An American author and activist whose ideology influenced many intellectuals.
Once considered among the most influential of twentieth-century intellectuals, Waldo Frank is now largely forgotten. This is not for lack of writings; Frank wrote more than a dozen novels, almost 20 volumes of social history, and many articles for literary and political magazines. During the 1920s, Frank was part of an artistic circle that included such artists as Alfred Stieglitz, Van Wyck Brooks, Countee Cullen, and Jean Toomer. He was particularly admired in Spain, France, and Latin America, where his writings are still well known.
Waldo David Frank was born in Long Branch, New Jersey, on August 25, 1889. His parents, Julius and Helen Rosenberg Frank, provided their son with a comfortable existence in which his intellectual curiosity was stimulated. A voracious reader, he was expelled from his high school in his senior year for refusing to take a required course on Shakespeare because he felt that he knew more about Shakespeare than the teacher did. At around the same time he completed his first novel, which was never published.
After a year in boarding school in Switzerland, Frank enrolled at Yale University, where he graduated with a combined bachelor's and master's degree in 1911. During his years at Yale, Frank became attracted to radical ideas and contributed to socialist journals such as The Liberator and New Masses. He also wrote a drama column for the local paper. Upon graduation, Frank wrote several pieces for the New York Times, traveled through Europe for a year, and tried unsuccessfully to launch a literary magazine. In 1916, Frank became the associate editor of an artistic and political journal, The Seven Arts; however, the journal only published 12 issues. By 1925, Frank had become a regular contributor to the New York Times under the pseudonym, “Search Light” and was named contributing editor to The New Republic. Throughout the 1920s, Frank developed a greater focus on politics and in 1929 he held a lecture tour in Latin America.
In his novels, Frank tended to advocate social and political reform. His novels include Unwelcome Man (1917), City Block (1922), and The Death and Birth of David Markand (1934). Frank, who described himself as a “naturalistic mystic,” was an admirer of Freud, and in many of his works he injected his own understanding of psychoanalysis. Thus, although not a psychoanalyst himself, he was able to help popularize analysis through his works. Books on politics by Frank include The Rediscovery of America (1929), America Hispania (1931), Birth of the World (1951), and The Prophetic Island: A Portrait of Cuba (1961).
Frank's first wife (1916–1924) was Margaret Naumburg, who pioneered art therapy. He had one son with Naumburg and two children with his second wife, Alma Magoon, whom he married in 1927. At his peak of popularity, Frank served as the first president of the League of American Writers (1935–1937) and as chairman of the First American Writers’ Congress (1935), however, Frank's popularity declined so rapidly, that he was unable to find publishers for his last two novels and by the time he died on January 9, 1967, he was largely forgotten in the United States.
Frank, Waldo David. The Re-Discovery of America: An Introduction to a Philosophy of American Life. West-port, CT: Greenwood Press, 1982.
Frank, Waldo David. Unwelcome Man; A Novel. Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1917.
Pfeiffer, Kathleen, ed. Brother Mine: The Correspondence of Jean Toomer and Waldo Frank. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010.
Kirsch, Adam. “The Mystic Word.” http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2006/10/09/the-mystic-word (accessed July 17, 2015).
Krauze, Enrique. “The New Cuba?” http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/mar/19/new-cuba (accessed July 17, 2015).
Simkin, John. “Waldo Frank.” http://spartacus-educational . com/USAfrank.htm (accessed July 17, 2015).
University of Delaware Library. “Waldo Frank Papers.” http://www.lib.udel.edu/ud/spec/findaids/frank.htm (accessed July 3, 2015).