Jill A. Hershorin, MLIS
Jewish Historical Society of NJ
The Ginsberg Family Collection (1956-2013) has been processed and is now available for research at the Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey (JHS of NJ). It is our hope to reach a wider audience by detailing the contents and procedure of how the collection was evaluated.
For decades, Pat Sebold, a local politician in Essex County, NJ, has been the keeper of some of her family’s memorabilia. This trove includes hardback and paperback copies of the family’s published writings, letters to and from family members, and newspaper clippings of the Ginsberg family. Finally, after a few years of convincing, Sebold donated the materials to our archive in 2016. We have known of Sebold’s accomplishments in the public and personally, we know that Pat is the first cousin of author, poet and philosopher, Allen Ginsberg.
While the official repository of the Allen Ginsberg papers is housed at Stanford University, the Ginsberg Family Collection resides in our small archive in Whippany, NJ. Our archive’s holdings contain materials that represent Jewish life in the nearby counties of Essex, Morris, Sussex, and Union. Because the Ginsberg family has its roots in Newark, NJ we thought it fitting that the collection should be with us. Convincing Pat Sebold was uncomplicated. Sitting with New Jersey Jewish News reporter Robert Weiner, Sebold says: “It is better it should go someplace where it will be treasured.” She added, “What are they going to do? Sit in a bookcase for the rest of my life?”
Processing the Collection
When the materials arrived, there were six large boxes with no discernable arrangement or order. Three of the boxes held hardbound and paperback books, and the other three contained assorted documents. The boxes of books were set aside and I began to sort through the documents. It was clear that there were items related to Allen Ginsberg, but I soon discovered other family members’ documents as well. There were correspondence and writings penned by Allen’s father, poet Louis Ginsberg; postcards from Allen’s Aunt and Uncle Hanna, and Leo Litzky; letters from Edith Ginsberg; a handwritten family tree, and other treasures.
Throughout the sorting process, I thought about the connections that this family shared – the activism, the appreciation for the written word, and their deep love for one another. After two weeks of sorting the materials, the direction of the collection began to take shape. The collection would be divided into four series: Allen Ginsberg; Ginsberg Family; Press; and Publications. Clearly there was an abundance of materials that belonged within the Allen Ginsberg series, but other materials belonged within series that had not been penned by Allen.
It became clear that the Allen Ginsberg Series had to be further broken down to subseries levels. The correspondence subseries range covers the period from 1956 to 1987, and contains outgoing letters and postcards sent by Allen Ginsberg and his aunt and uncles. The postcards are humorous and tell of Allen’s travels in his unique poetic voice: “Dear Clara and Murray. Happy New Year from Amsterdam – cheese, canals, windmills, bridges, dogshit, Indonesian restaurants, red light district, youth clubs with rock +roll + herb dopes… Love, I think of you fondly. Allen.” Each item was photocopied for researchers’ use, and the originals were placed in mylar enclosures. Other subseries are “Events”; “Photographs”; “Funeral Services”; and “Writings.” It is fascinating to see the silver gelatin photographs of the family members shot and captioned by Allen.
The Ginsberg Family Series contain letters and postcards, photographs, flyers, and family trees. The items are from various family members and include some works by Louis Ginsberg. The correspondence is mainly between family members, and there are a few letters from outsiders. A letter penned by Louis titled, “A letter to my son, Allen Ginsberg,” reads more like an editorial than a personal letter. He writes of his displeasure with Allen’s stance on Israeli militarism to which Allen was deeply opposed. Allen felt that the Israelis victimized Palestinians and his suggestion would be to “let back in all the Palestinian Arabs and make it a non-Jewish state, secular state.” Louis responds by writing to Allen: “I read with commingled disappointment and distress, your article on the Arab-Israeli conflict…Allen, you (and your New Left cronies) are ready to help liberate all oppressed groups except your own.” We get a glimpse into the ideals and differences between the two men as they famously held opposing viewpoints on many social and cultural issues, but ultimately they remained close until Louis’ death in 1976.
Because of the numerous events, articles, and interviews with the Ginsberg family, The Press Series contains flyers, newspaper clippings, and press releases, and have been arranged into subseries based on theme or topic. All clippings have been photocopied for researchers to use.
The Publications Series contain books (many of which are first editions) and have been inscribed by the author(s). They are housed in three full-sized record storage boxes. Allen would personalize his books to his family and friends by drawing and inscribing on many editions using a wide range of motifs, symbols, messages, and settings. Allen’s drawings include a cross-legged Buddha, willowy flowers, Stars of David, the often inscribed “AH” and “OHM”, snakes, skeletons, and dreamlike cityscapes. For long term conservation, it was decided that these books would be stored, and the inscriptions were to be scanned and saved in our digital library. In addition, the book covers and inscriptions have been photocopied, and access to the originals is restricted.
After making entries into Past Perfect, the series description and finding aid were written, and the information was sent to the NUCMC cataloguer in Washington D.C, who created the OCLC record for the collection. We then contacted The Allen Ginsberg Estate and Stanford University to let them know about our collection.
It is 1985 and another postcard arrives at what would be Abe Ginsberg’s final residence – an assisted living facility in West Orange, NJ. He is well into his 80s, and his body may be slowed and his eyesight weakened, but what he can count on is the constant communication from members of his tight-knit family, seeking advice and sharing memories of their lives together. This postcard reads: “11-25-85: Dear Abe – Here we are in Minsk, Belarus where it all started! Big wide avenues, blank faces, ordinary eyes, circus tigers + lions + acrobats…” This postcard is another from his nephew, poet Allen Ginsberg.
When Allen Ginsberg sent his elderly uncle Abe Ginsberg the postcard from Minsk, Allen was already a well-established cultural icon. Allen was born in Newark, NJ in 1926 to poet and educator Louis Ginsberg and wife Naomi, a dedicated Marxist. His brother, Eugene was a lawyer and poet as well and penned under the name Eugene Brooks. Allen began keeping a journal when he was a pre-teen and discovered the poetry of Walt Whitman who remained a major influence throughout Allen’s life. Allen graduated from Paterson’s Eastside High School in 1943, and then Montclair State College. He received a scholarship from the Young Men’s Hebrew Association to attend Columbia University, where he wrote for the Columbia Review and the humor magazine Jester. As a freshman at Columbia University, Allen “met undergraduate Lucien Carr, who introduced him to William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, part of a diverse (and now legendary) circle of friends that grew to include Herbert Huncke, the young novelist John Clellon Holmes, and Neal Cassady… These friends became the nucleus of a group that named themselves the “Beat Generation” writers.”
Allen soon dedicated his life to poetry, and Allen and Eugene watched as their mother Naomi suffered from paranoia, often being admitted to mental hospitals. Louis divorced Naomi while she was institutionalized and married Edith Cohen in 1950. In 1956 Naomi died after undergoing a lobotomy. Three years after her death, Allen penned what some consider his finest poem, the infamous elegy for his mother titled, Kaddish for Naomi Ginsberg (1894-1956).
Allen was the perfect representative of the counterculture movement of the 1960s as he was vocal in anti- war efforts and was a key figure at the protests at the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1968. In the 1970s, he and poet Anne Waldman created a poetry school, the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, at Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Ginsberg continued voicing his social/political stances throughout his life, until his death in 1997. He is buried in Newark’s Gomel Chesed Cemetery.
Louis Ginsberg was born in Newark, NJ in 1895. He married his classmate, Naomi, who later became a grammar school instructor while Louis taught English and literature (a career he would keep for the next 40 years). He continued writing poetry and ran a weekly column of puns in Newark’s Star Ledger. His writings appeared in the New York Times and the New York Herald as well as many anthologies. He was the author of three books: The Attic of the Past, The Everlasting Minute and Morning in Spring.
Eugene became an attorney specializing in international law and remained a poet. He wrote throughout his service in World War II, and these poems were published as Rites of Passage. He often collaborated with his brother and father as all three men (Louis, Eugene and Allen) presented many public readings together.
Louis’ sister, Hannah “Honey” Litzky was an educator. She was outspoken about the rights of the working class and connected political issues with educational concerns. She was very involved in forming the Newark Teachers Union with Bob Lowenstein and was involved with other local unions and organizations that helped the city’s needy population of the 1930s and 40s. She taught at Newark’s famed Weequahic High School. She was married to South Side High School Principal, Leo Litzky.
Louis Ginsberg died in 1976, Allen in 1997, Hannah in 1999, Edith in 2000, and Eugene in 2001
To date, we have not had any requests from researchers to examine The Ginsberg Family Collection. The Society promotes its archival holdings through our website (jhs-nj.org), bi-annual newsletters, stories and highlights in our local newspaper, press releases, Facebook posts, and catalogue entries to OCLC (Online Computer Library Center.) Within this small but dense and diverse collection of writings lies a deeper insight into the connection that this family had with each other.
 Source: http://www.anb.org/articles/16/16-03394.html American National Biography Online June 2000 Update. Access Date: October 29, 2015 Copyright (c) 2000 American Council of Learned Societies. Published by Oxford University Press.