Guide to the Upton Sinclair Letters to Melville Kress

MSN/MN 3014


Collection Summary

Title: Upton Sinclair Letters to Melville Kress
Dates: 1933-1958(bulk 1938-1948)
Collection No.: MSN/MN 3014
Creator: Sinclair, Upton, 1878-1968
Extent: 55 folders; 1 container; .5 linear feet
Language: Collection material in English.
Repository: University of Notre Dame. Hesburgh Libraries, Department of Special Collections. 102 Hesburgh Library, Notre Dame, IN 46556
Abstract: Fifty-five letters written by American novelist, playwright, and essayist Upton Sinclair to Melville L. Kress, dated between 1933 and 1958.

Selected Search Terms

Sinclair, Upton, 1878-1968
Sinclair, Upton, 1878-1968 -- Correspondence
Kress, Melville, 1906-1998
Novelists, American -- 20th century
Social reformers -- United States -- 20th century

Administrative Information

Restrictions: There are no access restrictions on this collection.

Preferred Citation: [Identification of item], Upton Sinclair Letters to Melville Kress, [collection and folder no.], Rare Books and Special Collections, Hesburgh Libraries of Notre Dame.

Acquisition and Processing Note: The Upton Sinclair Letters to Melville Kress were acquired by the Hesburgh Libraries in 2017, from George R. Minkoff Rare Books of Great Barrington, Masschusetts. Arranged and described 2017, by Debra Dochuk. Finding aid 2017, by Debra Dochuk.

Biographical Note

Upton Beall Sinclair Jr. was born in Baltimore, Maryland, 20 September 1878 to Upton Beall Sinclair and Priscilla Harden Sinclair. In 1888, the Sinclair family moved to Queens, New York where as a teenager Upton began his writing career, producing boys' adventure stories for the pulps and writing jokes for humor magazines. He graduated in 1897 from the City College of New York and studied for a time at Columbia University. Sinclair published his first novel in 1900. His sixth novel, The Jungle (1906), treating the conditions in the Chicago meat packing plants, made him an international figure and provided the final impetus for the passage of the The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.

Sinclair would go on to write over ninety books and numerous short stories, plays, and pamphlets. As one of America's best known Socialists, he ran twice for Congress on the party ticket, losing both times, and was Democratic nominee for Governor of California in 1934. In a contentious campaign, which saw his End Poverty in California platform (EPIC) vilified by his opponents, he was defeated by Republican Frank F. Merriam. In 1940, Sinclair published the first of the World's End (or Lanny Budd) novels, an eleven volume sequence that portrayed the political history of the Western World from 1913 to 1950. The series was immensely popular. Volume three, entitled Dragon's Teeth, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1943.

Melville Kress, Sinclair's correspondent, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 20 March 1906, the first of three children of Henry and Mary Kress. Leaving school in the eighth grade, Kress was a factory worker and union organizer with the American Federation of Labor, who at some point during the 1920s took an interest in Sinclair's writings. The two men began a correspondence that would last for over forty years. When Sinclair, who described Kress as his "fastidious left-wing critic," began writing his World's End series, he asked Kress to review the manuscripts. It is likely that while editing Sinclair's novels Kress got the idea of writing a biography of his famous friend. The biography was not completed during either man's lifetime. Melville Kress died on 30 December 1998. In 2005, his son, Ken M. Kress, compiled, edited, and posthumously self-published his father's unfinished biography of Sinclair under the title Mightier Than the Sword: The Era of Upton Beall Sinclair (Bloomington IN: Authorhouse, 2005).

Scope and Content Note

The collection consists of 55 typescript letters, typically one page in length, sent by Sinclair to Kress, February 1933 to October 1958. All are signed in ink. Most of the letters were written between 1938 and 1948. Much of the content pertains to Sinclair's current literary work, particularly the World's End novels written between 1940 to 1953. But there are also reflections on past events, including two letters discussing Sinclair's relationship with Russian film director Sergei Eisenstein. In addition, Sinclair's letters contain literary comments (often sharply critical) of Kress's written work. Finally, the letters provide insight into Sinclair's thoughts about contemporaneous events, especially political developments in Russia.

Arrangement Note

The collection consists of one series; materials are arranged chronologically, one letter per folder.

Related Material

Twenty additional letters from Sinclair to Kress, 1939-1951, make up the Upton Sinclair Letters in the Special Collections Research Center at Syracuse University Libraries in Syracuse, New York (SC717). Also of note are the Upton Beall Sinclair Papers at the Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana (Sinclair mss. LMC 1964), and the Melville L. Kress papers, 1947-1981 at the Rubenstein Library at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina. See also Sergei Eisenstein and Upton Sinclair: The Making and Unmaking of Que Viva Mexico, edited by Harry M. Geduld and Ronald Gottsman (Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press, 1970) and Radical Innocent: Upton Sinclair, by Anthony Arthur (New York: Random House, 2006)

Container List