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.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

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.

“He was as much of a pack rat as I,” said Ed Sanders, Kupferberg’s friend and cofounder of The Fugs. Sanders recalled Kupferberg’s remarkable memory of the Bible, obscure talmudic passages and hasidic lore. He still marvels at Kupferberg’s ability to sing Yiddish radio commercials from the 1930s.

Lopez is thankful that Kupferberg also retained boxes and boxes of cultural artifacts. “He seemed to have an understanding that [these things] were important and some record of them ought to be preserved,” said Lopez.

Visitors to the NYU archive may be interested in reading an unpublished autobiographical novel that describes Kupferberg’s teenage and college years. Other gems include black panties emblazoned with “The Fugs”; the band’s fan mail from teenagers in the 1960s; cassette recordings of Kupferberg working on songs; and Kupferberg’s correspondence with such cultural luminaries as Aldous Huxley, Henry Miller, Howard Zinn and Norman Mailer.

Both Lopez and Taylor confirmed that video recordings of Kupferberg’s cable TV show, “Revolting News,” are currently not part of the archive. Fifteen years of the public access show produced by Brooklyn musician Norman Savitt and Kupferberg’s longtime girlfriend, Thelma Blitz, are the subject of ongoing legal negotiations. Some of the material used in “Revolting News” can be viewed YouTube. It may be some of the most overtly Jewish content in the archive: Kupferberg holds forth on the Jewish laws of family purity, raps about his trip to Israel in 1990, and sings a song about the man who revealed the Israeli nuclear arsenal. In a music video of The Fugs’ song “Backward Jewish Soldiers,” which is sung to the tune of “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” Blitz reversed black and white footage of World War I soldiers marching, and incorporated photographs of Kupferberg in front of a shul in Brooklyn and a Jewish home for the poor in London.

Samara Kupferberg hopes an exhibit utilizing materials in the archive will help with the dissemination of her father’s work.

“He would want that,” she told the Forward. “That was kind of his whole mission, just to make the work to share with the world.”

Jon Kalish is a Manhattan-based radio reporter, podcast producer and newspaper writer whose work can be found on his blog, Kalish Labs: http://jonkalish.tumblr.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.