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For my friend Ruth Gruber, Sept 30, 1911-Nov 17, 2016

The funeral for my dear friend and longtime author Ruth Gruber will be this morning, Nov 20, 11am at B’nai Jeshurun on W 88th St in Manhattan. She died on Thursday at age 105. One of her mentors was Edward Steichen, who urged her, “Take pictures with your heart,” which she always did. Here’s an album with two pictures of her, and a few of her images. Among her hundreds of great photographs, these three are some of her most moving. Links below offer more info on Ruth’s long life and career.

 

NY Times obituary

AP obit

All my blog posts on Ruth Gruber

 

 

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As Alaska Notches 56 Years Since It Became a State, a Note on Ruth Gruber’s Role in the March to Statehood

On this date in 1959 Alaska became the US’s 49th State. Til then the Interior Department had a big hand in administering the territory, though there was also local government. Spanning 1941-46, Ruth Gruber—now 104, and the most senior living member of FDR administration—worked in the Cabinet-level department, and during that time served in Alaska as Secretary Harold Ickes’ Special Representative to the region. Her work there began in Spring 1941, a strategic place to be, especially when just six months later the Japanese air force bombed Pearl Harbor. After Hawaii, Alaska was the US’s other key Pacific outpost. She was a natural for the role in Alaska, which she got at age 29, as Harold Ickes had read her 1937 book I Went to the Soviet Arctic, a travelogue she wrote after becoming the first journalist or scholar—Westerner or Soviet, male or female—to travel in Siberia and observe the country’s population centers above the Arctic Circle. She explains how she got that earlier opportunity—after a Letter of Introduction to Soviet specialists by the mentor and Arctic explorer Viljalmur Stefanson, in her terrific memoir Ahead of Time: My Early Years as a Foreign Correspondent. One role she took on in Alaska was the establishment of homesteading in the vast land, anticipating especially the appeal the offer of land to settlers could have for US troops being demobilized as WWII ended. Her efforts helped lead ultimately to statehood, not even fifteen years following war’s end. You can read much more about Ruth’s career in her 18 books, 6 of which I helped her publish, many available nowadays from Open Road Integrated Media, and in my many blog posts about her, linked to here. Here she was photographed with local people.

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Celebrating with Ruth Gruber on her 104th Birthday

The 104th birthday of my longtime author—the storied photojournalist Ruth Gruber, with whom I’ve published six books—was last Wednesday, so yesterday Kyle and I joined Ruth and her daughter Celia to celebrate the latest milestone in Ruth’s remarkable and event-filled life—from meeting Virginia Woolf in the 1930s to journeying through the Soviet Arctic later that decade to working in Alaska as a representative of the FDR administration to chronicling the voyage of the real-life Exodus ship in 1947 to being honored by the International Center of Photography (ICP) in 2012, aspects of her life I’ve chronicled several times on this blog. Photos from our birthday celebration are below, but first note that the ICP’s exhibit of Ruth’s work is now at Brooklyn College where it will be up until February 12, 2016, with an opening this Thursday, October 8. NB: Five of the six books I published w/Ruth in the 1990s and 2000s, including her two remarkable memoirs Ahead of Time and Inside of Time, as well as her book on Virginia Woolf, are available from Open Road Media.

Ruth birthday cake 2Ruth birthday cake

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Appreciating Ruth Gruber’s Lifetime of Humanitarian Activism and Photojournalism, at the JCC til Feb 25

Ruth at JCC, Dec 9, 2014Kyle, Ewan, and I had a great time last night at the opening reception for an exhibit of Ruth Gruber’s photojournalism at the JCC. This is essentially the same exhibit that was mounted in 2012 at the International Center of Photography, the year that Ruth was awarded the ICP’s Infinity Award. If you’re unfamiliar with Ruth’s work, this show is a great way to begin. If you’re not in NYC to go see it, this link will lead you to many of the images. If you’re not familiar with her remarkable career, here’s a primer:

Born in 1911 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Ruth was always precocious. She received her B.A. from NYU at age sixteen; an M.A. in German language and literature from the University of Wisconsin at eighteen; and at twenty was offered a fellowship to participate in an exchange program at the University of Cologne. Early in her studies there, in 1931, she was asked by a professor if she would consider reading the work of Virginia Woolf, and writing a doctoral thesis about her. I’ve imagined that Ruth’s professors must have realized they had this bright female student in their midst, a reader of English and German who could tackle the Englishwoman’s books and write about them, asking themselves when they might again have such an opportunity, especially with the inter-war years—which they turned out to be—increasingly fraught by international peril? Ruth demurred—she had not yet read Woolf’s work, she could afford to be in Cologne only one year, her parents would not let her stay longer, the work would surely take more than a year—but soon, though she hadn’t read any of Woolf’s books when the professors asked her, she said, “I’ll try.” Taping up a picture of Woolf in her room, she undertook to read all of Woolf’s books then published, pondering their meaning and the significance of Woolf’s creative enterprise.

Despite the notoriety that her youthful doctorate brought her (she was heralded in the NY Times as the “World’s Youngest Ph.D.”), the Depression was in full swing and Ruth found little work upon her return to the States. She continued traveling and trying her hand at journalism and photography. In 1935, she was delighted when the thesis on Woolf was published as a book in Germany by the Tauchnitz Press, which had a list of English-language titles, including Woolf’s The Waves. Ruth sent a copy of her thesis to Woolf in London, thus beginning a lengthy correspondence between the two women that culminated in Ruth paying a visit to Woolf at her Bloomsbury home in 1936 or ’37. For more on this period of Ruth’s life, including the meeting between the two women, you can also read my post, Virginia Woolf and Ruth Gruber, Driven to Create as Women her on this blog.

After her experiences in Germany, she won a Fulbright scholarship, which included attending a rally at which Hitler spoke, where the foreign students were seated very near him, she devoted an extended period of independent study to the examination of “women under democracy, fascism, and communism.” She became the first Western journalist to tour the Soviet Arctic, and in 1937 published her second book, I Went to the Soviet Arctic, which she parlayed in to a new career as a public lecturer. In 1940, Ruth continued her association with the peoples of the polar regions when she became a member of the FDR administration, under Interior Secretary Harold Ickes who named her his special field representative for the territory of Alaska. She is doubtless one of the Roosevelt administration’s eldest surviving staffers. She worked for the government off and on during and immediately after WWII, leaving at times to work as a foreign correspondent for the New York Post and the Herald Tribune. In 1944, Ickes assigned Ruth a mission she urged him to give her, that of escorting nearly 1,000 WWII survivors from Naples, Italy, on the Henry Gibbins, a ship that also carried wounded American troops back to the US. In 1947, she was working as a foreign correspondent when she covered the fate of the Exodus ship, and chased its thousands of stateless passengers all over the Mediterranean and central Europe the summer of that year.

To read more about Ruth Gruber’s lifetime of humanitarian activism I recommend any of the six books I published with her, five of which are currently available in new editions from Open Road Integrated Media, whose executives Jane Friedman and Philip Rappaport were also on hand at the JCC. The titles I published with Ruth are 1) Exodus 1947: The Ship that Launched a Nation, Introduction by Eleanor Roosevelt biographer Blanche Wiesen Cook; 2) Haven: The Dramatic Story of 1,000 WWII Refugees and How They Came to America, which was adapted for a TV movie in 2000 (Foreword by Dava Sobel, author of Longitude, and Ruth’s niece); 3) Raquela: A Woman of Israel, winner of the Jewish Book Award in 1978 (Introduction by novelist Faye Kellerman); 4) Ahead of Time: My Early Years as a Foreign Correspondent (also the title of a documentary on Ruth), Introduction by Vanity Fair writer Marie Brenner; 5) Inside of Time: My Journey from Alaska to Israel: My Journey from Alaska to Israel; and 6) Virginia Woolf: The Will to Create as a Woman.

I have written about Ruth several times on this blog, posts that are all illustrated with photographs by Ruth or of her: 1) Ruth Gruber’s Photojournalism at Soho Photography; 2) My Friend Ruth Gruber, Pioneering Photojournalist; 3) Virginia Woolf and Ruth Gruber, Driven to Create as Women; 4) Celebrating Photojournalist & Author Ruth Gruber’s 102nd Birthday With Her; and 5) Marking Photojournalist Ruth Gruber’s 103rd Birthday. Below are photos I took at last night’s reception, and photos I’ve taken of her book jackets.

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Marking Photojournalist Ruth Gruber’s 103rd Birthday

As a book editor, I’ve had the privilege of working with dozens of talented authors. Amid all the superb writers one sub-group stands out: authors in their 80s, 90s, or even older, in their 100s. This group has included Edward Robb Ellis (1911-1998), author of A Diary of Century: Tales by American’s Greatest Diarist. Here is a collection of posts Ive written about him. Another of these remarkable authors is Ruth Gruber, also born in 1911, with whom I’ve published six books, including her memoir Ahead of Time: My Early Years as a Foreign Correspondent, also the title of a documentary about her. Ruth turned 103 this week, and is still going strong. This is a collection of posts I’ve written about her. Please join me in celebrating her amazing life and career.

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Celebrating Photojournalist & Author Ruth Gruber’s 102nd Birthday With Her

LIFE magAs some readers of this blog may know, I’ve had the personal and professional privilege to edit and publish photojournalist and author Ruth Gruber’s books over the years. I’ve done six of her eighteen books. Her first publication was a thesis on Virginia Woolf, written in Cologne, Germany in 1931, while an exchange student there. She was then just 20, a young woman from Brooklyn on the verge of what became an amazing career as a refugee advocate, chronicler of the displaced, humanitarian, and journalist. She met with Woolf in London around 1935, a story she’s told in her book Virginia Woolf: The Will to Create as a Woman, which I wrote about at this link on The Great Gray Bridge.

In the early 1940s, Ruth was a member of the FDR administration, under Interior Secretary Harold Ickes as his special field representative in Alaska. She is doubtless one of the administration’s eldest surviving staffers. To read Ruth Gruber’s work I recommend any of the six books I worked on, five of which are currently available from Open Road Integrated Media. The titles are Haven: The Dramatic Story of 1,000 WWII Refugees and How They Came to America; Ahead of Time: My Early Years as a Foreign Correspondent (also the title of a documentary on Ruth); Inside of Time: My Journey from Alaska to Israel; Raquela: A Woman of Israel; the Virginia Woolf book named above; and Exodus 1947: The Ship that Launched a Nation (the only one of these not available from Open Road, it’s currently published by Union Square Press).

There is also this link to a post I wrote when the International Center of Photography (ICP) gave her their lifetime achievement award in 2012. After a stop in Alaska, the ICP’s exhibit of Ruth’s photojournalism is now traveling the country. The picture above, of an Inuit girl reading LIFE Magazine with Ted Williams on the cover, is part of the ICP exhibit. It is one of her most whimsical; by contrast, she also photographed Holocaust survivors in DP camps after WWII. Those pictures are also part of the ICP exhibit. Here are a dozen pictures from a birthday party that my son Ewan and wife Kyle Gallup attended with me yesterday. (Most pictures by Kyle.) You may click here to see all images.

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Ruth Gruber’s Photojournalism at Soho Photography

To mark Jewish American Heritage Month, Open Road Media–which has recently brought out five ebooks by my longtime author Ruth Gruber–has published a celebratory post on the Open Road Blog. In addition, Ruth’s photojournalism, for which she’s received the International Center of Photography’s Infinity Award, is on exhibit through June 2 at the gallery Soho Photography on White Street in Tribeca. Among Ruth’s mentors was Edward Steichen, who exhorted her to “Take pictures with your heart.” I recommend you read Ruth’s inspiring books and go see her photographs, including the two accompanying this post. The image above was taken when Ruth was sent to Alaska in 1940 by Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, her boss in the FDR administration; the one below was taken aboard the prison ship Runnymede Park, on which the refugees from the Exodus were forcibly sequestered during the summer of 1947, a chronicle that Ruth tells in her book Exodus 1947: The Ship That Launched a Nation, which is illustrated with more than 100 of her photographs. I published it with Ruth in hardcover in 1999, and in trade paperback in 2008. It is still only available in hard copy, and is not yet among the ebooks from Open Road. For the record, the titles available as ebooks are Haven: The Dramatic Story of 1,000 WWII Refugees and How They Came to AmericaInside of Time: My Journey from Alaska to IsraelRaquela: A Woman of Israel; Virginia Woolf: The Will to Create as a Woman; and Ahead of Time: My Early Years as a Foreign Correspondent (also the title of an excellent documentary covering mostly the first four decades of Ruth’s life). For readers’ handy reference, I’ve previously blogged about Ruth Gruber, here and here.

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Virginia Woolf and Ruth Gruber, Driven to Create as Women

When I last wrote about my longtime author Ruth Gruber—who in May 2011 received the International Center of Photography’s Cornell Capa Award, a few months before turning 100—it was to honor her during Women’s History Month. Now I’m delighted to see that Open Road Integrated Media has picked up another book by Ruth for their ebook program.The latest title, coming after four earlier ebook editions, is Virginia Woolf: The Will to Create as a Woman. I published the printed book in 2004, when I was editor-in-chief of Carroll & Graf.

The book on Woolf is a remarkable document—the core of it being Ruth’s 1931 dissertation, “Virginia Woolf: A Study.” Her first chapter, “The Poet Versus the Critic” opens with lines that lay down a new marker setting forth the idea of women’s studies in literature decades before the term would have widespread salience:

Virginia Woolf is determined to write as a woman. Through the eyes of her sex, she seeks to penetrate life and describe it.  Her will to explore her femininity is bitterly opposed by the critics, who guard the traditions of men, who dictate to her or denounce her feminine reactions to art and life.

An understanding of how Ruth Gruber, a Brooklyn-born Jewish woman came to be in Germany during the early days of Nazism where she would write and publish the first known feminist interpretation of Virginia Woolf’s work is inseparable from her biography, so for readers of this blog who may be unfamiliar with Ruth’s life and career, here’s a sketch.

Born in 1911 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Ruth was always precocious. She received her B.A. from NYU at age sixteen; an M.A. in German language and literature from the University of Wisconsin at eighteen; and at twenty was offered a fellowship to participate in an exchange program at the University of Cologne. Early in her studies there, she was asked by a professor if she would consider reading the work of Woolf, and embark on a doctoral thesis about her. I’ve imagined that Ruth’s professors must have realized they had this bright female student in their midst, a reader of English and German, and when might they again have such an opportunity, especially with international exchanges precarious? Ruth demurred—she had not yet read Woolf’s work, she could afford to be in Cologne only one year, her parents would not let her stay longer, the work would surely take longer—but soon she said, “I’ll try.” Taping a picture of Woolf above her desk, she began reading all of Woolf’s books published to that point, pondering their meanings and the significance of Woolf’s creative enterprise.

Ruth did complete the work in less than a year, successfully defended her thesis, and was awarded a Ph.D. Upon her return to the U.S. in 1932 the New York Times wrote: ” When the gangplank went down on the St. Louis [the same ship that seven years later would be denied sanctuary at ports in the US and Cuban] an attractive Brooklyn girl of twenty years stepped ashore bearing a coveted degree of Doctor of Philosophy  . . . She is now the youngest Doctor of Philosophy in the world.” This period of her life is documented in two of her nineteen books, both available from Open Road, the Woolf title just added to their list, and Ahead of Time: My Early Years as a Foreign Correspondent,** which is also the title of a recent documentary on Ruth’s life and career up through the years immediately following WWII.

Despite the notoriety of her youthful doctorate, the Depression had begun and Ruth found little work upon her return to the States, so she continued traveling and trying her hand at journalism and photography. In 1935, the thesis was published as a book in Germany by the Tauchnitz Press, which had a list of English-language titles, including Woolf’s The Waves. Ruth sent a copy of the published book to Woolf in London, thus beginning a lengthy correspondence between the two women that culminated in Ruth paying a visit to Woolf at her Bloomsbury home that year.

Ruth was greeted at the parlor door by husband Leonard. The meeting is covered in detail in both of the above books, but suffice it to say that a somewhat awkward conversation followed, with Virginia stretched out on a rug in front of the fireplace. She offered an ambiguous comment about whether she had read the thesis, and denied that she had anything to say on the subject of Ruth’s latest undertaking, a fellowship to make “a study of women under democracy, fascism, and communism.” Though Ruth hadn’t intended to come as a supplicant, that’s how Woolf interpreted her visit. Smoking a cigarette in a long holder, Virginia said, “I don’t know how I can help you. I don’t know a thing about politics. I’ve never worked a day in my life.” Ruth was “startled” that “she did not think publishing ten books, countless essays, and brilliant book reviews was work.”

In 1989, Ruth was startled again when she discovered that Virginia had written about her in her letters and diaries, in disparaging and anti-semitic terms, including in this diary passage: “Must get up and receive Miss Grueber [sic] (to discuss a book on women and fascism–a pure have yer . . .) in ten minutes.” In Eric Partridge’s books on slang, Ruth read that “a pure have yer” referred to a 1) wanton, kept woman; 2) dog dung; 3) a swindle, or deception. Ruth wondered, Is that what Virginia Woolf had thought of me? Ruth pondered this over the years, until in 2005, at the back of an old file cabinet, she discovered the letters she’d received from Woolf, and read them for the first time in decades.

With the discovery of this new material, Ruth and I began to discuss reissuing her thesis, surrounding it with the letters and a new Introduction in which she would grapple once and for all with the meaning of her long-ago encounter with Woolf and its aftermath. Later in 2005, once we’d made digital facsimile reproductions of the letters and other pertinent materials in Ruth’s archive she donated all her Woolf materials to the New York Public Library, whose holdings of Woolfiana surpass any institution in the world. Also in that year Virginia Woolf: The Will to Create as a Woman was published in the expanded edition we had envisioned. Like the letters, the thesis was reproduced in facsimile, which in this case meant we were able to reprint the gorgeous letter-press typesetting that Tauchnitz had struck for the book in 1935. Carroll & Graf was dissolved in 2006, but for the record the 2005 paperback edition is widely available from second-hand booksellers.

Ruth’s new introduction ran to nearly forty pages. In it, she details a correspondence she’d shared with Nigel Nicolson, son of Virginia’s lover Vita Sackville-West. He wrote, “I fear that you may have been hurt by her references to you, but she was like that in her diary and letters, though perfectly courteous in conversation. It’s one of the things I deplore about Virginia, her cattiness, contempt for almost everyone who were not her friends, an occasional touch of anti-Semitism, her snobbishness and jealousy.” Ruth continues, “In those seventy years since I sat worshipfully in her parlor, I learned more of her violent manic depressions, her wild helpless swings; by turns critical, nasty. . .moving to exquisite warmth and generosity. I learned of her constant fear that she was going insane. . . .” Ruth recalls, “In 1941, when the pain of living had finally become too great for her, she wrote two final loving letters to Leonard before she walked into the river. . . . Those two love letters. . . and her three letters to me, helped me work through my own anger and disillusionment, which now seem trifling in comparison to the agony she endured. They helped restore the admiration I had for her when I was nineteen and just discovering her genius. I realized that she had lived her entire life with a will to create as a woman. That was the most important lesson she taught me. In 2004, I reread my dissertation in the light of that new understanding, underlining paragraphs that mean as much to me now as they did when I wrote them more than seventy years ago.” Then Ruth ended her Introduction by quoting the first paragraph from her thesis that opens “Virginia Woolf is determined to write as a woman,” cited above in the third paragraph of this recollection.

In future writings about Ruth Gruber for this blog, I will chronicle many of her other achievements. For now, let it suffice to say that after 1935 Ruth would continue her worldwide study of women. She would also take photographs everywhere she went—including in Siberia, Alaska, and above the Arctic Circle; in post-WWII Europe, when she would become the foremost chronicler of the thousands of displaced persons (DPs); and in the Middle East, where she would travel with the international committees tasked with resolving the future of Palestine and the fate of the Jews who’d survived the Holocaust—always remembering the inspirational message that her photographic mentor Edward Steichen instilled in her: “Take pictures with your heart.”