Separating the legend of Robert Garnell Kaufman from the verifiable details of his life is a difficult task. Kaufman himself contributed to the development of his legend, and various biographical sources have recorded unverifiable information that has been reproduced in other sources.
The legend indicates that Kaufman’s father was an orthodox Jew of German ancestry and his mother was a Catholic from Martinique who had some acquaintance with voodoo. Perhaps Kaufman’s grandfather was partly Jewish, but Kaufman’s siblings report that the New Orleans family was middle class and Catholic. His father, Joseph Kaufman, was a Pullman porter who worked on trains running between New Orleans and Chicago; his mother, Lillian, was a schoolteacher who made her book collection and piano important parts of the family home. The couple had thirteen children.
The legend suggests that Kaufman joined the United States Merchant Marine at age thirteen, traveled around the world numerous times, and developed his interest in literature when a shipmate influenced him and loaned him books. However, Kaufman probably did not enter the merchant marine until he was eighteen, and thereafter, he became an active member of the National Maritime Union. This union of merchant sailors faced federal review because it reputedly had ties to communist organizations, and Kaufman was one of two thousand sailors driven from the merchant marine because of his political views.
Kaufman moved to New York, where he studied for a time at the New School of Social Research and lived on the lower East Side. It was in New York...
(The entire section is 659 words.)