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Writers on the Left

In 1955, Aaron was invited to contribute to a series of studies of Communist influence in American life sponsored by the Ford Foundation. “The author never really finished the book. He just stopped writing,” he reflected in a new preface written for the Galaxy Book edition.  Since Writers on the Left was first published in 1961, it has remained the standard introduction to the 1930s, the most comprehensive attempt to understand why the desire for political change that gripped writers during the Depression led to the disenchantment of the forties and fifties. Aaron immersed himself in the correspondence of the writers he studied, read their memoirs and articles, and, above all, listened to them. Aaron’s scholarship had a catalyzing, cathartic impact on some of the writers he studied, prompting Joseph Freeman to write long, discursive essay-letters to him; encouraging Mike Gold to revisit, in a series of articles written for People’s World, the world he had so memorably captured in Jews without Money; and helping Max Eastman find a form as well as a publisher for the second volume of his autobiography. In Aaron’s own assessment, Writers on the Left thus helped “loosen the social and political constraints that ... had inhibited the writing of a frank and objective history of ... literary communism.”