KURT WOLFF by Michael Ermarth


A Portrait in Essays and Letters
edited by
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 A biographical sketch of Wolff--founder of Pantheon Books--by his wife Helen, brief essays and anecdotes he produced for German radio in the early 1960's, and a smattering of correspondence--all ably edited by Ermarth (History/Dartmouth). Starting as a young publisher in Weimar Germany, Wolff (1887- 1963) sought out the fresh voices and daring literary talents of that era, and this collection reflects his steady support of and extensive contact with authors such as Kafka, Franz Werfel, Karl Kraus, and Heinrich Mann, and poets of the caliber of Rilke and Georg Trakl. Many of the writers published by the Kurt Wolff Verlag became known as Expressionists, but for Wolff their talent mattered more than the label, and these essays and letters make clear that he went out of his way to nurture their work. The economic and political situation in Germany put an end to his venture in 1930 and he emigrated with the coming of Hitler, but unlike many who failed to make the transition Wolff came to New York in the early 1940's and founded Pantheon Books, a legacy in American publishing that was to rival his accomplishments of 20 years before. While this small sampling provides a glimpse at best of his activity across five decades as a publisher, still the details of correspondence and reminiscence gathered here indicate the magnificent scope of his contribution to modern literature. Tantalizing in its view of Wolff and his world, especially the pre-Weimar period--and a sad commentary on how little publishers today heed his excellent example.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-226-90551-9
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1991