Authors: Michael Gold

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist and playwright

Identity: Jewish

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Jews Without Money, 1930

Short Fiction:

The Damned Agitator, and Other Stories, 1926

One Hundred Twenty Million, 1929

Drama:

Down the Airshaft, pr. 1916

Ivan’s Homecoming, pr. 1916

Money, pr., pb. 1920

Hoboken Blues: The Black Rip Van Winkle, a Modern Negro Fantasia on an Old American Theme, pr. 1926

Fiesta, pr. 1929

Battle Hymn, pr., pb. 1936 (with Michael Blankfort)

Nonfiction:

Life of John Brown, 1924

Change the World!, 1937

The Hollow Men, 1941

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

Charlie Chaplin’s Parade, 1930

Miscellaneous:

The Mike Gold Reader: From the Writings of Michael Gold, 1954

Mike Gold: A Literary Anthology, 1972

Biography

Michael Gold was born on the lower East Side of New York City and grew up there as Irwin Granich. His parents were immigrants from Eastern Europe. When he joined the Communist Party, he renamed himself Michael Gold after, he said, a Jewish Civil War veteran who lived in his neighborhood. Even after he joined the party, Gold, unlike many of his fellow Communists, never tried to hide his Jewishness. In articles like “The Gun Is Loaded, Dreiser” (1935) and in the introduction to Jews Without Money, he positioned himself as a spokesperson for Jews in the United States and repeatedly spoke out against anti-Semitism.{$I[A]Gold, Michael}{$S[A]Granich, Irwin;Gold, Michael}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Gold, Michael}{$I[geo]JEWISH;Gold, Michael}{$I[tim]1893;Gold, Michael}

Gold’s outstanding work is his only novel, Jews Without Money, a classic treatment of the Jewish immigrant experience in the United States. The book became a best-seller. He also contributed to American literature, especially of the 1920’s and 1930’s, as a short-story writer, editor, and critic. He was an active, committed member of the American Communist Party for most of his adult life. He remained in the party through the period of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, a nonaggression treaty signed on August 23, 1939, and broken on June 22, 1941, when Germany attacked Russia. During this time, many intellectuals and artists, especially Jewish ones, left the party. Gold, however, became an outspoken apologist for the pact, insisting that it helped the Jews of Eastern Europe. During the 1950’s, he was, he said, a little disturbed by the revelations of Joseph Stalin’s anti-Semitism but still remained in the party until his death in 1967.

According to Gold, he became a radical in 1914 when he wandered into a demonstration of unemployed workers in Union Square in New York City; when the police attacked the demonstrators, he joined the radical cause. After reading the Masses, a Communist periodical, his radicalism was solidified, and he joined the party.

In 1920 Gold was elected to the editorial board of the Liberator, another Communist periodical. He also edited, sometimes alone and sometimes as part of an editorial board, New Masses, a periodical started in 1926 and considered a successor to the Liberator. In the 1920’s, he took his first of several trips to the Soviet Union. Perhaps seeing only what the Soviet government wanted him to see, he decided that the Soviet Union was rapidly becoming a workers’ paradise.

In 1926 he wrote Hoboken Blues, which was performed by the New Playwrights Theater in New York City and anthologized in The American Caravan in 1927. In this experimental play, Gold wanted all the actors to be African American and white roles to be played by actors in whiteface. Instead, much to Gold’s dismay, the production had an all-white cast and played the African American roles in blackface.

During the 1920’s, Gold also started working on Jews Without Money. A series of sketches that he would rework into the novel appeared in New Masses, Menorah Journal, and American Mercury. The book is autobiographical fiction about life among the poor. It ends with a call for revolution.

In the 1930’s, Gold started writing a regular column titled “Change the World” for the New York Daily Worker, a Communist newspaper. He collected many of his best essays from the column in his book Change the World! In 1941, The Hollow Men appeared, devoted mainly to attacking people who left the Communist Party during the period of the Nazi-Soviet Pact and attacking Americans who wanted to support France and England in what Gold then called an imperialist war against Germany. The day after the Nazis attacked Russia, Gold called it a people’s war and demanded that the United States start fighting on the Soviet Union’s side. During his last years, Gold lived in California, writing occasional essays for People’s World, a radical West Coast journal, and for the Yiddish-language Freiheit (freedom), published in New York. Although his most memorable work, Jews Without Money, did not convert many people to Communism, as Gold hoped it would, it did secure his place as an important figure in Jewish American literature.

BibliographyBloom, James. Left Letters: The Culture Wars of Mike Gold and Joseph Freeman. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992. Treats Gold and Freeman in terms of the call for a proletarian or workers’ literature. Includes a useful reading of Jews Without Money.Rubin, Rachel. Jewish Gangsters of Modern Literature. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000. Believes Gold tried to create a new literature out of the slums of the United States and that his treatment of the gangster is central to this attempt.Tuerk, Richard. “Jews Without Money as a Work of Art.” Studies in American Jewish Literature 7 (1988): 67-79. Shows how Gold reshaped his material to produce a unified novel.Tuerk, Richard. “What Side Was He On? Mike Gold During the Period of the Hitler-Stalin Pact.” Modern Jewish Studies 9 (1994): 86-117. Traces Gold’s shifting views, before, after, and during the period of the pact.
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