Rare Recording of Controversialist, Journalist and American Literary & Social Critic, H.L. Mencken

Hen­ry Louis Menck­en (1880–1956) was a famous Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist, essay­ist, crit­ic of Amer­i­can life and cul­ture, and a schol­ar of Amer­i­can Eng­lish. An expert in so many fields, he was called “the Bal­ti­more Sage.” At the age of 22, Menck­en became man­ag­ing edi­tor of the Morn­ing Her­ald in his home­town of Bal­ti­more. But it was not only through his work as a jour­nal­ist that he was “as famous in Amer­i­ca as George Bernard Shaw was in Eng­land.” The influ­en­tial lit­er­ary crit­ic helped launch the South­ern and Harlem lit­er­ary renais­sances. With his lit­er­ary jour­nal The Smart Set, Menck­en paved the way for writ­ers such as F. Scott Fitzger­ald, Eugene O’Neill, Sin­clair Lewis, Theodore Dreis­er, and James Joyce. He also wrote sev­er­al books, most notably his mon­u­men­tal study The Amer­i­can Lan­guage.

“The two main ideas that run through all of my writ­ing, whether it be lit­er­ary crit­i­cism or polit­i­cal polemic are these: I am strong in favor of lib­er­ty and I hate fraud.” (source) His spir­it­ed defense of the free­dom of speech and of the press almost land­ed him in jail when he fought against the ban­ning of his sec­ond lit­er­ary jour­nal, The Amer­i­can Mer­cury.

This inter­view above was con­duct­ed by Menck­en’s col­league Don­ald Howe Kirkley of The Bal­ti­more Sun in a small record­ing room at the Library of Con­gress in Wash­ing­ton on June 30, 1948. It gives you a rare chance to hear his voice.

Bonus mate­r­i­al:

By pro­fes­sion, Matthias Rasch­er teach­es Eng­lish and His­to­ry at a High School in north­ern Bavaria, Ger­many. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twit­ter.

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