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American Literature Archival Collections in USC Special Collections: Lawrence Lipton

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Lawrence Lipton was born in Lodz, Poland, on October 10, 1898, and brought to America in 1903 by his father, Abraham Lipton.  The family moved to Chicago where Abraham Lipton had close friends and relatives.  When Lipton was fourteen, his father died.

Lipton worked at various times as a graphic artist, a journalist, the publicity director of a large movie theater, a writer and poet and a jazz composer. In the 1920s, Lipton was part of the circle of writers in Chicago including Ben Hecht, Carl Sandburg, Edgar Lee Masters, Sherwood Anderson, and Harriet Monroe and he married his first wife, Dorothy Omansky.  After Dorothy died, he married Betty Weinberg, with whom he had a son, James Lipton. In the late 1930s, Lipton divorced Betty and married Georgiana Randolph Craig, with whom he coauthored twenty-two books of mystery fiction during the late 1930s and early 1940s under the pseudonym of Craig Rice. After divorcing Georgiana, Lipton married Nettie Esther Brooks in 1948.

In addition to his earlier mystery fiction and articles for such magazines as Atlantic Monthly, Chicago Review, and Quarterly Review of Literature, he wrote two literary novels, Brother, The Laugh is Bitter (1942) and In Secret Battle (1944), and a book of poetry, Rainbow at Midnight (1955), which was a Book Club for Poetry selection.

The Holy Barbarians, the book that linked Lipton to the Beat writers, was published in 1959, when he was sixty-one years old. The cast of characters in the book included such "name" personalities as the writers Allen Ginsberg, Kenneth Rexroth, Kenneth Patchen, Stuart Z. Perkoff, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Dylan Thomas. When Lipton wrote The Holy Barbarians he had settled in Venice, California, where Lipton's home became an informal center for the arts, with Lipton functioning as both teacher and catalyst.  In Venice, Lipton was associated with the movement to restore poetry as a vocal art long before the Beats became famous, and he began experimenting with poetry and jazz in 1956. In 1957, he produced and directed a series of poetry-and-jazz concerts that became the first West Coast Poetry and Jazz Festival, dedicated to Dylan Thomas and playing to capacity audiences during its two-week run. In 1958, Lipton produced Jazz Canto, released by World Pacific Records.

Published in dozens of literary magazines and journals, his poetry and prose gathered together certain central themes that related to the social responsibility of the artist to participate in the formation of a society that was more than a collective. As a visionary, Lipton wanted the new society to be rational, functional, and responsible to the deepest needs of the human soul.  During the last years of his life, Lipton wrote a long-running column of political commentary in the Los Angeles Free Press called "Radio Free America."  Lipton died in Los Angeles on July 9, 1975.

Biography adapted from Nettie Lipton's article in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 16: The Beats: Literary Bohemians in Postwar America. Edited by Ann Charters, University of Connecticut. Gale Research, 1983. pp. 352-356.

Collection Overview

The Lawrence Lipton papers contain business files, tax records, and correspondence; typescripts; photographs; clippings; literary journals; tape recorded interviews, readings, and radio programs; and Lipton's archives for his "Radio Free America" column in the Los Angeles Free Press.