Stein, Sol

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Sol Stein was born in Chicago, Illinois, on October 13, 1926 to Louis (a jewelry designer) and Zelda Stein (later a translator for the United Nations). Stein attended City College in New York but interrupted his studies to serve in the United States Army from 1945 to 1947, briefly as an infantry officer, and then as commandant of the three Occupational Training Schools in the American Zone of Germany. He was cited by Lt. General Geoffrey Keyes for having commanded the best educational units in the Third Army Area (American Zone, Germany). Stein returned to his studies and the States and earned his B.S.S. from City College, New York in 1948 and an M.A. from Columbia University the following year. While pursuing a Ph. D. at Columbia from 1949-1951, Stein lectured on social studies at City College. Despite his academic success, Stein switched gears in the early 1950s, leaving academia for the arts and joining the Voice of America's (VoA) Ideological Advisory Staff as a writer and political affairs analyst.

Established in 1942 as part of the Office of War Information, the VoA's initial mandate was to use radio broadcasts to convey accurate and balanced news to an audience abroad, eventually in forty-six languages. Its inaugural broadcast on February 24th 1942 promised that: "The news may be good. The news may be bad. We shall tell you the truth." After the War, the State Department took over responsibility for the organization. By the time Stein joined in 1951, the VoA had carved a new niche for itself as an information agency to counter and challenge Soviet propaganda in Western Europe, Asia and South America, which was gaining success in the burgeoning Cold War with the Soviet Union. By the early 1950s, broadcasts tended to be more subjective in nature and frequently anti-Communist in tone. Bolstered by the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, which encouraged the dissemination abroad of information about the United States through media, Congress used VoA to promote American foreign policy and democracy. The broadcasts that Stein wrote from 1951-1953 examined contemporary controversies through an anti-Communist lens.

This ideological conviction was also apparent in Stein's involvement with The American Committee for Cultural Freedom (ACCF). A committee of about three hundred prominent intellectuals and artists, the ACCF was founded as the American branch of the International Congress for Cultural Freedom and notable members included W.H. Auden, Elia Kazan, Lionel Trilling, Saul Bellow, Norman Thomas, George Balanchine, Alexander Calder, and Jackson Pollack. It undertook civil rights activities as well as the organization of anti-Soviet campaigns and programs, principally acting in opposition to Senator Joseph McCarthy's tactics and on behalf of other civil liberties issues. The organization sponsored a book written jointly by a Democrat and Republican called McCarthy and the Communists, which was on the New York Times best-seller list for thirteen weeks and was widely influential. Stein was appointed Executive Director in 1953 and his involvement with the organization ranged from organizing discussion panels of prominent intellectuals, frequent communication with news media, and countering government stupidities like barring American professors of Soviet history from receiving Russian newspapers. The committee possibly saved the lives of two men, a Russian sailor who abandoned ship in New York Harbor and Hasan Muhammad Tiro, who was tried and sentenced to death in absentia in his native Indonesia while a graduate student at Columbia University and was rescued by a telephone call from Norman Thomas, a director of the Committee, to President Eisenhower. Stein resigned in 1956 and the Committee disbanded the following year.

Stein began to carve a name for himself as a literary writer in the early 1950s. While writing for The New Leader, Commentary, The New Republic and The Christian Science Monitor, Stein was also establishing himself as a playwright. His 1953 play Napoleon, staged at the American National Theatre and Academy, won the Dramatists Alliance Prize for best full-length play of 1953. Alongside Elia Kazan, Tennessee William sand William Inge, Stein was one of the founding members of the Playwright's Group at the Actor's Studio. Stein's other staged works include A Shadow of My Enemy (1957) and Of Love and Marriage (1964). Stein also worked in academia and publishing through the 1950s and 1960s, lecturing on drama at Columbia and working as a general editor for Beacon Press from 1954-1957. At Beacon Press, he invented the book-size paperback which became and remains the standard form for upscale paperback books. In addition, he published a series of short hardcover essays dealing with contemporary cultural concerns, such as Lionel Trilling's Freud and the Crisis of our Culture.

As general editor of the Beacon Contemporary Affairs series, his first eight books were Three Who Made A Revolution by Bertram Wolfe, Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell, The Century of Total War by Raymond Aron, An End to Innocence by Leslie Fiedler, The Need for Roots by Simone Weil, The Hero in History by Sidney Hook, Social Darwinism in American Thought by Richard Hofstadter, and The Invisible Writing by Arthur Koestler. As an editor, Stein shepherded his friend James Baldwin's seminal work Notes of a Native Son to publication in 1955. Stein later documented his editing of the book and his friendship with Baldwin in Native Sons: A Friendship that Created One of the Greatest Works of the Twentieth Century: Notes of a Native Son.

Stein and Baldwin had been friends since attending DeWitt Clinton High School and it was Stein who encouraged Baldwin to assemble Notes of a Native Son. Baldwin's first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, was released in 1953 and established Baldwin as one of the most important writers of his generation and his later essays and plays cemented his status as a prominent, young African-American voice. With his wife, Patricia Day, Stein founded the publishing firm Stein and Day in 1962, which was primarily a trade book publisher of popular and literary fiction, biographies, and social histories for a quarter of a century. After a mass-market paperback distributor defaulted on a large payment, Stein and Day sued the distributor, the judge did nothing for four years, and finally Stein and Day, despite substantial orders for many of its books, was forced to close by two competing printers. The publisher's large and active backlist was sold by creditors to another publisher who did nothing to create the works. Stein detailed the corruption of the American bankruptcy process in a much praised nonfiction book A Feast for Lawyers.

Stein began his career as a novelist with 1969's The Husband, which was based on his earlier play Of Love or Marriage. His greatest success came two years later with The Magician, a dark tale of high school violence that depicts justice as illusionary and lawyers as master magicians (Stein himself is an honorary lifelong member of The International Brotherhood of Magicians). The law proved a productive theme for Stein, with The Magician selling over one million copies. Several of his other novels have legal settings as well. George Thomassy, the suave and talented defense attorney introduced in The Magician continued to work his courtroom magic in Stein's Other People and A Touch of Treason. Stein proved adept at probing the underbelly of white suburban contentment and almost all of his novels mined this vein in some fashion. Stein's published works include The Childkeeper, A Deniable Man, The Resort, Living Room and The Best Revenge: A Novel of Broadway.

Though Stein continued to work on a sequel to The Magician in the early 1990s, as the decade continued he became increasingly devoted to teaching writing at Columbia University, City College of New York, and the University of California, Irvine, and lecturing on writing and publishing at the University of California, Los Angeles, Radcliffe College and Northwestern University. Stein produced two manuals for aspiring writers: Stein on Writing and How to Grow a Novel: The Most Common Mistakes Writers Make and How to Overcome Them, drawing on his own experience as a writer, editor and writing teacher to give advice on constructing compelling narratives. Stein seized upon the growing market for electronic writing manuals and produced and developed software programs for writers including WritePro and FictionMaster. Stein was also commissioned by the Software Publishers' Association to write a manual for its members, How to Develop a Sound Software Business. Stein's most recent published work was the aforementioned Native Sons: A Friendship that Created One of the Greatest Works of the Twentieth Century: Notes of a Native Son, released in 2004.

From the description of Sol Stein Papers, 1943-2004 (Bulk Dates: 1950-2004). (Columbia University In the City of New York). WorldCat record id: 299029489

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Stein, Sol. Sol Stein Papers, 1943-2004 (Bulk Dates: 1950-2004). Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
creatorOf Ollard, Richard Lawrence. Papers, 1979-1993. Indiana University
referencedIn Vanguard Press. Vanguard Press Records, ca. 1925-ca. 1985. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
referencedIn Briarcliff Manor-Scarborough Historical Society (Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.). People file, 1908-1989. Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith American Committee for Cultural Freedom. corporateBody
associatedWith Baldwin, James, 1924-1987. person
associatedWith Barzun, Jacques, 1907- person
associatedWith Bentley, Eric, 1916- person
associatedWith Briarcliff Manor-Scarborough Historical Society (Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Kazan, Elia. person
associatedWith Mid-Century Book Club. corporateBody
associatedWith New Dramatists' Committee. corporateBody
associatedWith Ollard, Richard Lawrence. person
associatedWith Trilling, Diana. person
associatedWith Trilling, Lionel, 1905-1975. person
associatedWith Vanguard Press. corporateBody
associatedWith Voice of America (Organization) corporateBody
associatedWith Wolfe, Bertram David, 1896-1977. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
New York (State)--New York
Subject
Anti-communist movements
Occupation
Function

Person

Active 1979

Active 1993

Americans

English,

German

Information

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