Paul Goodman Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Paul Goodman was a radical critic of American society, an anarchist who believed that centralized power, whether government or business, was inherently oppressive. He traced his worldview to Pyotr Kropotkin, Mohandas K. Gandhi, and Thomas Jefferson, and he wrote fiction, nonfiction, and poetry in support of his views.

Goodman was born in 1911, the fourth child of Barnett and Augusta Goodman. His father abandoned his mother while she was pregnant with him. His mother, a traveling saleswoman for women’s clothing, spent most of her time on the road and left the raising of young Paul to his aunts and his sister, Alice, who was nine years older than he. He graduated from Townsend Harris, a selective New York City public high school, in 1927 and went on to the City College of New York, from which he graduated with an A.B. in philosophy in 1931.

For the next six years, he concentrated on writing, living with his sister and having no regular employment (though he was briefly employed as a script reader by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer). In 1936 he entered the University of Chicago as a graduate student in literature and philosophy. He passed the qualifying exams for a doctorate in literature but was asked to leave in 1940, probably because of his open bisexuality.

In 1938 he entered a common-law marriage with Virginia Miller. Their daughter, Susan, was born in 1939; the couple separated in 1943. In that year Goodman was employed as an instructor at Manumit School of Progressive Education in Pawling, New York, but he was fired the following year, once again because of his sex life. In 1945 he began another common-law marriage, with secretary Sally Duchsten. They remained together for the rest of his life. The following year, his son Matthew was born. (They would have a second child, Daisy, in 1963.) In 1947 he collaborated with his brother, architect Percival Goodman, to write what became one of his best-known books, Communitas, which recommended decentralized approaches to urban living. At around this time, personal problems and his interest in the...

(The entire section is 850 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Paul Goodman was born in Greenwich Village, New York City, on September 9, 1911, to a family in financial straits so serious that his father deserted them soon after Paul’s birth. Not surprisingly, many of Goodman’s books deal with fatherless boys struggling to establish some sort of alliance both with adult males and with society. The lonely boy excelled in school (“he made it difficult for us ordinary geniuses,” one classmate remarked).

The years Goodman spent at the College of the City of New York between 1927 and 1931 were formative ones in his intellectual growth. Here he came in contact with the legendary teacher-philosopher Morris Cohen, who found Goodman to be a willing student with an inquiring and skeptical mind. Thereafter, Goodman found outlets for his omnivorous interests, publishing pieces on philosophy, short stories, cinema criticism, and poetry. Though considered a promising writer while still in his twenties, Goodman did not attract a wide audience. During the 1950’s, in fact, he grew despondent over his lack of recognition; it was not until shortly before his fiftieth birthday that this reputation burgeoned.

“Too long a sacrifice makes a stone of the heart,” remarked William Butler Yeats in a line that is appropriate to Goodman, who was often viewed by contemporaries as arrogant, distant, and hard, yet to his credit was courageous, committed to social good, and helpful to other writers. Complicating his life was his bisexuality, which he explored at length in...

(The entire section is 619 words.)