NYU Acquires Archive of Legendary Downtown Arts Pioneer

Fales Library To House Collection of Tuli Kupferberg

Band in New York: Tuli Kupferberg appropriated Yiddish melodies for songs he performed with his band The Fugs.
Courtesy of Ed Sanders
Band in New York: Tuli Kupferberg appropriated Yiddish melodies for songs he performed with his band The Fugs.

By Jon Kalish

Published December 13, 2013, issue of December 20, 2013.
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The archive of the late Tuli Kupferberg, a seminal figure in New York’s counterculture scene of the 1960s who died in 2010 at the age of 86, has been acquired by New York University’s Fales Library. Kupferberg’s work, which included poems, songs and cartoons, drew on Jewish sources, from the Yiddish folk melodies appropriated by his band, The Fugs to Tanakh quotations used in daily “perverbs,” Kupferberg’s witty, altered aphorisms on YouTube.

Marvin J. Taylor, head of the Fales Library, who has been spent the last two decades collecting material about the arts scene in lower Manhattan, confirmed that Kupferberg’s archive, the Kupferberg and Topp Collection was delivered on September 1. Sylvia Topp, a Canadian-born writer and editor, was Kupferberg’s wife.

“He’s sort of the grandfather of the downtown arts scene,” Taylor told the Forward. “It’s hard to overestimate his importance in the scene.”

Daughter Samara Kupferberg said another major university and the Library of Congress had expressed interest in the archive, but added that when her father was alive, he wanted it to go to NYU. “He thought that that would be the best place for it,” she said.

Neither Taylor nor Samara Kupferberg would comment on the purchase price of the archive, but two close friends of Kupferberg estimated the figure to have been between $100,000 and $200,000.

“That’s a reasonable guess. I don’t want to confirm or deny it,” said Ken Lopez, the rare book dealer based out of Hadley, Mass., who brokered the sale. Lopez previously arranged the sale of the William Burroughs archive and recently appraised the archive of Ken Kesey, another major figure of the 1960s counterculture.

Lopez’s web page for the archive lists materials from a 70-year period, including “handwritten and typed manuscripts of poems, songs, articles, and novels; original art, cartoons, collages, and illustrations; costumes, props, and handmade percussion instruments.” The collection, which is rich in ephemera of the Lower East Side bohemian community and the anti-Vietnam War movement, filled 180 banker’s boxes.


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