What follows is a chapter entitled “1955—The Village Finds Its Voice,” from the soon to be released book “A Drama in Time,” by John Reed. The stories in this historical look at The New School are written in present tense to capture the restlessness and vibrancy of the legacy.
In her opening remarks at The New School’s 1952 commencement, university Vice President Clara Mayer speaks to a decade of inexorable change:
“Less than a hundred years have elapsed since we were embattled that government of, by and for the people might not perish. The outlook today is often discouraging. And it may never turn on battle. Yet we face a loss of freedom just as dire, perhaps more serious. The way to win it back is the way we lost it—through ourselves.”
Commencement speaker Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas urges graduates toward global thinking, “to make common cause with the revolutionary struggles for independence and for equality that are now sweeping the world.”
In 1955, Edwin Fancher and Dan Wolf, graduates from New School programs directed to veterans (the university’s first undergraduate degree offerings), answer the challenge. Dissatisfied with the local downtown paper, The Villager, which is stuffy and old hat, Fancher and Wolf put out their own newspaper, The Village Voice. With support from Norman Mailer—who was introduced to the Voice founders through New School associations and courses—as Wolf will write in 1962, the Voice seeks to counter “the vulgarities of McCarthyism,” which had “withered the possibilities of a true dialogue between people.”
“I feel the hints, the clues, the whisper of a new time coming,” writes Mailer in 1956, when Greenwich Village and The New School are the embodiment of change. Anatole Broyard, in his 1993 memoir, Kafka Was the Rage, will recount arrival in Greenwich Village in the late 1940s:
I opened a bookstore, went to The New School under the GI Bill. I began to think about becoming a writer. I thought about the relation between men and women as it was in 1947, when they were still locked in what Aldous Huxley called a hostile symbiosis. In the background, like landscape, like weather, was what we read and talked about. In the foreground were our love affairs and friendships and our immersion, like swimmers or divers, in American life and art.
Broyard, a writer and revered literary critic, will go on to teach at The New School. When Mailer lectured at the school in 1953, his novels had already been called out in several course descriptions; like many New School faculty members, he would soon be an ongoing subject in course offerings. Mailer will frequent lectures and events at The New School until his death in 2007.
The mid-century lectures and highly selective workshops of The New School attract students who go on to extraordinary success; among the many are James Baldwin, Marlon Brando, Enrico Donati, Red Grooms, Grace Paley, Lorraine Hansberry, Jack Kerouac, Madeleine L’Engle, Sigrid de Lima, Judith Malina, Sidney Poitier, Mario Puzo, Julio Rosado del Valle, William Styron, and Tennessee Williams. In lectures, workshops, and degree courses, students are mentored at the forefront of academic and creative fields. Sampling the curriculum: students take classes in psychoanalysis with Karen Horney and Eric Fromm; Gestalt psychology with Rudolf Arnheim; economics with Adolphe Lowe; philosophy with Hannah Arendt and Hans Jonas; art criticism with Meyer Schapiro; musicology with Charles Seeger, Henry Cowell, and Cowell’s protege, John Cage; photography with Berenice Abbott, Joseph Breitenbach, and Lisette Model; literature with W.H. Auden, Alfred Kazin, Robert Lowell, and Jean Malaquais; writing with Kay Boyle and Frank O’Hara; printmaking with Stanley Hayter and Clare Romano; studio art with Robert Gwathmey, Robert De Niro Sr., Seymour Lipton, José de Creeft, and Lorrie Goulet; and theater in the Dramatic Workshop with Stella Adler, Erwin and Maria Ley Piscator, and Lee Strasberg.