikoff and Sarah Yetta Wolvovsky Reznikoff, were Russian Jews who had recently immigrated to the United States. Reznikoff's family moved throughout the city, and the anti Semitism which Charles often encountered had a lasting effect on his work. When he was twelve Reznikoff's family moved to a section of Brooklyn that was isolated from the Jewish community; Reznikoff once described it as a place where "the hatred for Israel smoldered." He later wrote that he would have to rush home from high school in order to avoid the taunts of children leaving their grade school.

Despite his self consciousness and feelings of insecurity, Reznikoff was an excellent student. He finished grammar school three years ahead of the rest of his class and graduated from Boys High School in Brooklyn in 1909 at the age of fifteen. By the time he was sixteen Reznikoff was already certain that he wanted to become a writer. He studied journalism at the University of Missouri, but soon found that journalists' priorities were different than his -- they were more interested in news than in writing, while it was the writing itself that Reznikoff cared about.

Reznikoff left the University of Missouri after one year and returned to New York. He first worked at his parents' hat manufacturing business. Ten in 1912 he entered New York University's Law School. In 1915 he graduated second in his class, and the next year at the age of twenty two was admitted to the Bar of the State of New York. Although his training as a lawyer proved to be a long lasting influence on his poetry, Reznikoff actually practiced for a very brief period. He once said "I wanted to use whatever mental energy I had for my writing."

Reznikoff's first book of poetry, Rhythms, was published in 1918. It was a small volume that he printed on a press he had installed in the basement of his parents' home. After 1918 he held a number of jobs in order to support himself, but from this time on found ways to devote the majority of his time to writing. In 1919 he privately printed Rhythms II ; then in 1920 Samuel Roth published Poems the first of his works to be published commercially. During the 1920's Reznikoff's reputation slowly grew, and he was able to publish some of his work in magazines; he also wrote four plays during that decade.

In 1930 Reznikoff married Marie Syrkin, who later became a distinguished professor at Brandeis University. Although his work still failed to make a commercial impact, Reznikoff continued to gain attention in the 1930's. Along with Louis Zukofsky, George Oppen, and Carl Rakosi, he became known as one of the principal proponents of the Objectivist group of poets. The poets formed the Objectivist Press, with whom Reznikoff published three of his works.

During the late thirties Reznikoff worked as a screen writer in Hollywood. When he returned from the West Coast he again took up his life of free lance writing. Marie Reznikoff has written that she and Charles grew estranged during the forties; when she was hired by the English department at Brandeis University, her husband stayed in Manhattan, and the Reznikoffs usually spent only holidays and weekends together. Charles supported himself by working on a number of projects, many of which dealt with the place of the Jewish community in America.

Reznikoff did not publish any poetry from 1941 through 1959, when Inscriptions: 1944 1956 appeared. Three years later, New Directions published By the Waters of Manhattan: Selected Verse, and in 1965 New Directions published Testimony, which, along with Holocaust, has been called one of Reznikoff's two major works. Marie Syrkin retired in 1966, and the Reznikoffs moved into a luxurious Manhattan apartment. Reznikoff continued to write through these years; the final work to be published during his lifetime was Holocaust . He died on 22 January 1976 after suffering a heart attack the previous day.

Selected Bibliography:

Rhythms (1918), Poems (1920), Uriel Acosta: A Play and a Fourth Group of Verse (1921), Chatterton, the Black Death, and Meriwether Lewis: Three Plays (1922), Coral, and Captive Israel: Two Plays (1923), Nine Plays, Five Groups of Verse (1927), By the Waters of Manhattan (1930), Jerusalem the Golden, Testimony, In Memoriam: 1933 (1934), Early History of a Sewing Machine Operator, Separate Way (1936), Going To and Fro and Walking Up and Down (1941), The Lionhearted (1944), The Jews of Charleston (1950), Inscriptions: 1944-1956 (1959), By the Waters of Manhattan: Selected Verse (1962), Family Chronicle (1963), Testimony: The United States 1885-1890: Recitative (1965), Testimony: The Unites States (1891-1900): Recitative (1968), By the Well of Living and Seeing and The Fifth Book of the Maccabees (1969), By the Well of Living and Seeing: New & Selected Poems, 1918-1973 (1974), Holocaust (1975), Poems 1918-1936: Volume I of the Complete Poems of Charles Reznikoff (1976), Poems 1937-1975: Volume II of the Complete Poems of Charles Reznikoff, The Manner "Music" (1977).

From the guide to the Charles Reznikoff Papers, 1912-1976, (Mandeville Special Collections Library)


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  • Jews--Ohio--Cleveland--History
  • American poetry--20th century
  • Jews--History
  • Reznikoff, Charles, 1894-1976
  • Jews
  • American literature--Jewish authors
  • Small press books--Specimens
  • Jewish literature
  • Poets, American--20th century--Sources


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