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HENRY SEIDEL CANBY
Henry Seidel Canby (1878-1961) was a professor, critic, and editor who exerted a great influence on popular literary tastes during the interwar period. Canby studied and taught at Yale, where he edited the Yale Review and championed American Literature as a field worthy of study. Canby left the Yale Review in 1920 and became the first editor of the Literary Review supplement of the New York Evening Post, appointing Christopher Morley, William Rose Benét, and Amy Loveman to its editorial board. In 1924 Canby and his co-editors resigned and founded the Saturday Review of Literature. Under Canby's leadership, it became the most influential literary weekly in the United States. Beginning in 1926, Canby also chaired the editorial board of the newly-launched Book-of-the-Month Club. These positions led some writers to complain that Canby exerted too much control over American reading habits; Ezra Pound once joked that his acolyte and future New Directions publisher James Laughlin should quit poetry and do something useful like assassinate Canby. Over the course of his career, Canby published more than thirty books, including anthologies, works of criticism, and biographies of Whitman and Thoreau.
Henry Seidel Canby's "Report of the P. E. N. Congress by Henry Seidel Canby, American Delegate and Speech Made at the Congress by Ernst Toller Representing Exiled Authors," 1933
Throughout his career, Canby fought censorship, serving twice as the President of the American Center of P.E.N., an international organization founded in 1921 to promote literature and defend freedom of expression. In this document from the P.E.N. Records, Canby reports on the 1933 International P.E.N. Congress in Dubrovnik. On May 10, 1933, students under the Nazi regime undertook a mass burning of "Un-German" books. Moreover, under Hitler, all but one of the Jewish writers in Germany's P.E.N. delegation were removed. As a consequence, much of the May 1933 Congress was spent debating chauvinism versus internationalism in literature and what actions should be taken against the German delegation. As Canby's report records, one of the most charged moments of the Congress took place when the German-Jewish playwright, Ernst Toller, spoke out on behalf of the exiled German writers.