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The messenger
Number 27 (Fall/Winter 1993)

The messenger : friends of the University of Wisconsin-Madison libraries,   pp. [1]-11 ff.


Page 4

Papers from the archive of Armenian-American poet Leon Srabian Herald
(1894-1976), a one-time Madison resident, tell a story of creativity and
personal loss. The archive was recently organized by Linda Fain,
a former volunteer in the Department of Special Collections.
Leon Srabian Herald
(circa World War I)
Herald archives reveal a poet's life
Emigrating to the United States in 1912, Leon Srabian Herald lived in Madison during the early
1920s, when he attended the university and wrote poems and reviews for the Wisconsin State
Journal. By the end of that decade, he had attained modest notoriety. His first book of poems,
This Waking Hour, was published in 1925. He had also formed important friendships with Zona
Gale, his mentor and a regent of the university, and Marianne Moore, poet and editor of The
Dial, a prestigious literary magazine of the day. [Letters from both women are included in the
archive.]
Along with printing some of his poetry, The Dial serialized Herald's youthful memories in
seven consecutive issues from December 1926 to June 1927. In the series, he described life in his
native village Put-Aringe, his education in Cairo, and his voyage to America.
In 1925 Herald went to New York City where, except for a brief Chicago period in the 1930s,
he spent the rest of his life. Always an advocate of the working class, he joined the John Reed
Society. He was a delegate to their 1932 convention along with an acquaintance,
Whittaker Chambers.
He was also instrumental in forming the Federal Writers' Project, which
provided WPA-type jobs for authors during the depression. His efforts on behalf
of government support of the arts have been documented in The Dream and the
Deal: Federal Writers' Project 1935-1943 by Jerre Mangione (Little, Brown, 1972).
[The archive contains Herald's correspondence with Mangione as well as with Dr. Zelig, a
psychologist who was interested in Chambers.]
While participating in the summer activities of then-popular artists' colonies,
Herald formed two significant associations: with his friend and fellow poet,
Edward Arlington Robinson, at the MacDowell colony in Peterboro, New Hamp-
shire, in 1926; and with Mildred Gardner, a pianist he met in 1928 at Yaddo in
Saratoga Springs, New York. A snapshot in the archive shows Herald with
Gardner in front of the cottage they shared in Magestic, Long Island, in 1929. A
note scrawled on the back leaves the impression that she met with a tragic end.
During the twenties and thirties, when Herald experienced the bulk of his
literary success, he was published in The Nation, the New Republic, the
Commonweal, Poetry, and similar journals, including Ararat, an Armenian quar-
terly. His "Power of Horizon" was included in Edward J. O'Brien's collections of
Best Short Stories of 1929, and his work is also represented in Armenian-American
Poets: A Bilingual Anthology and acknowledged in William S. Braithwaite's Anthol-
ogy of Magazine Verse. For a short time he served as an editor of Youth, a weekly
for Armenian-American young people, as well as the journal Learning.
In 1938 Herald met and married Betty Forster, who died of cancer in 1942,
three years after their only child, John Whittier Herald, was born. The death of his
wife was only one of a series of losses Herald endured; his entire family in
Armenia had been slaughtered by the Turks in 1915.
Sensitive and high-strung, he suffered a nervous breakdown in 1946: "The
entire structure of self and personality totally collapsed." In the aftermath of his crisis he reports
"years of drought and heat/reducing me to bone and skin," his "creative energies shriveled."
And from that time on he was troubled by unrelenting insomnia.
4 Messenger


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