Poet Drama in the Selden Rodman Papers

Selden Rodman (1909-2002) was a prolific author, biographer, poet, editor as well as an art collector and cultural critic. He published a book nearly every year of his adult life.

He was a rebellious young man who, while attending Yale in the 1930s, co-founded the irreverent campus journal The Harkness Hoot. He didn’t even attend his own graduation from Yale. Instead he rushed off to Europe and befriended literary luminaries such as Ezra Pound, James Joyce and Thomas Man.

Selden Rodman, undated photo. Selden Rodman papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Selden Rodman in undated photo. Selden Rodman papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

He returned to his hometown of New York City and was asked by Alfred Bingham, a leader of left-wing causes, to partner on new political magazine titled Common Sense. It was published from 1932 to 1946. Rodman cultivated contributors for the magazine, who were mostly progressives. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., in The Politics of Upheaval, called the magazine the most lively and interesting forum of radical discussion in the country.

Cover of the April 27, 1933, issue of the political magazine Common Sense co-founded by Selden Rodman.
A 1933 cover of Common Sense produced not long after the magazine’s founding in 1932. Selden Rodman Papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Over time Rodman accumulated an astonishing number of connections in the literary world. He had conversations with Ernest Hemmingway, Jackson Pollock, H.G. Wells, Edward Hopper among others.

In the late 1950s, Rodman befriended poet E.E. Cummings. In a series of letters between them a dramatic scene is played out.

E.E. Cummings, 1953
E.E. Cummings, 1953. World-Telegram photo by Walter Albertin. This work is from the New York World-Telegram and Sun collection at the Library of Congress. According to the library, there are no known copyright restrictions on the use of this work.

Rodman and his wife visited Cummings and gave him one of Rodman’s books as a gift. When Cummings read the book, he discovered Rodman wrote biographies of poets, and accused him of being a “professional interviewer in disguise.”

Rodman was hurt by the accusation and assured Cummings he only wanted to be friends and not secretly interview him. The writers seem to have made up and Rodman later included Cummings’ work in one of his anthologies.

See Rodman’s correspondence with E. E. Cummings and other literary figures in his papers at the University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center.

  • Post contributed by American Heritage Center Simpson Institute Archivist Leslie Waggener.


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