Eastern European

Joseph Freeman

Born in the Ukraine, Joseph Freeman came to the United States in 1904. A socialist from age seventeen, he was one of the more visible figures of the Left in the 1920s and 1930s as an editor of the Liberator and cofounder of New Masses. His poetry regularly appeared in journals, but it was never collected in a book. He worked for the Soviet news agency TASS from 1925-1931 but later broke with the party. His most famous work is his political autobiography An American Testament (1936).

Louis Zukofsky

Born in New York of Russian immigrant parents and raised on Manhattan's Lower East Side, Louis Zukofsky's childhood reading was done in Yiddish. He was educated at Columbia University. Earning money teaching English at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, among other jobs, he began writing and publishing early on. He defined a de facto movement, whose members he called "Objectivists," when he edited a special issue of Poetry magazine in 1931; Pound had convinced the editor Harriet Monroe to let Zukofsky do the issue.

Carl Rakosi

Born in Berlin, the son of Hungarian nationals, Carl Rakosi came to the United States in 1910. He was educated at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Minnesota. He changed his name legally to Callman Rawley but retained the name Rakosi for his literary work.

Tillie Lerner Olsen

Born in Nebraska of Russian parents who participated in the 1905 Revolution and fled when it failed, Tillie Lerner had to leave school to work after the eleventh grade. She trimmed meat in a packinghouse, worked as a waitress and a domestic, and meanwhile joined the Young Communist League. Her father had become state secretary of the Nebraska Socialist Party. Lerner herself went to jail for trying to organize packinghouse workers. Meanwhile, she began to write, starting the novel that would become Yonnondio years later when she was only nineteen.

Charles Reznikoff

Born in the Brooklyn Jewish community of the 1890s, Charles Reznikoff earned a law degree but did not practice for long. He did work at a legal publishing firm in the 1930s, which proved a major inspiration in his writing. He began his career as a poet, however, as an imagist. Many of these early poems appeared in hand-set books that Reznikoff published himself. Meanwhile, his focus began to shift. At the publishing firm he was summarizing court records of legal cases for publication in reference books. They provided a unique, often violent, history of American social life.

V. J. Jerome

Born in a Polish ghetto, Victor Jeremy Jerome subsequently moved to London and from there came to New York. He joined the Communist Party in 1927 and in 1937 he became chairman of the U.S. Communist Party’s Cultural Commission and also began editing The Communist, which later became Political Affairs, the party's chief political journal. Arrested under the highly controversial Smith Act in 1951, he was convicted—on the inappropriate basis of his critical writings—of conspiracy to advocate the violent overthrow of the U.S. government and served three years in prison.