Is your surname Brodkey?

Research the Brodkey family

Share your family tree and photos with the people you know and love

  • Build your family tree online
  • Share photos and videos
  • Smart Matching™ technology
  • Free!

Harold Brodkey (Weintraub)

Also Known As: "Aaron Roy Weintraub"
Birthplace: Staunton, Macoupin County, Illinois, United States
Death: January 26, 1996 (65)
New York, New York, United States (complications of AIDS)
Immediate Family:

Biological son of Max Weintraub and Celia Weintraub
Adopted son of Joseph Brodkey and Doris Marie Brodkey
Husband of Private
Ex-husband of Joanna Brodkey
Father of Private
Brother of Samuel Weintraub; Marilyn Ruth Cohn and Infants Brodkey
Half brother of Barbara Ann Schneider

Managed by: Hatte Anne Blejer
Last Updated:
view all 15

Immediate Family

About Harold Brodkey

He was named after his biological grandfather, who died the year before he was born (Aaron Weintrub).

Harold Brodkey, born Aaron Roy Weintraub (October 25, 1930 born in Staunton, Illinois – January 26, 1996 Manhattan) was an American writer, and novelist.

Parents: Max and Celia Weintraub. See article in the New York Magazine.

Harold Brodkey, 65, New Yorker Writer And Novelist, Dies of Illness HeWrote About


Published: January 27, 1996


Harold Brodkey, a novelist, short-story writer and essayist known almost as much for his failure to publish as for the books he eventually did publish, died yesterday at his home in Manhattan. He was 65.

The cause was AIDS, said his wife, Ellen Schwamm.

Mr. Brodkey, a writer of lush, lyric and serpentine prose, was a charismatic and stormy figure in literary circles. The critic Harold Bloom called him "an American Proust" and said he was "unparalleled in American prose fiction since the death of William Faulkner." But a mark of the division of opinion about Mr. Brodkey was a 1988 review in Kirkus Reviews, which called Mr. Brodkey's short stories an "endless kvetch."

In 1993, Mr. Brodkey announced in the pages of The New Yorker, in an article titled "To My Readers," that he had AIDS as a result of homosexual relationships, which he said "took place largely in the 1960's."

His announcement drew criticism because it implied that the AIDS virus had remained dormant far longer than medical experts think is possible.

In an essay in The New Republic, the poet Richard Howard wrote that Mr. Brodkey's discussion of his illness in the press was "a matter of manipulative hucksterism, of mendacious self-propaganda and cruel assertion of artistic privilege, whereby death is made a matter of public relations."

Mr. Brodkey was in many ways a product of the literary culture of the 1980's, when authors obtained huge advances and reputation seemed to rest as much upon celebrity as on the author's work. "It's dangerous to be as good a writer as I am," he said in a 1988 interview in New York magazine. Best known for his novel "The Runaway Soul," which he worked on for some 32 years, Mr. Brodkey received advances for it from at least five publishers, refinancing it much as some people do their homes with mortgages. When the work was published in 1991, it received mixed reviews. D. M. Thomas, writing in The New York Times Book Review, called it "monstrous, ambitious, bold and puzzling."

Mr. Brodkey, a longtime staff writer at The New Yorker, and his wife, herself a novelist, made a striking pair at literary gatherings, each with close-cropped gray hair and an athletic build. They lived in an apartment on the Upper West Side, much of it lined in cork, just as Proust's bedroom was, to ensure Mr. Brodkey complete silence when he worked.

He engaged in long-running feuds with other literary figures and accused other authors, including John Updike, of stealing from him. Mr. Updike's character of the Devil in "The Witches of Eastwick" was based on him, Mr. Brodkey said. "The sexual stuff looks as if it's mostly me," he said in New York magazine. "Some of the things the Devil said I have said." Mr. Updike denied the charge.

Mr. Brodkey was sometimes as vague about the particulars of his life as he was about the origins of his illness. He once told an interviewer that his original name was Aaron Roy Weintrub, but that it was changed after his mother died and he was adopted by relatives.

Mr. Brodkey was born in Alton, Ill., in 1930. His father, he said, was illiterate, a junkman and a semi-professional prizefighter. What seems certain is that when he was 17 months old, his mother died. Her death remained the determining fact of his existence, a central image in his work. For like Proust, Mr. Brodkey's subject was essentially the unrecoverable past.

In his short story "Ceil," he wrote:

"In the tormented and torn silence of certain dreams, in the night court of my sleep -- sometimes words, like fingers, move and knead and shape the tableaux: shadowy lives in night streets. There is a pearly strangeness to the light. Love and children appear as if in daylight, but it is always a sleeping city, on steep hills, with banked fires and ghosts lying in the streets in the dully reflectant gray light of a useless significance."

When Mr. Brodkey was 2, he was adopted by his father's second cousin, Doris Brodkey, and her husband, Joseph. He was raised in University City, Mo., a brilliant child, spoiled, beautiful, "a bouquet on two legs," he wrote of his autobiographical character Wiley Silenowicz in his collection "Stories in an Almost Classical Mode." Mr. Brodkey was emotionally fragile as a child and had a series of nervous breakdowns. When he was 8, his adoptive mother contracted cancer, then his adoptive father had a stroke, events chronicled repeatedly in his work.

In 1947, he entered Harvard University, where the poet Archibald MacLeish was one of his teachers and the critic John Simon a class discussion leader. Before graduation, he married his first wife, Joanna Brown, a Radcliffe student.

Eventually, he got a job as a page at NBC, and he and Ms. Brown had a daughter, Ann Emily, known as Temi Rose.

In 1953, Mr. Brodkey showed a short story he had written, "State of Grace," to the writer William Maxwell, an editor at The New Yorker, and it was eventually published in the magazine. When his first collection, "First Love and Other Stories," was published in 1958, it gained him early attention. He sat for a photograph by Richard Avedon and won the Prix de Rome. But the book's relatively simple, even tame subject matter -- young love, a young man's coming of age -- gave no warning of the immensely rich and complex prose that was to follow.

Around the time of his first book's publication, he and Ms. Brown divorced, and Mr. Brodkey entered into a period he once called his "binary" sexual phase. Mr. Brodkey's single most famous piece of writing, a short story titled "Innocence," which was published in American Review in 1973, was 31 pages about a single sexual act. "To see her in sunlight was to see Marxism die," Mr. Brodkey wrote of his heroine, Orra, who was a kind of princess of Harvard Yard. She "strode like a Nike, she entered like a blast of light," he wrote. When Mr. Brodkey was asked to cut the story for reprinting in Ms. magazine, he insisted that his daughter Temi was the only person who could edit his work.

Around this time Mr. Brodkey bean the long novel that was to consume him for most of his adult life. The novel had many titles, including "Party of Animals." For years the book appeared in the Farrar, Straus & Giroux catalogue only to be withdrawn. At one point, four Farrar, Straus employees were spending weekends typing Mr. Brodkey's revisions in what they referred to as a "Party of Typing."

"Publishing would interfere with working on it," Mr. Brodkey said to a reporter about the novel. "I'm nowhere," he said, poking fun at himself. "I'm part of a tradition of failure, another version of the mad Delmore Schwartz or James Agee."

In the vagaries of his literary career, Mr. Brodkey resembled the figure of Victor Propp in Jay McInerney's novel "Brightness Falls." Some critics said that Propp, described by Mr. McInerney as "a long-term, highly speculative literary investment," was modeled on Mr. Brodkey. "His reputation grew with each book he failed to publish," Mr. McInerney wrote of his character.

Eventually, sections of the long-awaited novel appeared in Mr. Brodkey's 1988 short-story collection, "Stories in an Almost Classical Mode." It was his first mainstream book in 30 years. Just as he could devote an entire short story to one sexual act, he wrote no less than two stories about a father carrying his child in his arms. In "S.L.," he wrote of a father's face as "bits of young loveliness in the rain." In "His Son, in His Arms, in Light, Aloft," Mr. Brodkey wrote: a father's face "was caught in that light. In an accidental glory."

In 1994, relatively soon after "The Runaway Soul" for Mr. Brodkey, came his second novel, "Profane Friendship," about a homosexual love affair set in Venice. Once again, Mr. Brodkey received mixed reviews. Michael Wood wrote in The Times Book Review that there was a "flattened and self-regarding quality to the work, despite its formidable energies and many successes."

Around the time of the novel's publication, Mr. Brodkey announced his illness. He grew more reclusive, husbanding his energies to write, including a diary of his illness for The New Yorker. He was cared for by his wife, who prepared macrobiotic meals for him and who once told a reporter for People magazine that the couple intended to be buried in a double coffin.

Mr. Brodkey continued to cultivate journalists long after they had written their pieces about him. In the last weeks of his life he telephoned several writers, asking for gossip. "I have far exceeded the average life expectancy of someone my age with AIDS," he told one friend.

"You're like Rasputin," the friend teased. Mr. Brodkey, usually willing to mock his own pretensions, laughed delightedly.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by his daughter in London; a stepdaughter, Jennifer Willis; two stepsons, Michael and Lee Schwamm, and seven grandchildren. By the time Mr. Brodkey died, he had lost touch with an adoptive sister, Marilyn, and a brother, Samuel Weintrub.

There is to be no funeral. "I want to expire like an exhaled breath," Mr. Brodkey told his wife shortly before he died.

Photo: Harold Brodkey (The New York Times, 1993)

view all

Harold Brodkey's Timeline

October 25, 1930
Staunton, Macoupin County, Illinois, United States
January 26, 1996
Age 65
New York, New York, United States