Possible Research Topics

Here’s a quite incomplete list of some of the artists, intellectuals, political figures, and institutions important to the  life of New York City in the 1940s.   I’ve mainly listed below people or items that are not included already on the sylllabus.


Writers, Editors, and Critics

James Baldwin–leading figure of the new African-American aesthetes; along with Ralph Ellison responsible for reorienting main concerns and styles of African-American literature after the War; associated with anti-Communist “New York Intellectuals” in the ’40s

Daniel Bell–“New York Intellectual” with sociological bent, best known for The End of Ideology (1960), The Coming of Post-Industrial Society (1973) and The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (1976); gets his start as a young intellectual serving as managing editor of The New Leader in the 1940s

Saul Bellow–major postwar novelist; during early years of his career loosely affiliated with the “New York Intellectuals”

John Berryman–along with Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop, a leader of the formalist poetics prominent in the U. S. after the War

Elizabeth Bishop–a leading voice of postwar poetry; published frequently in The New Yorker during the forties and after; college classmate at Vassar with Mary McCarthy

Walter Bernstein–Brooklyn-born war reporter and screenwriter.  During the war provided first-hand accounts of battle scenes to The New Yorker, later collected in classic Keep Your Head Down;  as associate of Robert Rossen became movie and television screenwriter;  a member of the Communist Party in his youth, he became a victim of the blacklist during the ’50s.

R.P. Blackmur–important formalist (“New”) critic; stationed at Princeton during the ’40s and after

Jane Bowles–avant-garde fiction writer; best known for Two Serious Ladies; married to Paul Bowles in unorthodox relationship/marriage of convenience treated in Paul Bowles’s largely autobiographical The Sheltering Sky

Kay Boyle–novelist, short-story writer, and, in the forties, foreign correspondent for The New Yorker; during the ’20s and ’30s was part of world of American expatriate avant-garde in Paris; returned to the U.S. during the ’40s and wrote several war-related novels.  A victim of the Red Scare, she is one of the few writers of the era who moved further to the left during the Cold War.

Kenneth Burke–leading literary critic, best known in ’30s and ’40s for his distrust of leftwing orthodoxy and his defense of artistic freedom and in later years for his sophisticated account of the pragmatics of literary communication; an important source of the prominent post-War view that societies are governed by the symbols and rituals highlighted in literature as much as by political and economic forces; a significant influence on post-War novelists, especially Ralph Ellison

Hortense Calisher–prolific and wide-ranging novelist and short-story writer whose career ran from the forties through the end of the century.  Her first work was published in The New Yorker in the forties, when she was one of the cohort of writers (including Cheever, Salinger, Shirley Jackson, and Peter Taylor) who expanded the magazine’s style of fiction.

Truman Capote–after childhood in Louisiana and Alabama, where much of his early fiction is eventually set, lives in NYC and in late ’40s publishes many stories with prominent magazines of the day; with publication of his collection Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948) becomes a literary sensation

Whitaker Chambers — former member of the Communist Party turned ardent anti-Communist, Chambers becomes famous in 1948 when he testifies to U.S. Congress that Alger Hiss was a Soviet spy and then becomes, through the publication of his memoir Witness (1952), a major influence on anti-Communism and the emerging new right movement of anti-New Deal conservatives; during the 1940s, he is a critic and cultural editor at Time magazine where he plays an important role in shaping public tastes

John Cheever–in the 1940s, at the beginning of a career as short-story writer who will remake The New Yorker genre

Alice Childress–African-American playwright, asssociated with American Negro Theatre; best known for Florence and later A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ but a Sandwich

Elliot Cohen–influential editor of Commentary magazine, a seminal figure in the making of “The New York Intellectuals”

Norman Corwin–important radio writer and producer, a major influence on the development of radio drama and the leading exponent of the left-populist-patriotic style during the War

Norman Cousins–long-time editor of The Saturday Review; a prominent voice of middlebrow liberalism during 1940s and 1950s

David Daiches–prominent British literary critic who lived in the U.S. and published in NY during 40s and 50s

George Davis–legendary, highly ambitious fiction editor at Harper’s Bazaar and later Mademoiselle and raconteur and man-about-town; introduced highbrown European literature (Auden, Isherwood, Woolf) as well as young, sometimes avant-garde American writers (Jane Bowles, Ray Bradbury, Truman Capote, Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor) into American fashion magazines; maintained a renowned group home in Brooklyn Heights during the 1940s which he shared at various times with Auden, McCullers, Benjamin Britten, Richard and Ellen Wright, and the renowned burelesque artist Gypsy Rose Lee

Edwin Denby–major dance critic (less well known as a poet and novelist) who was near the center of New York avant-garde circles in the ’40s and ’50s;  wrote a regular dance column for the Herald Tribue and later The Nation; important to the public reception of Balanchine, Martha Graham, Jerome Robbins, Merce Cunningham and to the appreciation of dance as an art form in the U.S.; longtime partner of photographer Rudy Burkhardt and asssociate of Willem de Kooneig, Aaron Copland, Virgil Thompson, Frank O’Hara and other poets of “the New York School” of the 1950s

Babette Deutsch–New York poet, who began publishing poetry in an Imagist vein in the 1920s and continued to be a prominent poet, critic, and translator through the ’40s

Manny Farber–painter and legendary film critic during the 1940s for The New Republic and later for Time and The Nation; along with a handful of similar critics (Otis Ferguson, Robert Warshow, James Agee, and later Pauline Kael, Stanley Kauffman, and Andrew Sarris) important in establishing the idea that popular film is a serious art form to be appreciated for its energy and the virtuosity of its creators; known especially for celebrating the inventiveness and brio of trashy entertainment (“termite art”) against middlebrow pretense (“white elephant art”) and for devising a prose style that suited the impressionability and ephemerality of the film viewer’s experience

Howard Fast–leading novelist and radio-drama writer of the populist left during 40s; member of the Communist Party, jailed during ’50s for refusing to name names to HUAC; best known as author of Spartacus (1951) and during ’40s as author of novels celebrating revolutionary history of the early U.S., e.g. Citizen Tom Paine (1943)

Leslie Fiedler–brilliant, free-wheeling literary critic and writer, who along with fellow “New York Intellectuals,” forged new style and range of cultural criticism; best known as author of Love and Death in the American Novel (1960) and its predecessor “Come Back to the Raft Ag’in, Huck Honey” (1948), which, to resulting sensation and controversy, pointed out the American literary tradition of homoerotic bonds between white boys and men of color

Janet Flanner–under the name Gênet, long-time Paris correspondent for The New Yorker, an important source of news about Europe during and after the War

Nathan Glazer–“New York Intellectual” with sociological bent; an important voice in return of attention to ethnicity; later loosely associated with neoconservatives

Paul Goodman– anarchist and sexual libertarian writer and critic loosely affiliated with the New York Intellectuals and with Dwight Macdonald’s politics who would go on to become famous as the author of Growing Up Absurd (1959), a seminal book for youth movements of the sixties; in the latter forties, Goodman edited the journal Complex and published with his architect brother Percival Communitas (1947) a defense of urban planning and a prophetic critique of automobile-based development.

Clement Greenberg–New York Intellectual and art critic; the most important critical theorist of Abstract Expressionism; forges the framework by which the New York painters and modern art generally will be predominantly understood in postwar decades

Lorraine Hansberry–African-American playwright and editor; best known as author of A Raisin in the Sun (1959); during late 40s and 50s edits Paul Robeson’s newspaper Freedom

Chester Himes–African-American fiction writer; protege of Richard Wright and fervent defender of protest fiction; during the ’40s his work charts the decline of that tradition; best known for the carnivalesque Harlem crime novels he writes during the ’50s and ’60s

Richard Hofstadter–historian of the U.S. associated with the “New York Intellectuals” and celebrated for the brilliance and wit of his style; a member of the Communist Party in his youth who later became a conservative; his career charts the wider path from left-leaning populism prominent in the 1930s and early 1940s to the “consensus school” of American history that become prominent in the 1950s; best known in the late ’40s for The American Political Tradition (1948),  a series of ironic portraits of major historical figures, and later for the anti-populist The Age of Reform (1955) and the prescient daignosis of right-wing ressentiment,  The Paranoid Style in American Politics (1963); important in promoting the idea that social psychology and psychological impulses (status anxiety, paranoia, anti-intellectualism) drive political action as much as economic or ideological interests

Sidney Hook–left-leaning American philosopher and polemicist, celebrated initially for his synthesis of Marx and Dewey; during the ’40s and ’50s a leading and highly combative anti-Stalinist who moves increasingly to the right

Irving Howe–young socialist New York intellectual and influential literary and social critic; best known as founder and long-time editor of Dissent, for his lucid criticism of fiction and for his defense of Yiddish culture

Stanley Edgar Hyman– influential literary critic, teacher, and fiction writer; a columnist at The New Yorker and a longtime faculty member at Bennington, which he helped make an outpost for visiting New York artists and intellectuals; married to fiction writer Shirley Jackson; an important defender of critical expertise in understanding literature and influential in promoting Kenneth Burke’s view that literature articulates rites and rituals central to the organization of its society; a close friend and important inspiration to Ralph Ellison among others

Shirley Jackson–novelist and short-story writer, best known for “The Lottery,” her horror tale of public stoning as small-town ritual, which caused a sensation when published in The New Yorker in 1948; a leading figure, along with Paul Bowles, Truman Capote, and Patricia Highsmith in postwar renaissance of gothic fiction; married to critic Stanley Edgar Hyman

C. L. R. James–prolific Afro-Trinidadian historian, journalist, social and literary critic who arrived in the U.S. from London in 1938 and remained until deported twenty years later ; significant figure and leading thinker of anti-Stalinist left who formulated the influential notion that the Soviet Union was neither a socialist society nor a “degenerated worker’s state” (as claimed by Trotsky) but an example of “state capitalism” that shared bureaucratic structures and authoritarian tendencies with the capitalist countries of the West; important in promoting the importance of anti-colonialism and black nationalism and their significance to the left; best known for his history of the Haitian revolution Black Jacobins (1938) and for  Mariners, Renegades and Castaways: The Story of Herman Melville and the World We Live In (1953), as well as for writings on cricket and Trinidad; during the ’40s a significant influence on Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison

Randall Jarrell–prominent poet, formalist critic, and novelist, along with Bishop, Lowell, and Berryman, a leading figure in postwar poetry

Alfred Kazin–literary critic associated with New York intellectuals and chronicler of New York life; best known for his groundbreaking, celebratory account of post-Civil War American literature On Native Grounds (1942) and for the trilogy of memoirs he wrote of his life in New York City, beginning with the poetic A Walker in the City (1951) and including Starting Out in the Thirties (1965) and New York Jew (1978); known as well for a style emphasizing his impassioned enthusiasm for literature

Irving Kristol–“New York Intellectual” who becomes in later decades a leading figure in neoconservatism

James Laughlin— poet and, more importantly, founder and editor of New Directions Press, a small, independent publishing house which played a central role in popularizing avant-garde, existentialist, international and beat writing in the decades after the War; making such literature available in affordable, attractively designed paperback editions, Laughlin and New Directions become enormously successful in bringing such works to a large, new audience of college-educated readers

A. J. Liebling–along with Joseph Mitchell, among the most celebrated of New Yorker reporters; best known for his erudite and witty writings on boxing, gourmandise, and New York lowlife, collected in Back Where I Came From (1938), The Telephone Booth Indian (1942) and The Wayward Pressman (1948); married to fiction writer Jean Stafford

Max Lerner–prominent liberal journalist who writes for PM, the New York Post, and later a widely read syndicated column

Robert Lowell–the most famous young poet of his day, the leading figure of the new formalist poetics, known for his Miltonic diction and Catholic theology and later, during the 50s, as a founder of confessional poetry; jailed during the war as a conscientious objector; associated with the “New York Intellectuals” and the New Critics

Norman Mailer–with the publication of The Naked and the Dead in 1948 becomes overnight the most famous young novelist of the day and regarded, along with James Jones, as the authority on the experience of war; subsequently publishes Barbary Shore (1951) surreal allegory of Cold War politics set in Brooklyn rooming house, Advertisements for Myself (1957), an avant-garde collection of stories, essays, and self-reflections that ironically promotes the idea of the author as brand and celebrity, and many other novels and non-fiction works; founder of The Village Voice (1955) and an influential creator of “The New Journalism,” using the techniques and privileges of literary narration to treat non-fiction events; renowned as flamboyant provocateur who, among other things, celebrates hipsterism as a challenge to sterility and conformity of American society

Bernard Malamud–novelist and fiction writer known for his formally elegant tales of Jewish life; best known for The Natural, The Assistant, and The Fixer; at the beginning of his career in the ’40s

William Maxwell–novelist and fiction editor at The New Yorker; along with Kathering White, important in defining the style of New Yorker fiction and in publishing many major writers

Carson McCullers–Alabama fiction writer, who lives and writes in NYC (and briefly shares a residence with Auden, Jane Bowles, and George Davis), known for her senstive depictions of outcasts and grotesques and for her depiction of same-sex desire; most prominent works are The Heart is a Lonely HunterMember of the Wedding; Ballad of the Sad Cafe

Joseph Mitchell–along with Liebling, the most prominent New Yorker reporter; known for his portraits of New York eccentrics, most famously legendary Greenwich Village figure Joe Gould

Bucklin Moon–novelist and editor and a leading voice of racial liberalism; plays an important role in bringing literary attention to problems of racial injustice and helps to connect writers like Ann Petry to publishing opportunities

Vladimir Nabokov–at beginning of his career as writer in English during the ’40s; published in The New Yorker

Clifford Odets–the leading playwright of The Group Theater and prominent left-populist dramatist; breaks through to fame in 30s with Waiting for Lefty; later writes screenplay for Sweet Smell of Sucess; the inspriation for the Coen Brothers’ Barton Fink

John O’Hara–commonly regarded as the definitive New Yorker writer of the 30s and early 40s; best known for Appointment in Samarra and BUtterfield 8; in the late 40s represents the declining style of fiction of upper class manners

Charles Olson–will become, with the publication of his manifesto Projective Verse in 1950, the leading voice of the Black Mountain school of poets; during the ’40s works in public relations for the ACLU and the Democratic Party; in 1947, publishes  Call Me, Ishmael, influential study of Melville based on his Wesleyan undergrad thesis

Roi Ottley–prominent African-American journalist, columnist, war correspondent, historian; author of, among other works, New World A-Coming, celebrated documentary account of contemporary life in Harlem, performed on radio and at Carnegie Hall with associated tone poem by Duke Ellington

Betty Parsons–painter and gallery owner who played a key role in bringing the Abstract Expressionists to public attention

S. J. Perelman–humorist, magazine writer, screenwriter for the Marx Bros., and dramatist

Norman Podhoretz–New York intellectual, later a leading neoconservative

Abraham Polonsky–left-wing essayist, novelist, screenwriter and film director, member of Communsit Party, blacklisted by Hollywood studios in the 50s; writers screenplay for Body and Soul and directs Force of Evil

Dawn Powell–satirical novelist, diarist, and legendary Greenwich-Village wit; her novels and diaries chronicle New York intellectual and artistic life of the 1930s and ’40s

J.F. Powers–fiction writer who focuses on minor dramas of the lives of Catholic priests; begins career in the late 40s

Isaac Rosenfeld–renowned fiction writer and young literary genius, called “the American Kafka,” best known for never realizing his great promise; childhood friend of Saul Bellow who moves from Chicago to New York in the 1940s

Lillian Ross–reporter for The New Yorker, who, along with Hersey, introduced new journalistic styles to the magazine–most importantly, “fly-on-the-wall” recounting of acts and conversations of powerful people.

J. D. Salinger–breaks through with the New Yorker after the War

Thomas Sancton–left-liberal editor of The New Republic; leading figure of racial liberalism

Edwin Seaver–CP-affiliated writer and editor; during the ’40s edits the important series of anthologies Cross-Section

Meyer Schapiro–“New York intellectual,” essayist and art critic; along with Clement Greenberg, a leading defender of Abstract Expressionism who, derives from Marxism a formalist-historicist view of the development of modern art that becomes critical orthodoxy

Jean Stafford–Colorado-born novelist and short story writer who publishes often in The New Yorker; best known for “The Interior Castle,” tale of the inner life of an immobilized patient and for novel The Mountain Lion; briefly married to Robert Lowell and later to A. J. Liebling

Irwin Shaw–novelist, short-story writer, playwright, and screenwriter; writes accounts of wartime service and after the war becomes leading figure in the remaking of The New Yorker short story

James Thurber–celebrated New Yorker humorist, collaborator of E. B. White

Diana Trilling–New York intellectual and critic, married to Lionel

Gore Vidal–at beginning of long and illustrious career as novelist, dramatist, screenwriter, essayist in the 40s; publishes first novel about the War Williwaw in 1946 and in subsequent year  becomes controversial for novel of same-sex love affair The City and the Pillar

Robert Warshow–New York intellectual, critic and editor; celebrated for essays in popular culture

Katherine White–influential fiction editor at The New Yorker, a key figure in creating the image of the magazine and in shaping the New-Yorker-style story; editor of many significant writers; married to E. B.

Thornton Wilder–novelist and dramatist best known for Our Town (1938) andThe Bridege of San Luis rey (1927); during the 40s, his allegorical/theological play on the fate of humanity The Skin of Our Teeth (1942) wins Pulitzer Prize; in 1948 publishes admired novel The Ides of March treating Mussolini as a latter-day reincarnation of Caesar.

William Carlos Williams–in the ’40s an eminent representive of the modernist movement in poetry; in the latter part of the decade, publishes with New Directions press Paterson, his epic view of the American city; important influence on rising objectivist, Black Mountain, and New York school poets

Ira Wolfert–left-wing novelist and war correspondent; best known for novel of New York numbers racket Tucker’s People and for reporting on the war in the Pacific

Edmund Wilson–the predominant American literary critic; publishes with The Yorker throughout the 40s

Richard Wright–although began career as writer in Chicago, where his most famous work Native Son (1940) is set, writes the novel in Brooklyn; lives in NYC through the ’40s, where subsequent novel The Outsider (1948) is mainly set and where stories in Eight Men are mainly written; in NYC encounters existentialism which he feels confirms his view of life; moves soon to Paris where lives remainder of his life

Magazines, Journals, Newspapers, Anthologies, Presses

Accent: A Quarterly of New Writing

Christianity and Crisis–influential little, liberal Protestant magazine, founded by Reinhold Neibuhr in NYC in 1941; survives for half a century

Common Ground, ed. Louis Adamic, devoted to fostering cultural pluralism

Common Sense—independent socialist magazine (1935-1946) founded and edited by Alfred Bingham, son of Hiram Bingham (discoverer of Macchu Picchu and CT congressman) and heir to the Tiffany fortune; moved toward political center during WWII; papers at Yale

Commentary—highly influential magazine on culture and politics founded in 1945 by American Jewish Committee; edited in the 1940s by Elliot Cohen and later by Norman Podhoretz; an important venue for “New York Intellectuals”; during the 1970s and 1980s became the house organ of neoconservatism

Complex–a little, psychoanalytic quarterly edited by Paul Goodman

Cross-Section: An Anthology of New Writing, prominent, interracial anthologies (1944-1948) of young writers; published Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Ann Petry, Gwendolyn Brooks, Arthur Miller, Jane Bowles.  Ed. Edwin Seaver

Freedom—Harlem journal founded by Paul Robeson for fellow travelers and supporters of civil rights, edited by Lorraine Hansberry

Harper’s Bazaar–during ’30s and ’40s redefines the fashion magazine; a leading home of ambitious new fiction; and during the ’40s an important populizer of Abstract Expressionism

Holiday Magazine—a new glossy magazine created in the postwar years to cater to a public newly aware of dispensable income and a strong dollar; publishes many established and rising literary talents, including, in addition to E.B. White, Faulkner, Bellow, V. S. Pritchett

PM—a leftist daily tabloid (1940-48) published by Ralph Ingersoll and financed by Marshall Field III to promote social democracy to a popular audience

Pour La Victoire–French language emigre newspaper published in NYC during War

Masses and Mainstream—the successor, created in 1947, to the Communist-Party-affiliated magazine New Masses

Monthly Review–little, socialist magazine founded by economist Paul Sweezy and funded by literary critic F. O. Matthiessen

Negro Quarterly—anti-racist, left-wing, intellectual journal (1941-1943) founded by prominent former Communist Party member Angelo Herndon, edited by Ralph Ellison

Negro Youth—a Garveyite, black nationalism newspaper for Harlem young

New Directions Press–influential avant-garde publishing house; publishes major modernist authors and introduces American readers to new European writers and to Beats

The New Republic—in the 40s (ed. Thomas Sancton) the most far left of the mainstream journals of opinion

New York Post—in the forties and fifties, a very prominent voice of  populist liberalism; edited after 1948 by influential James Wechsler, former Communist turned Cold-War liberal and one of the founders of Americans for Democratic Action (anti-Marxist, liberal organization important in Democratic Party politics); targeted by Hoover and McCarthy in the ’50s

The New Yorker—founded in 1927, comes to its reputation as the premier cultural magazine of the U.S. during the ’40s and ’50s; circulation and influence jump during the War years and after

Pantheon Books–prestigious German emigre publisher; introduces to U.S. many German language writers and artists; becomes influential elite publisher; later absorbed by Random House

Partisan Review—highly influential little magazine of the New York Intellectuals; the key institution in the transformation of Trotskyism into “New” Liberalism

The New Leader—prestigious, anti-Stalinist socialist little magazine; managing editor in the 1940s was Daniel Bell; published Orwell, Nabokov, Bertrand Russell, Sidney Hook, Camus, Silone

People’s Voice—leftist paper for African-American audiences, founded by Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. to compete with Amsterdam News; edited by Ann Petry

politics—unorthodox left wing intellectual quarterly founded by Dwight Macdonald to compete with Partisan Review.  Home to Macdonald, Mary McCarthy, Paul Goodman, and the young C. Wright Mills, as well as a venue for unorthodox leftwing and anarchist European writers such as Nicola Chiaromonte and Simone Weil

Down Beat—the premier magazine for jazz fans and critics, chronicles the “modern jazz” revolution

Saturday Review (before 1942, The Saturday Review of Literature)—the definitive, middle-class, middlebrow magazine, edited from 1940 to 1971 by Norman Cousins (previously edited by founder Henry Seidel Canby and by Bernard DeVoto) dedicated to cultural uplift and liberal causes (care for victims of nuclear bombing, disarmament, world peace)

Schocken Books–small, German emigre publisher brought to NYC by war; later absorbed by Random House; publishes Kafka, Benjamin, Wiesel, Arendt; employs Arendt as editor and translator

Twice-A-Year—semi-annual little magazine (1938-1948) founded and edited by liberal activist-writer-photographer-curator (and lover/champion of Alfred Stieglitz) Dorothy Norman; a venue for the importation of existentialism to the U.S and for anti-imperialism and defense of civil liberties; publishes Camus, Sartre, Beauvoir, Malraux, Mann, Koestler, along with WC Williams, Sherwood Anderson, Henry Miller

View magazine–a little magazine (1940-47) edited by Charles Henri Ford which played a role in introducing Eurioppean avant-garde painters, particularly surrealists, and writers to American audiences; “you can’t be modern and not read View“; though its circulation was small, the magazine was slick and handsomely produced

VVV magazine (1942-44)–a little magazine of “poetry, plastic arts, anthropology, sociogy, [and] psychology” dedicated to disseminating surrealism in the U.S.; edited by the American sculptor David Hare, along with Andre Breton, Max Ernst, and Marcel Duchamp with an editorial board including Aime Cesaire and Robert Motherwell; contributors included Giorgio di Chirico, Yves Tanguy, Roberto Matta, and Claude Levi-Strauss; an influence on the development of abstract expressionism


Music, Theater, and Dance

Actor’s Studio, the Group Theater, and the development of Method Acting

American Negro Theater

George Balanchine and NYC Ballet

Irving Berlin (Annie, Get Your Gun)

Leonard Bernstein

Benjamin Britten

John Cage

Merce Cunningham

Katherine Dunham

Folk music movement–Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Pete Seeger and the Almanac Singers and the Weavers, Josh White

Cole Porter (Kiss Me, Kate)

Jerome Robbins

Rodgers and Hammerstein



Berenice Abbott

Richard Avedon

Erwin Blumenfeld

Rudy Burkhardt

Roy DeCarava

Alfred Eisendstadt

Andre Kertesz

Andreas Feininger

Hans Namuth

Arnold Newman

Charles Cushman


William P. Gottleib

Phillipe Halsman


Rebecca Lepkoff

Helen Levitt

Lisette Model

Barbara Morgan

Arnold Newman

Ruth Orkin

Gordon Parks

Irving Penn

Harold Roth

The Photo League


Some Other Significant Cultural and Political Phenomena of the Moment

The rise of the “New York Intellectuals” — a small cohort of some four or five dozen, mainly Jewish writers and critics affiliated with the non-Stalinist left, who in the 1940s and ’50s publish in a group of “little” magazines (small-circulation monthly or quarterly journals of arts and ideas for a coterie audience) such as Partisan Review, Commentary, The New Leader and Dissent.  Although initially a small group with a minor audience largely made up of its own members, this intellectual movement turns out to exercise great influence over the style and directions of postwar American cultural and political life.  The New York Intellectuals play a major role in rehabilitating artistic modernism (e.g., art that is formally sophisticated, experimental, avant-garde, and cosmopolitan in its readership or range of reference) in literature and the visual arts and in discrediting styles of art (avowedly political, conventionally representational, populist and/or nationalist in sentiment or address) they view as naive or manipulative.  Along with their allies among the “New Critics” (former Southern Agrarian writers like John Crowe Ransom, Allan Tate, Cleanth Brooks, and Robert Penn Warren, who, like the New York Intellectuals champion artistic modernism), the NYI  establish a critical framework that will define orthodox critical taste and prevailing trends in academic scholarship of literature and art in the coming decades.  They similarly influence the style and tone of critical discourse by creating a distinctive intellectual voice  (ironic, witty, knowing, combative, given to proposing sweeping theories of culture and society) that defines the predominant tone of postwar cultural criticism.  In addition, the New York Intellectuals are politically influential.  Advancing a strong critique of Stalinist Marxism that tends to broaden into a more general distrust of socialism, bureaucratic government and populist politics, the NYI provide much of the intellectual justification for Cold War liberalism.  (Some of their publication venues and academic enterprises receive covert financial support from the CIA or direct funding from powerful private groups, like the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations, that aligned their funding priorities with the aims of the U.S. foreign policy elite).  In the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, a number of their prominent members become the founding figures in the creation of “neoconservatism” and nurture institutions and intellectuals that will become prominent defenders of Republican aims, especially in foreign policy, in the George W. Bush administration.  Leading members and associates of the New York Intellectuals include: Daniel Bell, Fred Dupee, Nathan Glazer, Clement Greenberg, Irving Kristol, Mary McCarthy, Norman Podhoretz; Delmore Schwartz, Dwight Macdonald, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Lionel Trilling.

Urban Planning (also, “Urban Renewal,” “Slum Clearance”) and the rise of International Style Architecture — Beginning in the 1930s and 1940s and continuing through the postwar decades, NYC becomes the leading metropolis in an international movement to engage in large-scale, planned reconstruction of the geography and architecture of the city.  Especially through the efforts of Robert Moses, New York in the mid-twentieth century vastly expands its network of highways, bridges, and tunnels–making the city the center of a vast automobile metropolis.  In the same years, New York begins building its first public housing projects for low-income tenants and enters into public-private partnerships to build vast new housing developments (most famously, Stuyvestant Town) for middle-income tenants.  These efforts coincide with efforts at “slum clearance” that had been long sought by urban reformers and by real-estate developers and that are ultimately supported by the federal Housing Act of 1949.  All of these developments give impetus to the growing vogue for modernist or “International” style architecture–typified, as in the new UN complex completed in the late 1940s, by glass-curtain slabs set in open, green spaces.   They encourage as well grand, sweeping visions for the complete reconstruction of the city and introduce a vocubulary of architecture and urban planning (e.g., “tower,” “superblock,” “blight” and “urban renewal”) that will be predominant in discussions of the city in the decades to come.

The American Importation of Existentialism–Sartre, Camus, de Beauvoir first appear in the U.S. in the pages of little magazines in the 1940s, as does a new fascination with 19th century Danish proto-existentialist philosopher Soren Kierkegaard and a great excitement about the newly translated stories of Kafka.   By the end of the decade, these figures have helped inspire an intellectual and cultural style that will be a major feature of life in the 1950s

The rebirth of Greenwich Village–enters the second or third of its eras as a center of bohemian life after the War, as many returning soldiers bring disposable income and artistic and intellectual interests to the neighborhood

The beginnings of the Beat movement–Ginsberg, Kerouac, Burroughs and others are all living and writing in New York in the 1940s, althought they will not come to fame until the ’50s

The last attempts at the proletarian literature and literature of protest–prominent literary forms of the 1930s and early 1940s that come under increasing critical pressure and are largely out of fashion by the end of the period, but which nevertheless give rise to a number of impressive works (by e.g., Chester Himes, Arthur Miller, Willard Motley, Clifford Odets, Abraham Polonsky, Alexander Saxton) seeking to keep the styles alive

The rise of the “hipster”–Beginning in the 1940s, cultural commentators begin to take note of the way the fashions, style, entertainment and argot of urban, African-American youth–especially those that center on music and dance and that blur the boundaries between legal and criminal activities–allow for the creation of alternative subcultures that can challenge the mores and values of middle-class life.  The term hipster, which is used to refer both to young black men and to white imitators who seek to define themselves by following the styles of African-American youth, first becomes prominent in the late ’40s.

The ethnic redefinition of the city — The 1940s are the pivotal decade when white outmigration from the city to the suburbs begins in earnest and when African-American migration to the city from the south and Puerto Rican imigration begin to significantly reshape the ethnic profile of the city.

Jackie Robinson, the Dodgers, and the integration of Major League Baseball — the color barrier in major league sports broken for the first time, a result of the increasing demand for Civil Rights that begins during the War and a harbinger of greater changes to come

The rise of Cold War liberalism (and the creation of Americans for Democratic Action, the growth of the idea of “totalitarianism,” and the beginnings of the redscare and the blacklist) — In the few years following WWII, as the Cold War begins to become a preoccupation of American politics, the American political landscape is redrawn.  Major battles take place over what it means to be a liberal or on the left, who counts as an enemy of democracy or of the U.S., and where boundary lines should be drawn.  These battles come to a head in the presidential election of 1948 (between Truman, Dewey, and the controversial third-party candidate Henry Wallace), through which (among other means) centrist liberals and their newly formed organization Americans for Democratic Action succeed in expelling allies, supporters, and sympathizers of the Communist Party and the Soviet Union from the democratic coalition.  These developments coincide with the increasing intellectual influence of theories of “totalitarianism” that claim to discover strong affinities between fascist and socialist states (and often to see the germs of similar evils in the societies of the capitalist West).  They are also contemporaneous with the first important examples of artists, performers, intellectuals, and teachers being branded as subversives and excluded from employment because of their political affiliations.

The influence of French, German, and Italian emigre intellectuals — During the War in particular, large numbers of European intellectuals and artists are displaced to New York City

The New York “noir” film

The Peekskill riots — in 1949, when Paul Robeson is scheduled to perform in Peekskill and buses of admirers travel from NYC to witness him, they are attacked and beaten by mobs shouting anti-Communist slogans and racist and anti-Semitic insults; a symbol of growing Cold War and Civil Rights, the event becomes a national scandal



Some Important Political Figures


Benjamin Davis, Jr. — African-American representative to the City Council from Harlem from 1943 to 1948; graduate of Amherst and Harvard; member of Communist Party; as part of Red Scare tried for conspiracy against the government and convicted in 1948; a very prominent figure in New York leftwing circles

Fiorello LaGuardia — the “Little Flower”; a liberal “reform” (anti-Tammany Hall) Republican who becomes closely aligned with the New Deal, LaGuardia represents East Harlem to the U.S. Congress from 1922 to 1933 and serves as NYC mayor from 1935 to 1943.   A master of populist and reform politics, who is also skilled at making use of contacts with FDR’s Washington, LaGuardia presides over and is in good part responsible for the city’s renaissance in the 1940s.   In his initial campaign for the mayorlty, LaGuardia assembles a coalition of Italian, German, and Jewish voters, and of Socialists, reform Democrats and some Republican reformers that defeats Tammany Hall’s control of City Hall and redraws the map of NYC politics.   LaGuardia governs as a populist and progressive who opposes corrupt politicians and gangsters and who works to bring expert leadership, public services, and federal dollars to New York.  He is partially successful in introducing civil service reform and in cleaning up NYC politics.  But he is much more successful in attracting funding from the federal government for urban reconstruction.  He brings about the unification of the transit system; builds NY’s first public housing; and, with Robert Moses, presides over a vast program of  public works construction that result in a great expansion of the city’s highways, airports, parks, and playgrounds–including, the West Side Highway, the East River Drive, the Triborough Bridge, and the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel.  His control of the office coincides with the city’s economic renaissance and with its broader transition from an industrial metropolis to an international center of communications, marketing, finance, and culture.

Vito Marcantonio — representative to U. S. Congress from East Harlem from 1935-’37 and 1939- ’51, as member of first Republican and then Labor parties; sympathetic to Communist Party, whose positions, on e.g., WWII he adopts

Robert Moses — the most powerful, unelected official in the history of New York and, with the brief, possible rival of his ally LaGuardia, the most influential public servant in the city for several decades.  The man who virtually ever aspect of the massive public works projects that rebuild NYC from the 1930s through the 1960s–known in his day as the city’s “master builder” and later, in the title of Robert Caro’s highly critical biography, as “the power broker.”  Moses is a skilled manipulator of the powers enabled by New York’s “public authorities” (corporate instruments created by the state to further public interests–e.g., the Port Authority, which runs airports, bus stations, bridges, and tunnels) and of the funds and powers appropriated by the federal government.  He is also a deft negotiator among private developers and federal, state, and local politicians.  He amasses extraordinary power and uses it to accomplish a dramatic transformation in the urban geography of New York City.  He is responsible for the initial creation of much of the network of highways, bridges, and tunnels linking NYC to its metropolitan region and thus for making New York and its rapidly growing new suburbs a terrain suited to the automobile.  (His projects include the Triborough Bridge, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, the Throgs Neck Bridge; the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, the Northern and Southern State Parkways, the Taconic Parkway, the Long Island Expressway, the Cross-Bronx Expressway, the Staten Island Expressway, and the Belt Parkway.)  A key figure in the creation of the New York World’s Fairs of 1939 and 1964 and of the UN Headquarters complex of 1948, Moses more than any other individual remakes the city as a world capital.  As the driving or pivotal figure in the creation of Stuyvesant Town, Lincoln Center, Shea Stadium, and of “slum clearance” and public housing, as well as in the creation of many parks, pools, and playgrounds, Moses also reshapes the landscape of the city and the lifestyles it supported.  A good case can be made that he plays a crucial role in transforming New York from an industrial city with a vibrant working-class population to a post-industrial center of communications, finance, and culture characterized by stark divisions of race and wealth–and that in this way his efforts pave the way for the urban crisis that emerges during the 1960s and ’70s.

William O’Dwyer — mayor of NYC from 1946 to 1950; a Tammany Hall Democrat who nevertheless continues some LaGuardia policies, especially his emphasis on large public works projects, O’ Dwyer leaves office under a corruption cloud

Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. — minister and politician; first black representative to NY City Council (1941-1945) and representative from Harlem to U.S. House of Representatives from 1945 to 1971; as activist civil rights leaders, a  central figure in Harlem politics during the 1930s and the dominant figure in Harlem politics in the following decades