Exiles from a Future Time: The Forging of the Mid-Twentieth-Century Literary Left

Exiles from a Future Time: The Forging of the Mid-Twentieth-Century Literary Left

Exiles from a Future Time: The Forging of the Mid-Twentieth-Century Literary Left

Exiles from a Future Time: The Forging of the Mid-Twentieth-Century Literary Left


With this book, Alan Wald launches a bold and passionate account of the U.S. Literary Left from the 1920s through the 1960s. Exiles from a Future Time, the first volume of a trilogy, focuses on the forging of a Communist-led literary tradition in the 1930s. Exploring writers' intimate lives and heartfelt political commitments, Wald draws on original research in scores of archives and personal collections of papers; correspondence and interviews with hundreds of writers and their friends and families; and a treasure trove of unpublished memoirs, fiction, and poetry.

In fashioning a "humanscape" of the Literary Left, Wald not only reassesses acclaimed authors but also returns to memory dozens of forgotten, talented writers. The authors range from the familiar Mike Gold, Langston Hughes, and Muriel Rukeyser to William Attaway, John Malcolm Brinnin, Stanley Burnshaw, Joy Davidman, Sol Funaroff, Joseph Freeman, Alfred Hayes, Eugene Clay Holmes, V. J. Jerome, Ruth Lechlitner, and Frances Winwar.

Focusing on the formation of the tradition and the organization of the Cultural Left, Wald investigates the "elective affinity" of its avant-garde poets, the "Afro-cosmopolitanism" of its Black radical literary movement, and the uneasy negotiation between feminist concerns and class identity among its women writers.


Exiles from a Future Time is the inaugural volume in a sequence treating the Literary Left in the United States as an undammed stream running from the time a Communist-led tradition was first forged in the early 1930s, through the tradition’s various permutations and crises, until it was supplanted by a “New Left” cultural upheaval in the 1960s. in this and subsequent books I will reconfigure the themes, chronology, and personnel of our indigenous Marxist cultural movement, progressing in each volume from topics such as the creation of a proletarian avant-garde in poetry to radical regionalism in fiction, and then to the Left presence in mass culture and the cultural criticism produced by blacklisted literature professors in the McCarthy era.

The structure of the order of themes from Exiles to subsequent books in the series will not be stringently chronological, nor will it correspond to decades. Rather, a succession of leitmotifs, originating with romanticutopian impulses in Exiles and shifting to militant antifascism followed by resistance to domestic repression in successor studies, will distinguish the prevalent trend of the particular books. Some cultural developments very much rooted in the 1930s (the evolution of the Workers Theater movement, the rise of the proletarian novel, the founding of the journal Science & Society, the attraction of Jews to the Left) will only be approached in later volumes, while careers surveyed in this first book will not be broken off precipitously but pursued to encompass episodes as late as the 1960s. in reconstructing careers and trajectories, Exiles and its successors grant unique accentuation to the 1940s-50s “bridge” between the 1930s and the 1960s, which are relatively neglected decades for the study of Left writing.

Moreover, in the various volumes, women authors, writers of color, gay and lesbian cultural workers, along with divers genres, will be contemplated in the general narrative as well as in discrete chapters. the design is to acknowledge the patterns of particular cultural strains associated with collective experiences, while also contesting customary compartmentalization of Left cultural workers (as “Writers of the 1930s,” “Black Radicals,” “Political Poets”) and reassembling the intricate lacework of overlapping and interfacing that constitutes the actuality of the Left community.

While the aim of this project is not to demonstrate any particular pet theory, my contemplation of the material in this first volume has caused me to revisit, and finally to introduce, six conceptual approaches to cultural . . .

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