Alan Kaufman, born January 12, 1952, in New York City to a French Holocaust survivor and raised in the Bronx, is a teacher, writer, poet, editor, performer, artist, and impresario known for his work as editor of the Outlaw Bible series of literary anthologies. In addition to his editorial work on these books and the alternative Jewish cultural magazine Davka , which he helped to found, Kaufman is also the author of a memoir, Jew Boy (2000), and the novel Matches (2005) as well as several volumes of poetry. Active as a poet from an early age, Kaufman has been involved in both the New York and San Francisco poetry scenes and played a role in the popularization of Spoken Word poetry in both the United States and abroad. More recently, Kaufman has taken up the brush as a painter, a medium in which he has proven equally productive.
A prolific writer from an early age, Kaufman both edited and published in the Magpie , the literature and arts journal of DeWitt Clinton High School. After graduating high school in 1970, Kaufman enrolled at the City College of New York. In 1971, Kaufman traveled across the United States by riding freight trains. In the course of his travels, he was arrested in North Platte, Nebraska, and was the victim of anti-Semitic slurs by his jailers, an event that profoundly affected him. Returning to New York, Kaufman began a life-long exploration of his Jewish heritage and identity. One of the first tangible results was Kaufman's founding of the Jewish Arts Quarterly , the first issue of which appeared in 1974.
After graduating from CCNY in 1975, Kaufman started to publish his short stories. In 1977, Kaufman moved to Israel where he lived and worked on a Kibbutz. He also became a contributing editor to the magazine Shdemot . In 1979, he became an Israeli citizen and enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). During his initial service, he helped start the IDF Journal , the first English language journal published by the IDF. When his enlistment ended in 1984, Kaufman returned to the United States. The same year, his first book, a collection of short stories titled The End of Time , appeared.
Accepted into the Columbia University Writer's Program in 1986, Kaufman soon after published his first edited anthology, The New Generation: Fiction for Our Time from America's Writing Programs . He also began to create drawings around this same time. In 1988, he became editor-in-chief of the Jewish Frontier , married Esther Murray, and had a daughter, Isadora. Kaufman left Columbia in 1989 and separated from his wife, who moved to Israel with their daughter. After becoming involved with the New York underground poetry scene at the Nuyorican Poet's Café, Kaufman moved to San Francisco in 1990. Once there, he quickly became engaged in the Spoken Word poetry scene at the legendary Café Babar and published his first collection of poetry, American Cruiser . Kaufman chronicled his thoughts and experiences of the emerging Spoken Word poetry movement in a series of articles for HOWL: San Francisco Poetry News . His growing prominence led, in 1992, to his first Spoken Word tour of Germany with poet Bob Holman. He returned two more times over the next few years, once with a larger group of poets in 1993 and again in 1994 with Allen Ginsberg, Kathy Acker, and others as part of the Berlin Jewish Cultural Festival. Despite his international presence, Kaufman remained committed to the San Francisco scene. In 1993, after police shut down a poetry reading, Kaufman helped to lead the San Francisco Poets Strike, which received national and international attention and forced the city to rescind the ordinance requiring poetry readings to be issued permits. At the same time, Kaufman was organizing the successful WORDLAND reading series, which brought together poets and rap and hip-hop artists.
In 1995, Kaufman worked with New Jersey poetry legends Danny Shot and Herschel Silverman on a special issue of Long Shot magazine called "It's the Jews!". A wildly successful anthology of underground Jewish artists and writers, the work helped to solidify Kaufman's thinking about alternative culture and his own Jewish identity. Kaufman's thought found form in the magazine Davka: Jewish Cultural Revolution . Although it lasted only three issues (1996-1997), Davka proved a major influence on later publications covering alternative Jewish culture and on the very idea of an alternative Jewish culture.
In 1998, Kaufman began work on what has become one of his most notable achievements: the Outlaw Bible series. Shaped by his experiences with the national and international Spoken Word movement, the first volume of the series, The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry , was published in 1999. The second volume in the series, The Outlaw Bible of American Literature , was edited by Kaufman, Neil Ortenberg, and publisher and editor Barney Rosset and came out in 2004. The final volume in the series, The Outlaw Bible of American Essays , was published in 2006.
In 1999, Kaufman's memoir Jew Boy: A Memoir was purchased by Fred Jordan. It was published the following year by Fromm International. Kaufman also made his debut as an artist in 1999, holding his first one-man show at the Chelsea Fine Art Building in New York. In 2004, he exhibited his paintings alongside those of artists David Newman and Tim Wicks in San Francisco. After another show with Newman and Wicks in 2005, he sold his first paintings. His novel Matches , begun during his service with the IDF reserves in 2003 and loosely based on his experiences, was sold to Little, Brown/Time-Warner Books and published in October that year.
In 2007, Kaufman signed to the Himmelberger Gallery in San Francisco where his paintings, exploring a variety of styles he grouped under the name "Visionary Expressionism," were shown several times. Controversy erupted, however, when the gallery's plans to publish a catalog of his paintings fell through over an objection to the use of the word "Zionism" in the title and the Zionist theme of some of the included articles. Kaufman, together with Polly Zavadivker, ultimately launched his own imprint, Miriam Books, to publish the catalog.
Biographical information derived from collection.
Zavadivker, Polly, ed. Alan Kaufman's Visionary Expressionism: A Zionist Art. San Francisco: Miriam Books, 2008.
The papers of Alan Kaufman, teacher, writer, poet, editor, performer, artist, and impresario, include drafts of his memoir Jew Boy , his novel Matches , materials related to his editing of the volumes of the Outlaw Bible series and Davka: Jewish Cultural Revolution , an extensive collection of notebooks with draft and unpublished poems, and a large collection of original artwork. The collection also includes correspondence with other writers and material documenting Kaufman's involvement in the San Francisco Spoken Word poetry movement.
The Alan Kaufman papers are organized into five series that document his work as a writer, artist, and editor. The papers contain a variety of materials including notebooks, sketchbooks, manuscripts, newspaper clippings, photographs, CDs, cassette tapes, original art work by Kaufman and others, magazines and periodicals, book contracts, correspondence, corrected proofs, and drafts of published and unpublished works.
The largest sections of Series I., Works by Kaufman, comprehensively document his memoir Jew Boy and the novel Matches from their earliest drafts to finished page proofs. The Jew Boy subseries contains a working draft with extensive autograph revisions as well as material documenting some of the events of the book. These materials include early works from grade school and high school, the prayer shawl and yarmulke from Kaufman's Bar Mitzvah, and the marriage certificates (in Hebrew) of relatives from the turn of the twentieth century. A group of photographs from Series V (Box 26) further documents some of the people and places discussed in Jew Boy . The material related to Matches include variant drafts as well as drafts of excluded chapters. Of special interest are two large autograph notebooks dating from Kaufman's service with the Israel Defense Forces in the 1980s. The subseries I.C., Periodical/Magazine Publications, contains copies of periodicals in which Kaufman's work appears. Together with the periodicals in the second series, the collection presents a comprehensive, but not complete, picture of Kaufman's periodical publications.
Series II., Editing and Publishing, is divided between Kaufman's editorial work on books and periodicals. The bulk of the material devoted to his work on books is contained in the Outlaw Bible subseries. Within the subseries, the largest group of material documents The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry . Of particular interest are several copies of Howl: San Francisco Poetry News containing articles Kaufman wrote about the early 1990s poetry scene. These articles formed the basis of his "Introduction" to the The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry . Also of interest are the Miscellaneous Author Materials files. These materials document Kaufman's relationship with a large number of authors, some of whom are represented in the Outlaw Bible books.
Of particular importance for the development of the The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry is Kaufman's correspondence with Ron Kolm. A fixture of the New York poetry scene, Kolm provided Kaufman with a great deal of material about New York's poetic avant garde, in particular the activities of the Unbearables, a loose group of artists and writers that Kolm helped to found. Kaufman devoted an entire section of The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry to the group. Also of interest is the correspondence from poets Jack Hirschman and Jack Micheline. The Hirschman material includes a large number of autograph letters expressing Hirschman's opinions on politics, Kaufman's poetry, recollections of San Francisco, and other matters. The material from Micheline includes a number of self-assembled anthologies of his work that he presented to Kaufman. Extensive correspondence with New Jersey poet Herschel Silverman is also included, much of it touching on the production of a special issue of Long Shot magazine called "It's the Jews." Kaufman, together with Silverman and Long Shot publisher Danny Shot assembled the material for this issue, an anthology of underground Jewish literature and art. The successful reception of the issue was a partial inspiration for Kaufman's alternative Jewish culture magazine Davka: Jewish Cultural Revolution . Additional correspondence with Silverman can be found in the Davka: Jewish Cultural Revolution subseries and in series five. The final subseries devoted to Kaufman's work on books contains a complete record of the assemblage and publication of Viva Ferlinghetti! , a tribute volume to legendary Beat poet and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Kaufman assembled the volume to commemorate the city of San Francisco naming a street in honor of Ferlinghetti.
The bulk of the material that focuses on Kaufman's editorial work on periodical publications relates to his work on Davka: Jewish Cultural Revolution . It includes copies of all issues of the magazine, some of the material used in the magazine, rejected submissions, and extensive subscriber information (note: access is restricted to selected materials). There is also material related to Kaufman's original conception of the magazine (folders 86, 101-103), original corporate documents, internal communications, and correspondence documenting the reaction of the Jewish community to Davka: Jewish Cultural Revolution (folder 86). Other correspondence includes letters from poets Eve Packer and Hal Sirowitz. A notable artifact included with the Davka: Jewish Cultural Revolution material is a custom-made American flag shirt that replaces the five-pointed stars with the Star of David. The shirt was worn by one of the models on the cover of the second issue of Davka: Jewish Cultural Revolution . The second series closes with the subseries Other Periodicals, which consists solely of copies of periodicals with ties to or contributions from Kaufman. Item-level notes for each periodical reflect Kaufman's editorial role or other contribution, as recorded in the masthead, as well as any material that Kaufman published in the issue. No other information about his involvement with these magazines is included in his papers.
Series III., Literary Notebooks and Papers, contains Kaufman's general autograph notebooks. Except where noted, these working books are undated. The notebooks contain drafts of poetry and prose as well as material relating to Kaufman's daily life.
Series IV., Art Materials, begins with the Sketchbook subseries. Dates for the majority of sketchbooks, including the ten that Kaufman numbered in sequence, are either approximate or undetermined. The second subseries contains a group of manuscripts arranged by title that Kaufman was potentially intending to illustrate and publish. The ultimate publication status of the manuscripts is undetermined. The remaining subseries collects artworks, organized by media and/or technique, other than those in the sketchbooks and illustrated manuscripts. All the materials in these subseries are housed in oversized containers as listed in the finding aid.
The final series in the collection, Series V., Personal Papers, gathers a diverse array of materials that cover the full scope of Kaufman's life and work. Some highlights include a typed signed letter from David Mamet that takes a "philological approach" to the question of Superman's Jewishness, signed letters from Barney Rosset and Fred Jordan (Rosset's include a photocopied section of his World War II journals), a drawing by writer Neeli Cherkovski, and t-shirts from the 1995 National Poetry Slam Championship and the Wordland reading series that Kaufman ran. Of potential interest are the materials relating to the San Francisco Poets Strike and Kaufman's Spoken Word tours of Germany and England. Some material related to these events can also be found in Kaufman's Spoken Word Scrapbook (folder 9), an oversized wirebound notebook containing press clippings documenting some of his early activities in the Spoken Word movement. There is also an audio tape, recorded in 1991, that features Kaufman and other poets associated with the Café Babar performing their works.