Silbert, Layle

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Layle Silbert, photographer and writer, was born January 23, 1913 in Chicago. Her father, Morris Silbert, was a journalist, copywriter and editor in Chicago's Yiddish press. Her mother, a teacher and homemaker, encouraged Layle Silbert to pursue writing. Layle Silbert began composing poetry and literary essays in childhood, and remained devoted to the literary arts throughout her life.

After graduating from John Marshall High School, Silbert attended University of Chicago, earning a bachelor's degree in psychology in 1933, and a master's degree in 1938 from the School of Social Service Administration. Silbert's first career was in the field of social service, where she began as a case worker and moved on to positions as a researcher and statistician. From the mid-1930s to the early 1940s, Silbert was employed by Chicago-area social agencies including the Chicago Welfare Administration, the Travelers Aid Society of Chicago, the United States Employment Service, and Council of Social Agencies of Chicago. In the course of her career in social work and civil service, she met and married Abraham Aidenoff, a statistician for the United Nations.

In the 1940s, Silbert studied creative writing at Northwestern University and other institutions, beginning a career transition to writing and editorial work. In 1946 she was employed as an editorial and administrative assistant for the American Council on Race Relations. During the late 1940s, Silbert traveled internationally with her husband, who was working for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). Silbert worked as a teacher and freelance writer in China. During a stay in Pakistan, Silbert taught herself photography as a hobby.

When living in the United States, Silbert continued to photograph friends and acquaintances, but concentrated on her work as a freelance writer and editor based in New York City. In the late 1960s, Silbert was involved in several radical feminist organizations as an activist and writer. She simultaneously gravitated to New York literary circles. She attended poetry workshops taught by William Packard, whose writing and teaching would become an important influence on her work as both a writer and photographer. Packard's New York Quarterly, founded in 1969, was the first important outlet for Silbert's photography. Silbert also served on the journal's staff, and would go on to work on the staff of other journals, including Home Planet News and Woman Poet.

Silbert reached the peak of her career as both a writer and photographer during the 1970s, and continued to be highly productive until late in her life. She was noted foremost for her portraits of authors, which have been widely published in books and national media. Exhibitions of her photographs have been held at many academic and public libraries, including the University of Chicago's Regenstein Library. Her photographs were also used in United States Information Service programs in Ecuador and Mexico.

Silbert's poetry and prose were published in Denver Quarterly, Literary Review, Midatlantic Review, Salmagundi, South Dakota Review, Cottonwood Review, Jewish Frontier, New York Quarterly, Poetry Now, San Marcos Review, and Sing Heavenly Muse. Collections of her poems and short stories were published as Making a Baby in Union Park Chicago (1983); Imaginary People and Other Strangers (1985); New York New York (1996); Burkah and Other Stories (2003); and The Free Thinkers: Two Novellas (2004). She was a fellow at the McDowell Colony and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

Layle Silbert died on February 5, 2003.

From the guide to the Silbert, Layle. Papers, 1910-2003, (Special Collections Research Center University of Chicago Library 1100 East 57th Street Chicago, Illinois 60637 U.S.A.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Parnassus: poetry in review records, 1971-1996 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
creatorOf Silbert, Layle. Correspondence to Chaim Potok, 1975-1976. University of Pennsylvania Library
creatorOf Silbert, Layle. Papers, 1910-2003 Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library,
creatorOf Ozick, Cynthia. Office files of The American Poetry Review, 1977-1983. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
creatorOf Silbert, Layle. Office files, of The American Poetry Review, 1972-1983. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
creatorOf Nelson, Sara. Office files of The American Poetry Review, n.d. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
referencedIn The Nation, records, 1879-1974 (inclusive), 1920-1955 (bulk). Houghton Library.
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Aidenoff, Abraham person
correspondedWith Nation (New York, N.Y. : 1865). corporateBody
associatedWith Nelson, Sara. person
associatedWith Ozick, Cynthia. person
correspondedWith Parnassus: poetry in review corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country


Active 1977

Active 1983



Ark ID: w67s8gjx

SNAC ID: 53662045