Benjamin Appel was born in 1907 in New York City. His parents had emigrated from Poland and later settled in Hell's Kitchen, a famously rough neighborhood on New York's Westside. Appel spent his childhood and youth there and used it as the setting for many of his novels. His parents, he said, "attempted to shield me as best they could from the casual ordinary day-to-day terror of a poor neighborhood, with its crime, drunkenness, vice, corruption, suffering, ignorance." Appel attended the University of Pennsylvania, New York University and graduated from Lafayette College in 1929.
As a young man, Appel worked as a bank clerk, farmer, lumberjack and factory-hand. He was a housing inspector for New York City and some of his early manuscripts are written on the back of building service maintenance stationery. During World War II, he served in several capacities including aviation mechanic. Between 1943 and 1945, he was employed by the U.S. Office of Civilian Defense and the War Manpower Commission. He was a special assistant to the U.S. Commissioner for the Philippines from 1945-46 and was granted the rank of colonel (simulated) in Manila. His novel, Fortress in the Rice, emerged from his experiences in the Philippines and was made into the 1963 movie Cry of Battle starring Rita Moreno, Van Heflin and James MacArthur.
Appel's first published work was a collection of poetry, Mixed Vintage, which came out in 1929. During the 1930s he published widely in the "little" literary magazines. His first novel, Brain Guy, the story of small time con men, poverty, prostitution and murder was published in 1934. The New Yorker called it "a street-corner Macbeth of our day." Several further novels continued the themes introduced in Brain Guy especially Runaround, published in 1937 which dealt with politics, and The Power-House, from 1939, which told the story of corruption in the formation of a labor union for waiters in New York City. In 1943, Appel published The Dark Stain, an exploration into the ugliness and cruelty between black and white Americans and how the morass of racial prejudice devours even those of good intentions.
Appel's reviews in prestigious publications such as The Saturday Review of Literature, Books and The New York Times constantly refer to him as an authentic voice of the streets, a writer who is able to evoke the dark and repulsive truths of poverty, corruption and racism that infect the streets of urban America. The New York Times described The Power-House as "a brilliant book written with the cold, corroding passion of one who has been through the heat of human poverty and degradation, and had all the softness and sham burned away." Appel is most often compared to James Cain and Dashiell Hammett.
Appel married Sophie Marshak in 1936 and they had three daughters. The family moved to Roosevelt, New Jersey in 1947 and Appel lived there until his death in 1977. In 1956, Appel began publishing literature for juveniles with the introduction of We Were There in the Klondike Gold Rush. This was followed by We Were There at the Battle for Bataan and We Were There with Cortes and Montezuma. Appel also wrote for the Why They Are The Way They Are series, including books about the Russians, the Chinese and the Japanese. Other titles in the juvenile genre include The Illustrated Book About South America, Including Mexico and Central America, 1960; With Many Voices: Europe Talks About America, 1963; Hitler From Power to Ruin, 1964; Ben-Gurion's Israel, 1965; Man and Magic, 1966 and The Fantastic Mirror: Science Fiction Across the Ages, 1969.
The Benjamin Appel Papers contains nineteen boxes of handwritten drafts, manuscripts, galley and publishers' proofs of his most widely known novels including Fortress in the Rice, which was made into the movie "Cry of Battle." Also included are copies of short stories, fifteen of which were published in mainstream literary magazines, which are also part of the collection. His earlier work in the "little" literary magazines is also well represented, again with the magazines as part of the collection. This collection offers an opportunity to trace individual pieces of writing from their genesis to their published product. Benjamin Appel has carefully preserved the notes, source materials and multiple drafts of much of his work. This is especially true for the novel The Dark Stain, which includes an extensive collection of newspaper clippings dealing with race in America from both black newspapers as well as more mainstream white papers.
The collection is divided into the following series: Correspondence; Adult and Juvenile Novels; Articles and Short Stories; Newspaper writings; Literary Notebooks; Travel documents; Literary magazine stories in the periodicals in which they were published; Reviews of his work; Reviews he wrote of other writers' work; Photographs and Oversize materials.
The Correspondence Series is arranged chronologically and includes letters from elementary school children answering the questions: "What are five things you know about Russia?" and "What are five things you would like to know about Russia?" which pertain to the writing of the juvenile literature Why the Russians Are the Way They Are?"
The Monograph Series is catalogued alphabetically by title. Within this series a researcher can find notes, sources materials, manuscript drafts and completed manuscripts for eighteen of Benjamin Appel's published books.
The Short Stories Series is comprised of six complete short stories, several fragments and newspaper story writing.
The Notebook Series contains Appel's actual notebooks, which contain both literary and personal notes.
The Travel Documents Series are also actual documents and they chronicle Appel's journeys to England, Italy, Germany and the USSR.
The Literary Magazine Series is a fine collection of the "little" literary magazines of the 1930's and 40's in the U.S. in which Appel published extensively. Because the entire magazine is included there is the opportunity to review not only Appel's work but also that of many others.
The Photographs Series contains only two folders: one from the movie "Cry of Battle" and the other a newspaper portrait of Appel.
The Review Series chronicles many of the thoughtful reviews in important literary organs that Appel received over the several decades of his literary career.
The Miscellaneous Series The most important document in this series is the work Appel did on the literary relationship between his own editor, Elizabeth Nowell and the most famous author with whom she worked, Thomas Wolfe.
The Oversize Series contains galley and proofs of several of Appel's novel, many of them with further notes written on them. Copies of newspaper articles that Appel collected during the writing of The Dark Stain are housed in these folders. Copies of Collier's and Esquire are also housed in this series.
Restrictions on Access :
Collection is open to the public.
Collection must be used in Special Collections & University Archives Reading Room.Restrictions on Use :
Property rights reside with Special Collections & University Archives. Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs. All requests for permission to publish collection materials must be submitted to Special Collections & University Archives. The reader must also obtain permission of the copyright holder.
Archival may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws and other regulations.
Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g. a cause of action for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the University of Oregon assumes no responsibility.
If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.Preferred Citation :
[Identification of item], Benjamin Appel Papers, Ax 491, Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon.
Collection is organized into the following series:
Series I: Correspondence
Series II: Monographs
Series II, Subseries B: Short Stories
Series III: Diaries and Notebooks
Series IV: Travel Documents
Series V: Literary Magazines
Series VI: Photographs
Series VII: Reviews
Series VIII: Miscellaneous
Series IX: Oversize material
Detailed Description of the Collection