Marvin Hartley Bell was born in New York City but spent his childhood in Center Moriches, a small Long Island town sixty miles from Manhattan. His parents, Saul Bell and Belle Bell, were the children of Russian Jews who had emigrated to escape persecution. In his boyhood, Bell played on soccer, baseball, and basketball teams, became a ham radio operator, and played the trumpet in a jazz group. His early writing experience consisted of writing a column about school events for the local weekly newspaper.
After high school, Bell attended Alfred University in upstate New York. There he continued with his trumpet playing in the university orchestra; worked for the yearbook and Fiat Lux, the weekly newspaper, which he edited his senior year; and became interested in ceramics and photography. Bell was initially more attracted to journalism than to literature, and when he found appropriate political causes (discriminatory clauses in sororities and fraternities, for example), he wrote and mimeographed an underground newsletter. After graduation from Alfred, Bell enrolled in the graduate journalism school at Syracuse University, where he met Al Sampson, who became a lifelong friend, and Mary (Mickey) Mammosser, who became his first wife. The couple then moved to Rochester, where they founded Statements, a journal that enabled them to include both literature and photography.
At the urging of Sampson, who was now studying literature at...
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