Frank, Waldo David, 1889-1967

Alternative names
Birth 1889-08-25
Death 1967-01-09

Biographical notes:

Epithet: American author

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000001305.0x0003a9

Author and critic Waldo Frank was born in New Jersey and attended Yale. After graduation he worked for the New York Evening Post, wrote plays and prose, and co-edited the short-lived journal, Seven Arts. He found success with a series of complex novels, and became one of the most influential literary and social critics of his day, promoting the anti-traditional movement inspired by the writings of Freud, Marx, and others. Eclectic and iconoclastic, Frank is remembered fondly in Spanish-speaking American countries for his learned and sympathetic works on their culture.

From the description of Waldo Frank letter to Harry Salpeter, 1933 May 29. (Pennsylvania State University Libraries). WorldCat record id: 64190391

American author.

From the description of Autograph letter signed : [n.p.], to Herbert J. Seligmann, [n.d.]. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270870819


From the description of Reminiscences of Waldo David Frank : oral history, 1963. (Columbia University In the City of New York). WorldCat record id: 86147552

Intellectual, writer, social historian, and political activist.

From the description of "Primitive" America and quotation [manuscript] 1924 May, n.d. (University of Virginia). WorldCat record id: 647931050

A novelist, social historian, and political activist, Waldo Frank was born on August 25, 1889 to an upper-middle class, Jewish family in Long Branch, New Jersey. A prolific writer, Frank penned fourteen novels, eighteen volumes of social history, and well over one hundred articles on literary and political subjects. Once considered one of America’s premier intellectuals, Frank has since slipped into relative obscurity. Only in Latin America are his books still widely read.

Frank had already completed his first novel, Builders in Sand, by the age of seventeen, though it was never published. The same year, he was expelled from his public high school for refusing to enroll in a required Shakespeare course; he felt he knew more than the teacher. He is said to have read over a thousand books before he went to college. After his expulsion, his parents sent him to a boarding school in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he was introduced to the great French writers and where he began work on his second volume, The Spirit of Modern French Letters, which never saw publication. He eventually returned to the United States and was graduated with both a B.A. and an M.A. from Yale in 1911.

Frank’s first published novel, The Unwelcome Man: A Novel, is a psychoanalytic look into the life of Quincy Burt, a man struggling to find his place in a tumultuous, industrial society. Faced with the realization that he does not belong, the man purchases a gun with the intention of committing suicide; however, before he pulls the trigger, he realizes that he does belong precisely because, like everyone else, he is already dead, both spiritually and intellectually. Frank owed much of the inspiration for this novel to American transcendentalists Ralph Waldo Emerson and especially Walt Whitman. A self-professed “naturalistic mystic,” Frank’s ideology came from a fusion of Freud, Hegel, Marx, Spinoza, Eastern mysticism, Judaism, and American transcendentalism. He believed that many of the world’s problems would be solved if each individual achieved a oneness or wholeness with the universe.

In addition to his novel writing, Frank made his presence known in journals and magazines. In 1914, he was made associate editor of Seven Arts, a journal which ran for just twelve installments but was nevertheless an important forum in which artists and writers could express their politics. Frank also became a regular contributor to the New Yorker in 1925 under the pseudonym, “Search-light.” That same year he was named contributing editor of the New Republic.

Frank followed The Unwelcome Man with The Dark Mother (1920), and a series he called “The Lyric Novels,” because they offer an emotional rather than rational experience, much like poetry. These novels include City Block (1922); Rehab (1922); Holiday (1923); and Chalk Face (1924).

City Block and Rehab did not received the critical attention Frank felt they deserved; T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland appeared the same year, and Frank’s novels went relatively unnoticed. Disenchanted, Frank abandoned his fiction writing. Between the years 1924 to 1925, he wrote ninety-seven articles, two plays, and Virgin Spain: Scenes from the Spiritual Drama of a Great People, a cultural study of Spain for which he earned widespread recognition and critical acclaim in Latin America. The success of Virgin Spain led to the publication of The Re-discovery of America: An Introduction to a philosophy of American Life (1929); America Hispana: A Portrait and a Prospect (1931); and Dawn in Russia: The Record of a Journey (1932). During this time, Frank became more active politically, attending meetings, strikes, and protests with Sherwood Anderson, Theodore Dreiser, and others.

Despite a successful lecture tour of Latin America in 1942 and the subsequent publication of South American Journey (1943) and Birth of a World: Simon Bolivar in Terms of His Peoples (1951), Frank returned to novel writing. In his later years, his popularity had declined to such an extent that he could not find publishers for his last two novels. He died in 1967, already forgotten by readers and critics alike.

Blake, Casey. “Waldo Frank.” Dictionary of Literary Biography: Modern American Critics, 1920–1955. Gregory S. Jay, Ed. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1988. Eckley, Wilton. “Waldo Frank.” Dictionary of Literary Biography: American Novelists, 1910–1945. James J. Martine, ed. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1981.

From the guide to the Waldo Frank papers, 1922–1965, (University of Delaware Library - Special Collections)

Novelist, social historian, and political activist.

Born in New Jersey in 1889, Waldo Frank wrote fourteen novels, eighteen volumes of social history, and over a hundred articles on literary and political subjects. Frank considered himself a "naturalistic mystic", believing many of the world's problems would be solved if individuals could achieve a oneness with the universe. Most of Frank's writings went unnoticed, although he had a successful lecture tour of Latin America in 1942. In the 1930s he became active politically, attending strikes and protests, yet when he died in 1967, he was pretty much forgotten by readers and critics.

From the description of Waldo Frank papers, ca. 1925-1935. (Newberry Library). WorldCat record id: 585890008


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  • American literature--20th century
  • Male authors, American--20th century--Correspondence
  • Authors, American--20th century--Correspondence
  • Manuscripts, American
  • Authors--Interviews


  • Authors, American--20th century


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