Emancipate Emanuel: James Emanuel’s Poetry And The Public Domain

Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 9/18/14

  It has been almost a year since the great American poet James Emanuel died. He had fallen to obscurity, after leaving the country for France decades earlier, with many of his works having gone out of print. In 2001, there were, other than my inclusion of some of his poems on Cosmoetica, literally just three links about him: a mention in a paragraph of a Poetry Society Of America essay, the text of his brief poem The Negro at a poetry website, and a long defunct Russian based website registered in his name and domain.
  Then I wrote the seminal essay that catalyzed what might be called his rescue, The Not So Strange Emanuel Case, which opened with these lines:
  In the annals of American poetry it is difficult to conceive of a more neglected great poet than James A. Emanuel. Born in 1921, I believe in Detroit, he has spent most of the last 2 decades apparently living in Paris, France. Words like believe & apparently are used because the truth of the matter is the man is almost a cipher- in American Poetry, in Black-American poetry, & on the Web….
  Naturally, my then scant biographical info on Emanuel was wrong, but I wrote more on the man, and interviewed him twice- first for the online radio show, Omniversica, and later in this 5th Dan Schneider Interview. Now, almost a decade and a half after the appearance of my first essay, a Google search for the poet James Emanuel returns millions of links, with thousands specific to the poet himself. All that because of one essay!

  But, that is the past, and the bulk of what I want to focus on is James Emanuel’s future- the future of his writings, what has now BECOME James Emanuel in the absence of his physical being. James Emanuel is now the poetry, and, to a lesser degree, his lesser prose writings. And the reason I want to do so is because of the tendency of people to misperceive things about an artist in the absence of their work to rebut it. This was seen in the terrible New York Times obituary on Emanuel, whose headline read James A. Emanuel, Poet Who Wrote of Racism, Dies at 92. Now, while it’s true that some poems of Emanuel dealt with the racism against American blacks, the headline makes it seem as if this is all there was, even though Emanuel was 100% against being labeled a ‘black poet’ or a ‘race poet.’ From my interview with him:

  The existence of an African American possessing enough wisdom, honesty, and courage to speak authoritatively for African Americans is hardly possible. The fact that no non-Black person has claimed an ability to speak for non-Black people in the U.S.A. should teach those concerned with the phenomenon that they are treading philosophically trembling ground. Such justifiable uncertainty, however, is the open territory longed for by political-minded no-goods waiting to match and trade immoralities.

  Normally decent non-Black Americans once had a psychological need to believe that their Black countrymen were fundamentally inferior to them, different from them, for, not believing that, they would surely know themselves to be irreligious, heartless, and tyrannical in their encounters with that faulty mass beneath them. My City College of New York experience as a counselor to students in difficulty taught me the grave problems they faced when they began to express liberal notions impossible in their parents’ eyes.

  The nub of the search for African American spokesmen is that true spokesmen are not wanted, not needed in the embodiment pictured by authorities. No nation, after over two centuries of experience in the matter, needs to be told what its citizens want. When the hypocrisy is announced, however, machinery begins to roll—including Black machinery, fueled by the money-making principle “Don’t tell it like it is. Tell it like it’s wanted”—wanted by the representatives of power, pursestrings, and perfidy.

  Certain Black people (the list is probably growing), wheeler-dealers at heart or wheel horses in the political fields, deserve infamy (or some lesser but firmly negative censure) for their cooperation in deliberately damaging the careers or interests of other Black individuals whose racial or personal principles (professional or otherwise) have been considered inappropriate by a member or members of a self-appointed Blacker-Than-Thou group. I regard them, in theory, as framers of the Black Blacklist, destined, if not stopped, to rival McCarthyism in exposing its ill will and malice. Any Black intellectuals found in this group of bushwhackers are not where they are supposed to be.

  Does this seem like a man obsessed with the color of his skin? Yet, the Times, and especially the books editor/obituarian, William Yardley, who only solicited information on Emanuel (he did not even know who the poet was) after I informed the Times of his death, did not even bother to contact the funeral home in France. They even got his date of death wrong, after supposedly contacting Emanuel’s nephew to confirm what I had reported to them:

Correction: October 15, 2013

An obituary on Saturday about the poet, educator and critic James A. Emanuel, using information from his family, misstated the date of his death. It was Sept. 28, not Sept. 27.

  And it was corrected only AFTER I wrote in to complain, and provided the Times with contact information to the woman who was with Emanuel at his death! So much for the ‘newspaper of record’ and its vaunted journalistic integrity! And not a mention of my role in Emanuel’s literary resurrection- from my seminal essay to Cosmoetica’s many features on Emanuel, to my telling Yardley and the Times of the poet’s death and import, and the subsequent errors they made in reporting it. Nothing but a link to a quote from my Dan Schneider Interview, even as others far less influential in boostering Emanuel’s name and work get mentioned.

  This is all prescient because the ease with which the Times dismissed Emanuel’s death, his focus as an artist, and even the goddamned time of his death, is troubling, because, unless something is done, right away, to assuage the executors of Emanuel’s literary estate, current copyright law is going to entomb his works for the next 75 years.

  I will first include a correspondence I had with Emanuel’s closest living relative, his nephew, Jim Smith, who is mentioned in the Times obit, to give some background as to the necessity of getting Emanuel’s work- especially his poetry, which will make no money, into the public domain, so that publishers like Wordsworth Editions and Dover can cheaply disseminate his works to as wide an audience as possible, and online archive sites like Project Gutenberg and The Internet Archive can make his work available for free downloads to e-books. Then I will go into some detail to explain current copyright issues, and the value of the Public Domain as a part of the intellectual Public Commons.

  I first contacted Smith about half a year ago, when I was in the final months of a 2.5 million word novel on The New York Mafia in the 1960s, called A Norwegian In The Family. I was too focused on finishing this work to devote the needed time and energy to this cause before its completion, but outlined my points to Smith:

From: Cosmoetica
Date: Tue, Feb 18, 2014 at 4:18 AM
Subject: On James Emanuel, His Poetry, His Estate, and Copyright Issues
To:  Jim Smith


Dear Mr. Smith:


  My name is Dan Schneider, I received your email from GS.

  I am writing in regards to your late uncle James A. Emanuel and his literary estate. I first discovered his poetry in the mid-90s, and knew his work was neglected. I then wrote an essay on this predicament in 2001, and two years later was contacted by his French translator, Jean Migrenne. I interviewed James and Jean for an online radio show, he did a written interview for my website, I commented on an NPR radio profile of him, and corresponded with him via post and email (through MFP) over the last decade. It was not a weekly nor monthly correspondence, but an enjoyable one that he and I, and my wife shared.

  Many of my site’s younger poets got interested in his work and poetry, in general, because of the works and essays I and others have done. In fact, I am not loath to say that, because of my first essay on James, he did NOT vanish from online poetry. There were literally two other links to him in 2001- a copy of the poem The Negro and a Russian fansite, now defunct. Literally, 99+% of all other JAE linkage online is derived from, or indebted to that first essay that got James a second ‘cyber-life.’

  A couple years ago, James even asked me to try and help him get his poetry a wider published audience in the US. On his behalf, and with his permission, I queried a few dozen poetry, black lit, and college/university presses, regarding seeing if James’ complete body of verse could find a home, as his papers have in the Library of Congress. It turned out that the rights were, w/o James’ knowledge, still retained by Lotus Press- a small Michigan press that released Whole Grain, his Collected Poems.

  Unfortunately, in the two decades since that book was released, and I first came across it in a Half Price bookstore, JAE’s work has NOT gotten the literary evaluation, criticism, and place in the American literary, poetic, and Black literary pantheons it deserves. I fault James’ retreat from the US, and Lotus’s well intended, but poorly marketed, works for this. I know many people who’d never pay the $30-40 for a single book. Lotus has effectively priced James’ work out of a possible expanded audience- the type needed for literary reappraisal.

  Of course, James was also correct in that he was- no pun- blackballed by America’s Black Literary Mafia- one of many terms he gave to Academics of African descent.

  Now that he is dead, and some months have passed, and I have been told you are his literary executor, I wish to impress upon you the realities of publishing in the 21st C., and where it is headed.

  Modern NY publishers don’t give a shit of poetry, and esp. great poetry. They care not of great literature, only profits. By 2030, I foresee only special edition books being paper. E-books are the present and future, and James needs to be online.

  The ability to make any money online decreases in inverse proportion to the ease with which people can self publish any crap- and likely the NY presses will dwindle away, due to their own cultural ignorance and fiscal incompetence.

Current copyright rules dictate that works are covered for the life of the author plus 75 years. Thankfully, this Disney led legislation, in 1998, will likely not be extended any longer, because numerous studies have shown that books still in copyright are dropping out of print, w no entree into e-book chance, while public domain works- those pre-1922 and others under special circumstances, are being read more and more on e-readers, due to Gutenberg.org, and other public domain places that make works available for free. In effect, many good works of the last 50-70 years are being entombed away from the current generation, making it harder to assess and reassess work. I am very big on the public domain.

  That, plus the fact that poetry cannot make money is why I am writing to urge you to let James’ poetry, if not his whole canon, lapse into the pubic domain- or, more specifically, have you, as literary executor, grant just that- de facto free access to republish James’ work as often and as much as possible, so new eyes and generations will not have to wait 75 years, and some later version of me, yet born, has to do the grunt work of resurrecting his work again.

  In a few mos. when done with my own latest literary project, I plan on writing a long essay on James, his work, and my urging it be put in the public domain as a great case for WHY public domain works exist and CAN benefit society, and the public domain needs to be greatly expanded. I will send it to many of the major online pro-public domain sites, hopefully to be used as a great example why Congress needs to NOT lengthen copyrights, and in fact, reduce the postmortem period from 75 years to maybe life of the spouse or 25 years, whichever is greater.

  Let me stress that this is EMINENTLY pro-James and his work. Lotus Press has shown how his work can be entombed. Literally, for years they didn’t even have a website, were not able to be found on web searches, nor was James’ work prominently displayed. Had the work been priced to sell, like those of public domain publishers like Dover Press or Wordsworth Editions, I believe James would already be in major anthologies. Do not seal the man, his work, and life, away from scholars and readers for 75 years. Especially not his poetry.

  I know James lamented dearly how little read he was in his lifetime vs. lesser poets. Do not extend this ignominy for decades more. Free James and his work by putting it into the public domain. Contact Lotus Press and see what rights they have, and, if any small monetary fee is required, reacquire them with whatever monies James had left, and free the work. If Lotus is as concerned of this as I am, and you should be, they should have no problem with it, or let them keep all further remunerations they receive in exchange for the rights.

  In any future endeavors, I will be glad to assist you, or anyone else, in allowing the use of any past or future writings I have on James for any critical works, will assist in any edits, or the like, when able tom and without compensation. I offer this for the benefit of the man and his home society. I’m sure that any essays others have written on JAE for the site, would contribute their works in a similar endeavor.

  I don’t know how much you know of poetry or publishing, nor how close you and your uncle were, and I do know that James had some personal issues in his final years. He seemed forgetful, as in the rights issue and Lotus’s retention of some [PRIVATE INFORMATION], But, none of this matters now. James is his work, as all artists become. As far as I know, all blood relatives are dead, save you, and, as stated, you will not get rich off his poetry. I urge you to do the right thing for America, literature, poetry, James, and the appreciators of all mentioned, and allow James’ work- esp. the poetry, to go public domain as soon as possible, and request the reacquisition of any rights outstanding from Lotus or any other parties. There are likely going to be many e-book and poetry publishers that would love a chance at publishing his corpus, if they were able to do so.

  Again, let your uncle take his place in literary history sooner, rather than later. You can do so by heeding my words. You have nothing to lose, and James and his work has everything to gain.

  Thanks, and feel free to contact me whenever you need to.



  As mentioned, I shall opine more on the points made in these emails afterward. Here was Smith’s reply:

From: Jim Smith 
Date: Sat, Feb 22, 2014 at 8:41 AM
Subject: RE: On James Emanuel, His Poetry, His Estate, and Copyright Issues
To: Cosmoetica


  Thank you for the e-mail, it is very informative to say the least.  I remember conservations about you with my Uncle and the NPR profile you did with him in the early 2000’s.  I applaud you efforts to give his works a wider public audience.

  I am not his literary executor because there are other living relatives (nieces and nephews) that are part of his estate. Until his estate is settled no decisions can be made about anything.  When this is all settled, I will contact you.



James W Smith

  I replied:

From: Cosmoetica
Date: Sat, Feb 22, 2014 at 11:53 AM
Subject: Re: On James Emanuel, His Poetry, His Estate, and Copyright Issues
To: Jim Smith


  GS led me to believe you were. Please, feel free to pass my email and other contact info along:

  Again, if you forward my initial email on, I will be happy to explain the current state of poetry and publishing to any willing to listen. I do know, from my, maybe 30-40 contacts over a decade of emails, mail, and brief phone convos and the interviews, that James’ biggest regret, other than his son’s premature death, was the ignorance and belittlement of his work.

  I truly believe that an early public domain or commons license sort of thing, to let online and other sources spread his poetic works as far and as freely as possible is the best way to preserve and expand that legacy. W/o a rights fee, I think that anthologies will readily include his poetry, and that assorted affordable collections of his works will, in less than a third of his chronological lifetime’s length, assure his place in the minds and hearts of future poetry lovers.

  There is no need for a decades long rediscovery like Whitman had. By 2050, he should be well placed at that round table of poets.

  Thanks, and please contact me in the future.



  Everything I reported to Smith, in the emails is so, and here is a Washington Post link that confirms what I stated about public domain books from the 19th Century being more easily available to read than books from 1922 on, due to the insane diminution of the public domain, under the misguided assumption that people with no part in the creation of the book should have 75 years to let it be sealed hermetically, and profit only a small group of people, rather than let the dead writer’s work act as loam to a newer set of creators. Check out the graph unreproduced with the text:

  When Congress passed the first Copyright Act in 1790, copyright protection lasted for 14 years, and authors could apply for a single 14-year extension….But Congress has repeatedly extended copyright terms. Today, new works are protected by copyright for the life of the author plus 70 years, and some works are still under copyright 90 years after they were published. Rebecca Rosen at the Atlantic spotted some research by Paul Heald at the University of Illinois law school that illustrates how the longer terms of modern copyright have affected the availability of older books:


  Why the dramatic drop-off in the number of titles being published after the 1920s? Works published before 1923 are known to be in the public domain, giving publishers the right to republish them without asking anyone's permission….The pre-1923 books include many duplicates — different publishers offering competing copies of the classics. Heald estimates that the average pre-1923 book has four copies available on Amazon…..And that's especially surprising because the number of books being published per year was going up during the 20th century. So, there are a lot of books from the mid-20th century that would be more widely available if copyright law wasn't standing stand in the way.


  This is only one of many articles that point out the obvious- that the extension of copyright protection for nearly a full lifetime after a creator’s death is insane. If it’s a corporate work for hire it’s 95 years, and this includes versions of public domain characters like those from The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling, or Pinnochio, by Carlo Collodi. And the Disney company has made billions off others public domain works while cowardly hiding their own characters, like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, behind not only extended copyrights, but by claiming they are trademarks, as well. Just shameful. It is wholly fair that the creator profits from his work for his lifetime, and if his spouse or designated partner, and or children, benefit a short while afterward- say 20-25 years, or the death of the spouse- whichever comes first, so be it. But not 75 or more years. And, copyright law needs to be a global contract, so that ALL works all over are not public domain in one nation but not another.

  As it is, the current system basically entombs all but the biggest names and best sellers, irrespective of quality. This means, even a great poet like Emanuel is doomed to decades of obscurity, and, in fact, this process had already begun, as mentioned, by the end of last century, in the years before my essay sparked a mini-Emanuel renaissance. As I mentioned earlier, a year or so before his death, Emanuel had requested my help in getting a new version of his collected poems, Whole Grain, out to college presses, for he was fearful that, despite his papers being archived in the Library Of Congress, he would fall into that 75 year sinkhole before the public domain kicked in.

  His books with Naomi Madgett’s Michigan based Lotus Press had gathered dust for years. In fact, when I conversed with Emanuel, he thought his books with Lotus were already out of print, as he claimed he had not received royalties in years. And this is not difficult to believe. On the Lotus website, Emanuel’s books are not even listed, and I did not, earlier, that the Lotus website was so obscure that, for years it was not found in any major web searches, if it appeared at all, likely due to a more popular New Age doppelganger press, Lotus Press, that drowned it out. Yet, even on the Madgett press’s website, one can only find Emanuel’s books on the backlist page:

The Broken Bowl

Deadly James and Other Poems 

The Force and The Reckoning (cloth)

Whole Grain, Collected Poems  (cloth)

ISBN: 0-916418-42-1 

ISBN: 0-916418-67-7    

ISBN: 0-916418-88-X

ISBN: 0-916418-79-0

$9.00 (paper)

$12.00 (paper)

$35.00 (cloth)

$25.00 (cloth)

  Now, look at the prices, especially for the 2 cloth books- a memoir and his poems. In what universe does Lotus think anyone will pay those prices? They are obscene.

  As a member of my website’s e-list, who wanted to purchase Emanuel’s work stated:

  Seriously? $60 for his poems and autobiography, which I have to assume is at least good, if his interview is any indication of his skills as a prosist.

  I bought a hardbound version of Whole Grain for $4.95 at Half Price Books over two decades ago, and that was THE ONLY REASON I bought it, after a quick skim. Despite her best efforts, Madgett has no fundamental understanding of marketing and market forces. It would not surprise me if, literally, all sales Lotus made off Emanuel’s work, in this century, were directly a result of Cosmoetica’s frequent boostering of Emanuel’s writings (for every sale of his poems, likely a thousand or more times people have read his work and of him at my site), as Madgett had, years before Emanuel’s death, entombed his work into obscurity, as larger presses, and many other better situated ‘black’ presses, financially and distributionally, refused to publish Emanuel’s work, due to blacklisting, as Emanuel, himself noted (above). Emanuel’s personal integrity made him a pariah not only in his own nation, but amongst those people who should have been most receptive to it- a fact which doomed him to publication by a press utterly clueless in how to preserve and extend his legacy. Had Emanuel’s legacy been left in the hands of Lotus Press, alone, thousands of online readers of my site would never have discovered his work. That may seem a trivial amount compared to the billions of people online daily, but each of those people will, on average, turn of another 2-3 people to the work, and after a few generations, that will lead to tens or hundreds of thousands of people, if not a few million, who will, in the latter part of this century, form the basis of those who will anoint and uplift Emanuel’s corpus into the pantheon. This is why, now, after his death, and before a decades long forgettance reduces this great artist to James Who?, it is incumbent upon those relatives named as his executors to give back to the future generations of would be poets- black, white, American, non-American- a canon rich with excellence, as well as fertility for those future minds to learn and benefit from, as well as exploit, in the very best sense of the term, for their own creative endeavors.

  Anything short of that is greed, idiocy, and a de facto crime against world literature, now, and in the future! And, of this, I am 100% certain that James Emanuel would back up my sentiments to the proverbial Nth degree. He said so, himself:

  No nation, after over two centuries of experience in the matter, needs to be told what its citizens want. When the hypocrisy is announced, however, machinery begins to roll—including Black machinery, fueled by the money-making principle “Don’t tell it like it is. Tell it like it’s wanted”—wanted by the representatives of power, pursestrings, and perfidy.

  Extended copyright simply kills off reuse of material and the creativity that act brings. Emanuel had no widow, no children, and no heirs. But, most of all, he had no creative work that could reasonably bring in any income nor profit. Were his work in demand, this would make the decision to release his work into the public domain less attractive (by the methods I outlined in my emails above: Contact Lotus Press and see what rights they have, and, if any small monetary fee is required, reacquire them with whatever monies James had left, and free the work. If Lotus is as concerned of this as I am, and you should be, they should have no problem with it, or let them keep all further remunerations they receive in exchange for the rights.), but it is not. Regardless of the sadness of that statement, and what it means for American intellect and poetry, it is a true statement. The quickest way for his postmortem reputation to rise is for his work to go into the Public Domain as soon as possible. No amount of money can benefit a dead man for his creations.

  Emancipate Emanuel!

  Sooner, not later. All in life seems to speed up BUT the public domain. No money can be made, only minds deprived. And if you do not believe that, consider these two facts as evidence of the great wrong that extended copyright and diminished public domain have wrought:

  First, it’s 50 years, this month, since the death of Ian Fleming, creator of the James Bond books, upon which has been based the longest running film franchise in, at least, Western cinema history. Yet, it will be another quarter century before anyone can make a film or computer game adaptation of his works, even as everyone who was there at the creation of the Bond books, is long gone. Imagine the books, comic books, and other media possibilities (and monies) that could arise from the freeing of this character. Only recently, as example, has Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes character been similarly freed into the public domain.

  Now look at how ragged and out of ideas the producers of the Bond films, Eon Productions, have been since the departure of Roger Moore, as Bond, in the mid-1980s. Yet, under my proposal of a saner ‘life of the artist plus 20 or 25 years,’ the Bond character would have been freed by the mid-80s or the start of the 1990s. Now, imagine a rival company and a rival Bond, and how much more clever and quality oriented both parties would have had to have been. Competition, and the freedom of a character to be used by multiple artists ONLY benefits the public when freed into public domain.

  Need a better example? Ok. Even though I think writer J.D. Salinger is grossly overrated, he still a much better writer than the recent decades’ chum of MFA hacks spat out into careers at Starbuck’s and Whole Foods. But, his best and most well known works, including The Catcher In The Rye, were almost all written and published between the late 1940s and early 1960s. Catcher was written over a decade and published in 1951, but was started, reputedly, as early as 1938. Salinger did not publish anything for almost a half century till his death in 2010, at the age of 91. His son and widow are the literary executors, and there is justification that they should benefit from the book for a time- although, having sold over 100 million copies worldwide means they are both incredibly wealthy, despite Salinger’s refusal to let adaptations of his works proceed. So, under my plan, Catcher would not be public domain until 2030 or 2035 (unless the executors try a tactic employed by James Joyce’s venal grandson, Stephen Joyce, wherein he tried to renew copyrights of Ulysses every few years by releasing slightly altered texts- but that has failed, and Joyce’s works, including Ulysses, are in the public domain since 2012), which would mean the book would have copyright protection for over eight decades since completion. But, as things stand now, the work will be out of the public domain until 2085! That’s nearly 150 years since its conception!

  That shows one of the many problems with current copyright law, and suggests that an even fairer solution would be to grant the ‘life plus 25 years’ copyright only to works written within, say, a decade of the author’s death. Things older than ten years, at the author’s death, should then fall into the public domain. I could live with my original plan, but there are places where even that fails.

  As regards the work of Emanuel, the overwhelming bulk of his verse and prose writings was completed and published by 1990. Having died in 2013, there is no reasonable way his works should be entombed till 2088, nearly a century after the last ones’ composition. Yes, Emanuel did compose some minor poems- little jazz riffs he called jazz haiku, but they are mostly bad to really bad old man’s farts, and not real art. And while Emanuel coined the term for this form, he did not originate it, as jazzy haikus were a staple of the dozens tosses of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as the slam poetry that rose in the 1980s until today. The great poems of Emanuel, the ones that are essential to understanding his canon, and his place in American literature, were all creatively completed by 1990, and a century is too long to wait.

  I urge every reader of this essay, in whatever forum, to push for the release of Emanuel’s canon into the public domain, specifically, and also to stand up against those corporate and personal forces of greed (Google Stephen Joyce), generally, who want to sacrifice the long term public good (the ignorant generations that will arise in the decades between an author’s death and his work entering the public domain) for the short term personal gain.

  As the works of James Emanuel realistically can create no fiscal reward, I urge those people in charge of his estate to not follow the Joycean path, because, aside from those aforementioned ignorant generations, the work of James Emanuel will suffer the most. The public domain is not only a GOOD thing, but it is a vital and essential one for the advance of the collective human intellect and the causes of freedom globally.



Return to Bylines

Bookmark and Share