For further relevant reading, see
the Milton Klonsky material in these web
New York City: Letter to the Inhabitants
4 Times Square
October 21, 1999
Comments on "White Like Me," by Henry
L. Gates, Jr., in the 1996 New Yorker exclusive, in which it
was stated—in a 15-page spread—that very few people knew the racial
heritage of Anatole Broyard, former New
York Times senior editor.
This story, "White Like Me" (June 17, 1996, by the brilliant Harvard
professor Henry L. Gates Jr., sometimes called a "superstar"), was
supposed to be the startling posthumous core revelation in the biography
of the New York Times editor/critic Anatole Broyard. Impeccably
well written, it was convincing. But as I pondered in the months
since, it became clear that the slant
should be corrected. It took time to come to this conclusion;
the story appeared to cover all angles.
The well-known Harvard University writer, author of this essay,
took a portion of a biography (from interviews, primarily) and—perhaps
understandably—generalized from the available material. He was evidently
unaware of the impression retained among others of Anatole Broyard's
friends and acquaintances.
To go back, then, to 1966. I was introduced to him by his "closest
friend for many years"
(quoting the article, p. 69: this was "the poet and Blake scholar"),
Milton Klonsky, who said to me that we were to be joined by not
just a friend of his, not just a Times reporter. But—going
out of his way to make sure I did not miss this point—a black man.
I could not see that fact as obvious, nor even pertinent. So it
was made completely clear. Now, I was not the only one in the world
that had this experience. Nor was I even admonished not to tell
anyone of it. I had the impression everyone knew; I saw no attempt
to conceal it. It was not a deficit in that (Greenwich Village)
community in that 60s period. Nor would it have been among that
group, in any period. (On p. 69, Anne Bernays says that Milton Klonsky
had told her of Anatole's heritage; she and I are not the only two
people that he, to name one "source," told—he being the "closest"
lifelong friend of Anatole Broyard. Thus having his blessing to
do so—one would conclude.)
- To move on, about seven months before Anatole died, I revisited
him, up in Cambridge. That is a revealing story—worthy of being
part of his professional record. Collecting material from the
60s for his memoirs (published as Kafka Was the Rage, but
not getting so far as the 60s), he was collecting from me what
he called "Milton stories." ("People want to read about the 60s,"
he said.) That chapter never appeared. (For clarity's sake, let
me say that the Margaret in the publication is not myself.) The
material which he talked about that day what he intended to focus
on—is unrecorded. He had set the chapter up, researched the material,
the slant, the focus (perhaps the "surprising switch"), then walked
out. And the book ended—not on the note of what it would have
said and the impression it would have left. He was jumping
on the trampoline, sure he was going to live, in high artistic
inspiration, when I talked to him by telephone, just after this
conversation. Sometime later I learned that that October, he was
dead, leaving a manuscript that could not conclude on the point
- As to why some people or whole communities knew that he was
black (and if like me, thought that everyone did), whereas others
thought the contrary, I think it important to add some data. For
instance, in the conversation referred to above (in 1990), he
cited a cherished value—which, in poetic justice, obliquely or
implicitly addresses this question. Ironically, he had
avoided the disparity of being looked down on, due purely to birth
certificate (H. L. Gates, Jr. interprets his choice as one in
which "Anatole Broyard, Negro writer, was the larger lie," which
he deleted from his life). But there was another side to that
coin. He became looked up to. There is some suggestion (in the
comments quoted) that he coveted this position. Anyone would.
That suggestion is not entirely correct, however—belied by his
exact words in 1990. He opened up to say, that he was greatly
thinking about and missing Milton Klonsky—in that (word for word),
"After he died no one talked to me as an equal." Without interacting
and dialoguing on equal grounds, life missed something, paled.
He said—pertinent to the description in the Gates essay, of Anatole
as often "ironical"—Milton Klonsky
was "an ironist" with him ("a romantic" with me: MK had said to
me, on this topic, "You've never played with me. I can go to any
carnival. Put on any mask. [Pausing.] I'm an ironist—on the
very highest level.") That "very highest level" was perhaps
the key, where settling the aspect of the racial factor would
not be the end of it. Indeed, once given the privilege of equality,
that you exercised it. Quotes in the essay did not bring
this in. (Klonsky was known for indirection, when not being blunt.
Anatole is accused of this same style, as if it meant insincerity
were or a drawback, if used. He lightly said the word here in
Cambridge, as if it stated a certain breadth of approach, an ability
to stand in distance, the way humor or self-deflection does. Or
all the possibilities the true ironist knows how to assert.)
- I believe this and other "replies" will turn up data that belongs
Papers. If the added record is not printed in The New Yorker,
I will look for somewhere in which to preserve this data, be it
in his Collected Papers. The touchingly "human" narrative of how
he waited in the snow, recovering from cancer, positive, generous,
in the January before he died—the beautiful pair of photos I took
at that moment, young and healthy-looking. This and other aspects.
Unincluded information of how he came to write "What the Cystoscope
Said," for instance. Also, the counter-reply—that in his generation,
not only he and Ralph Ellison had writer's block; nor (further)
was he alone in receiving a never-fulfilled advance for a manuscript.
Further, as to why Chandler Brossard was asked to delete a reference
in the text of the unpublished of Who Walk in Darkness,
I have extra info.
- Though here in America, there are numerous opportunities to
read book reviews, if you jump to a country like Romania, where
authors (such as Arthur Koestler) were blacklisted, you will notice
how the intellectuals, even now, value the Sunday literary section
of the Times. Who Anatole Broyard was and what he contributed
belongs, in fact, in an international context, such as there,
where there was no concern what color might have gone into the
genes, to create the information and style appreciated.
- The essay does not mention the caricature factor (watermelon/black)
in the manuscript of Who Walk in Darkness. What he would
have replied to this 1996 New Yorker story, we do not know.
We do know (or I know) what happened in the case of an earlier
misunderstanding, when his father misconstrued the motive of a
deathbed suggestion, in which the intention was to remove pain.
- What was shocking in some quarters must have been that the
"revelation" was considered a well-kept secret.
Also, that many writers are praised (considered interesting) for
"inventing themselves." Take Faulkner, as example. So even here,
because of having certain blood, was one to be denied a privilege
accorded to artists, right and left—to invent the way they see
themselves, use their life material inside their creativity. No
one said, "This is a matter to be kept hush-hush." This is a truly
troubling point. Though an eminently researched opening presentation,
which is highly contributive—up to the point it stopped, due to
(probably) the inaccessibility of other material.
There must be at least one person on The New Yorker
staff who would be interested in hearing what material is available,
to revert to a fairer portrait of such a figure in the US publishing
Very sincerely yours, with the highest
respect for your great publication,
MARGARET A. HARRELL
fax/tel: 011 32 16 810268
Postnote: No one was. Though kindly replying that this was their
West 4th Street: Human Like Me
Another Look at the Portrayal of Anatole Broyard, in "White Like
4th Street, the location where, as reported in "White
Like Me," Anatole Broyard, stepping out of the subway, became white,
is ironically precisely the street where Milton Klonsky lived, though
not precisely at the subway. Two of Milton Klonsky's
best friends were Anatole Broyard and Seymour (Sy) Krim. They were
very different as writers, but they belonged to the same literary
period, which Krim has characterized in What's This Cat's
Story? , explaining
how the high value put on intellectualism affected his generation
rather adversely—noteworthily including himself. Krim's kinetic
effusiveness of style is opposed to that of the New York Times
critic Broyard, who was uneffusive, while being exquisite (see Kafka
Was the Rage).
What causes me to write this, even having waited some time to do
so, is that I saw Anatole nine months before he died, and that from
the first day I was introduced to him—back in 1966—I was not told
I was to meet Anatole Broyard, the writer/critic, but Anaole Broyard,
the writer/critic, who was black (or was the phrase "spade"?). This
seemed unnecessary, but I had no choice but to learn this. Anyone
whom Milton Klonsky, Anatole's "closest friend for many years,"
introduced to him got this information up front, as if it were the
most open nonsecret in the world, and with no restrictions whatsoever
about whom one told. For this reason, I was completely taken aback
and baffled at the implication that "the world" did not know this
(in a fascinating, masterful New Yorker revelation after
what I would call the Greenwich Village world—in particular, the
West 4th Street world—did
know him. Any reporter (back then) could have dug up the information,
despite the fact that he did not brandish it on letterheads. I could
have written a news story about it and in fact when Anatole and
Milton were typecast as characters in the manuscript of Who Walk
in Darkness, the author was threatened with a suit for caricature
by Anatole (the character based on was to be depicted with the flagrant
detail of "eating a watermelon"). Thus, caricature. This particular
information I received from Milton Klonsky.
Milton Klonsky would never have endured a friendship in which, as
Anatole himself said, in his obituary tribute, there was any "compromise"
whatsoever ("which," he said—the refusal of compromise in a relationship—"condemned
him to a rather lonely life"). The racial detail about him was stated
without stress or emphasis—just included, if no other part of the
introduction were kept.
I happened to live in Greenwich Village in the last half of the
60s, just around the corner from Milton Klonsky (who lived between
West 4th and West 11th streets), during which
time I saw Klonsky many evenings. Jumping to nine months before
Anatole died: after not seeing him during the intervening years,
I had an appointment for a dramatic meeting with him in Cambridge.
I would like to record the graciousness of that meeting and something
of the subject. He was working on Kafka Was the Rage. By
the flukes of life, then, I have some insight into how the book
would have gone on. For at our meeting, he was convinced he would
live, would finish it; just afterwards when I telephoned, and instead
of letting the machine speak, he picked up, he said he had been
"working out on the trampoline." That he felt great, in high energy,
inspired. That he was going on with his chapter of Milton stories
(the chapter perhaps never written, certainly never published);
that he approved the character creation in the text by me I had
given him, in that
he found himself now calling "Milton" (as he wrote his own 60s text)
"Robert" (in his mind). "Robert" was the fictional name that I used.
There could have been no greater blessing given me, than that the
publication I envisioned was honorable.
Let us describe that snowy day in Cambridge at the train station,
in 1990, after not seeing each other for 20 years. He a famous critic.
The ground was covered with snow. I came in by train. He had assured
me that he would wait at a particular place near the station exit.
I couldn't find him. After twenty minutes, I telephoned his home,
to see if he was there. He was still at the station, waiting. Then
I saw him. It was easy to recognize this handsome man in the snow,
wearing a scarf around his neck, which—in that it hid the wrinkles
you see on other photos on book covers—left the impression of a
man 50. He did not say, or imply, that he was young. He had told
me on the phone he was "an old man now." Nothing of the sort. On
the contrary, I took two, as it turned out, showpiece photos; from
them, anyone can see this is a beautiful person: in one, he is smiling;
in another, looking reflectively, or introspectively, down, at nowhere
He was recovering from cancer, he told me; that he was going to
be all right, but that he had a cold (even so, he had waited in
the snow); and so he invited me to a light, informal lunch. Remembering
him from the late 60s, I would have expected nothing else, though
he didn't know it. He said he was writing his memoirs on the 1960s
("People are interested in the 60s"), currently "collecting Milton
stories." As his Kafka never reached the 60s, this now looks
extremely poignant. He said to me "You were an important person
in Milton's life." (He had the plan of contacting other people as
well; I say this, in case they never found out.) He also showed
no judgment at my choices in life. He said, "You seem to have found
the formula for happiness." I have to admit that in such a situation,
I could not remember the stories I can now, stories partly prompted
by reading Kafka Was the Rage. As the book ended, and I knew
that he had died only nine months after this meeting, that I had
seen him hopeful, artistically energized, and that this had all
been reversed, then playing out conversation, I realized (or
interpreted) that the book did not end where it was intended to,
at least on that January day in Cambridge. I searched my memory
for what I had not brought to mind then. I would have reminded him
about one of Milton's favorite stories—how much Delmore Schwartz
loved the Giants. That one day when Delmore's
radio broke, he listened to the rest of the game on Milton's radio—telephoning
to ask him to put the receiver by the radio and let him listen till
the end, which he did. Or I could have noted that Milton said that
Delmore and Anatole were so handsome that when they used to walk
down a Village street together, a whole street of heads turned to
look at them.
I also remembered—per the end of Kafka, which implies the
opposite (at the end of Kafka, Anatole is finding solace
in feminine beauty, in pointed contrast to Klonsky, who is not;
and Anatole uses the situation to hold forth on a seemingly philosophical
value of his), how "What the Cystoscope Said" came into being:
Anatole's father was dying, in very great pain. The son thought
his father would appreciate if he offered to put him "out of pain,"
by bringing extra medicine. The father did not appreciate the suggestion.
He misunderstood. Milton suggested they go on a double date, to
take his mind off it. To get the full impact of this requires reading
the closing implication in the final chapter in Anatole's posthumous
publication. In an exact reverse of the last paragraph there (of
the manuscript as it stood at Anatole's death), as if it were a
dichotomy laid out with a ruler, in this turning point in his career,
so far as achieving skyrocketing fame for it, it is Anatole who
rejects all prospect of diluting the pain or deflection. And sits
down in solitude at his typewriter, to produce the monument to the
memory of the incident concerning his father's death. Thus becoming
anthologized in short story collections—in fact giving him a certain
fame. It was partly in remembering this that I felt a no, at
the end of his book. The structure of the prior chapters practiced
the technique of impression reversal. The next chapter, I
felt sure, would have reversed—or shown the contrary side—as he
recaptured his masterful decision, the day he began "What the Cystoscope
Said." How could it end, short of showing this reverse facet, as
prior chapters had—in the technique he handled so gracefully: to
convince the reader of a stated situation, then follow that buildup
(that uncontrovertible impression) with a total 180-degree shift,
even what the reader thought engraved in solid rock. So what impressions
of himself would he, the writer, reverse, had he gone on? Even some
impressions that he himself had not seen through the pattern of;
Milton had called writing "heuristic." It was a place where you
learned, about yourself also.
As Anatole and Milton conversed daily at the end of Milton's life,
so Anatole told me, he added that "After Milton died, no one talked
to me as an equal." It was a stunning moment.
"Cystoscope" showed himself in the act of understanding that his
father did not want to be spared even excruciating physical pain;
in biographical life. Remembering the surprise due to his father's
shock—bringing great energy to the task first in the writing and
parallel to that, in the life situation—he might, had he lived,
have tackled the corners where the race issue lurked. Writing induces
virtually simultaneous shifts in consciousness and priority, when
a topic creates a breakthrough, in the act of writing on it.
We see this in the memoirs of Carl Jung, where he comments that
he picked up, for his autobiographical reflections, only places
still holding energy—that is, saved till then to be dealt with.
Those situations already dealt with had no energy and were ignored
in his autobiography. That is, it is sometimes the very structure
of a writer's life that subjects s/he is intended to deal with,
in the writing, hold the energy until used in that way. This block—being
opened, at the time of death—left "open" what he would then have
done about it. He died, knowing full well that this so-called secret
would not "die" with him.
So I didn't come up with valuable Milton stories for Anatole that
day. I could bring up many now.
I also remembered how Milton had finished that conversation the
day when he told me "When the time comes to finish—just finish."
He had exclaimed, "They were waiting for me." That is, his
friends. Was it true? This was no an arrogant statement, but something
almost gasped, as if wrenched out. The conversation was on the subject
of his advice about writing ("I don't want you to make the same
mistakes I did." Pause. "Though in many ways, they weren't mistakes.")
By his friends waiting for him, I took it to mean that it was a
group, blocked in a force field; and that they were waiting, as
it were, for the first step forward of one—at which point as a group
they would have all begun to race onto the literary (perhaps world)
scene. This was the impression in Krim's portrait, when he pictured
Klonsky as having the potential to be an Einstein or other great
pioneer. In the coterie around Krim in the fifties, such predictions
could seem reasonable, as they routinely had what Krim called almost
illegally high ambitions. A New York intellectual environment that
did not produce in literature this imagined result, but was virtually
unreported on, in the figures that one by one dropped out.
Cyril Connolly had written of Milton Klonsky, in a London publication,
that there were people who were friends of very famous people, who
were quoted by them and sometimes turned into characters. But who
were less-famous themselves. He said that perhaps they were "too
proud to compete." He said Milton Klonsky was such a person for
his generation. I had thought that he didn't do enough. When
I approached Anatole, reflecting this idea of Krim's and of myself,
Anatole said that he thought Milton did rather a lot. He began to
list what he thought were the important works. This unarrogant,
generous judgment, I felt, was evidently the way he saw ambition,
and his own seasoned choices in his life. As we know, writing can
be a great healer and self-interpreter. In the end, approaching
this chapter, on the 60s, something stopped the writer. And I, having
seen how intent he was, on going forward, find it a more intriguing
question than the one of race; for after all, I knew about that
for 24 years beforehand, and could have myself "blown the whistle"
at any second. But I thought everyone knew. I encountered the reference
from the moment of having an appointment with him one night in 1966,
set up by Milton Klonsky, who was there too. The Harlem story, in
Kafka, makes the information on his birth certificate, as
C, transparently probable. He fit in down there in Harlem. Why?
But he also had the manners of a gentleman. He went to great lengths
to honor Klonsky's memory, which he thought deserved, in a shared
story as a Times Obituary for Klonsky. That, to him, was
important. Really important. He made dead-sure that it got done.
I somehow feel, having listened in 1990 as he told me, at the end
of his life, the value he put on being "talked to ... as an equal,"
the time had come to turn the tables and be very very sure that
slant was mentioned, along with the other information.
It gives extraordinarily profound precision, to say of someone that
he "wanted to be a writer, not a black writer. So he chose to live
a lie rather than be trapped by the truth." I found this indefensible.
What I did find defensible, on the other hand, was the perceptive
comment: "Broyard had confessed enough in his time to know that
confession did nothing for the soul. He preferred to communicate
his truths on higher frequencies." On the other hand, while I am
sure it is true he "preferred to communicate his truths on higher
frequencies," I am not sure about the first part—based on a quotation
I took down, in which MK said precisely that he (himself) liked
to "beat upon my breast"; i.e., his graphic picture, with its ancient
references, to confession. If, as Anatole graciously said of Milton
(in print), one could not "presume" to say anything about him, it's
seems "ironic"—that's it—that one can say everything about himself,
seizing on a facet, his Birth Certificate, penned down by people
who (as Gates helpfully documented) did so, the very next year after
"close to" 100 blacks were "lynched." (This
would be a good place to take a look at a dream Anatole reported.) In the new century, we will
not confine people to one single frame of references—as here. Though
this material on race should not have to be excluded. But we will
multiply and make combinations, diagonals—as he, I believe, already
 See the March 7
obituary of Klonsky written by Broyard for The New York Times
Book Review Supplement (1982), in which he uses this phrase
("His originality was such that though he was my closest friend
for many years, he would suddenly strike me as a total stranger,"
a phrase perhaps instructive in the present circumstances). As a
sidelight of this sentence, he was defining originality—that it
might include the ability to totally surprise. If it did so, it
could be looked at from that point of view, though it could also
be put into other lists of motivations and value (or psychological
or sociological) systems. Which was it, ultimately and primarily??
Was it originality, and thus organic in the total personality or
soul level, or was it primarily an escape or complex of some sort.
The answer was all-important if a judgment were to be reached.
 Milton Klonsky,
described as a Greenwich Village "poet genius," a cult figure to
Village literary people, in a book on "New York City in the 50s,"
and as having "an IQ that could stutter your butter"—by Seymour
Krim, in an essay on him, reprinted in his final posthumously published
1991 essay selections—was commissioned to write his memoirs on W.
H. Auden, by The New Yorker, but died in the process in 1981.
This long essay on Auden was included in his own (Milton Klonsky's)
posthumous selected essays, as "Chester, Wystan, Rhoda, and Me:
A Fragment" (pp. 89-101, in A Discourse on Hip); it is otherwise-unpublished
documentation about Auden, including the one nonhomosexual affair
that he had, which was with Klonsky's estranged wife. Klonsky told
me, which is nowhere published, that he eventually came to believe
that it was Auden's roundabout relationship with him, that caused
the deflected affair with his already-distant wife. Klonsky was
friends with the other literary notables of the day, including such
writers as James Ages. Klonsky begins the essay, walking along "West
4th St.," reading the Times. Having unfortuitously
died while writing this commissioned article for The New Yorker,
he is probably, for this accidental reason, not known to The
New Yorker readers, though he is known to readers (in the past)
of Commentary, Partisan Review, Hudson Review, etc. He was
a very central figure in the coteries described in "White Like Me,"
and was featured in the final paragraph of Kafka Was the Rage,
in its posthumously published form—which was not as Anatole,
had he lived, intended to continue it. He intended to continue,
with a chapter of 1960s memoirs, beginning with his "Milton stories"—but
ended the book in a broken-off version, cut short by his own death.
In the accounts above, information was terminated as these figures
of a generation of New York City friends and intellectuals tried
to record their memories. Klonsky was the topic Anatole Broyard
had reached in his memoirs, when he himself died, in 1990. The brief
description, concluding the book, was not what he indicated to me
was the note he wanted. Yet again, Klonsky did not go onto the record
in any update since Krim's essay in the way he otherwise would have.
The comments included here (in the current short essay) come from
two sources primarily: Anatole Broyard himself and Milton Klonsky—who
at one point talked to him daily, at other points weekly. Anatole
himself said it was daily, in the late period. If anyone needs to
comment on the record, and cannot himself, it would be this person,
whom Anatole described, in print as "my closest friend for many
years," a New York City intellectual "poet genius," who was Jewish,
white, of Russian ancestry. Published in 1991, A Discourse
on Hip , his
Selected Writings, was expected by the publisher to take
off by word of mouth; therefore, was never publicized. Therefore,
this information was virtually unavailable to any researcher. Only
by looking in the poet Delmore Schwartz's letters, and in the index
finding the reference to a letter Klonsky wrote to the Draft Board,
would one have some documentary idea where to start looking for
anecdotes. Schwartz said that Klonsky wrote the Draft Board, who
drafter him, that being a poet he could not be called away on such
short notice. The Draft Board relinquished, and gave him an extension
from the Draft of six months—to get his papers readied.
 The posthumous
Paragon House selected essays, which Krim participated in collecting—among
which was the reprint of his 1960 essay, entitled "Milton Klonsky."
 The article specifically
says, that stepping out on West 4th Street, Anatole Broyard
became white, which is, ironically, the very street on which Milton
Klonsky had his walk-up Village apartment. Thus, in all Greenwich
Village, this is the one street it would be least accurate to cite.
 We had set up the
meeting, to recall "Milton stories"–on his part, for his memoirs.
I had in fact taken down many of the fabled phrases of Milton Klonsky,
that made him a cult figure (verbatim, as he said them). This picked
up where Krim's essay, ending at 1960, stopped. I came on the scene
 On the very night
that Delmore died, he went down to the Village. And he met Milton.
I was almost there but had just left. They talked. It was one of
the very final moments in Delmore Schwartz's life, and his old friend
was there, perhaps representing all the old friends who would have
liked to be there. How was his mind? I asked. It went in and out
of lucidity, I was told. But at times, it was "completely lucid."
 A Discourse on
Hip: Selected Writings of Milton Klonsky (T. Solotaroff, Ed.).
Detroit, Mich: Wayne State University Press.