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FBI Kept Tabs on Prominent Authors, Magazines Report

September 30, 1987 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ Dozens of America’s most prominent authors were kept under surveillance by the FBI and other government agencies because their writings were considered subversive, according to articles appearing in two magazines.

Herbert Mitgang, writing for The New Yorker, and Natalie Robins, whose article appears in The Nation, both did extensive research into FBI files they obtained separately under the Freedom of Information Act. .....................CORRECTIVE Sent September 30, 1987 FOLLOWS.............

The Associated Press erroneously reported Tuesday that a writer for The Nation magazine had received the FBI files of William F. Buckley Jr., E.L. Doctorow, Elizabeth Hardwick, Howard Fast, Norman Mailer and Kay Boyle.

The writer, Natalie Robins, said Wednesday the authors themselves had requested their files and that only Mailer and Ms. Boyle have received them.

Of the other four authors, only Fast was certain that the FBI had compiled information about him, Ms. Robins said. Buckley, Doctorow and Ms. Hardwick are still awaiting word.

The Nation and another magazine, The New Yorker, carried stories saying that dozens of American authors were put under FBI surveillance because of writings or activities deemed subversive. ............................................................................

Mitgang’s article in the Oct. 5 issue said writers under surveillance by the federal agency included: Ernest Hemingway, labeled a drunk and a Communist; Sinclair Lewis and Pearl Buck, criticized for promoting black civil rights; John Steinbeck, accused of tarnishing the nation’s image; and Truman Capote, targeted as a ″supporter of the (Cuban) revolution.″

Others included Carl Sandburg, Nelson Algren, John Dos Passos, William Faulkner, Thornton Wilder, Tennessee Williams, W.H. Auden and Thomas Wolfe, Mitgang wrote.

The Nation article includes a list of 134 writers whose files were released to Robins, who is preparing a book on the subject. Several of the writers on her list are still alive and include E.L. Doctorow, Norman Mailer, Elizabeth Hardwick, Howard Fast, Kay Boyle and William F. Buckley Jr.

Boyle told the Washington Post on Tuesday that when she saw her file, she was surprised to discover ″that I had a love affair with Ezra Pound - when I was 10 years old.″

According to Robins’ article, to be released Friday in the Oct. 10 issue of The Nation, poet Edna St. Vincent Millay came to the bureau’s attention when she entered a ″free trip to Russia″ contest sponsored by a group trying to raise $40,000 to buy tractors for Soviet peasants.

Mitgang and Robins expressed surprise at the apparent coincidental timing of the articles. But, Mitgang noted, the material ″was just sitting there.″

Mitgang wrote that many of the files had been heavily censored, even when the subjects had died decades ago, but enough remained to clearly illuminate the government’s ″censorious, anti-libertarian tone.″

Although the documented surveillance occurred from the 1930s to the 1960s, Mitgang concluded that ″apparently the practice is continuing.″

An FBI spokesman strongly denied the charge Tuesday.

Mitgang quotes Athan G. Theoharis, a history professor at Marquette University and the author of a book on domestic surveillance, as saying, ″I wouldn’t be surprised if the FBI was still pursuing some of the old cases.″

Agency spokesman Bill Carter said the agency no longer has the time or the inclination to conduct such surveillance. ″You’re talking about years ago,″ he said. ″We didn’t have any guidelines, basically.″

These days, Carter said, ″The only time the FBI investigates an individual or a group for domestic security issues is if they’ve created a violation of federal law, or if they’ve conspired to commit a specific violation of federal laws under FBI jurisdiction.

″And,″ he added, ″expressing their constitutional right to dissent is not a violation of federal law.″

None of the more than 50 writers whose files were obtained were convicted of any crime attributed to them by the FBI or other federal agency, The New Yorker article said.

The FBI wrote in 1942 that Hemingway was of ″questionable″ sobriety and later incorrectly labeled him as a ″specialty writer″ for a Communist newspaper, The Daily Worker.

Another FBI memorandum conceded that there was no information ″which would definitely tie him with the Communist Party,″ but added that ″his views are ‘liberal’ and ... he may be inclined favorably to Communist political philosophy.″

A 1947 document on Sinclair Lewis - part of a 150-page dossier the agency kept on the Nobel laureate - said that his novel, ″Kingsblood Royal,″ ″was stated to be ’propaganda for the white man’s acceptance of the Negro as a social equal.‴

Of Pearl Buck, the agency wrote: ″Although it is not believed from information available that Mrs. Buck is a Communist, her active support of all programs advocating racial equality has led her to associate with many known Communists.″

In 1954, the FBI wrote that many of John Steinbeck’s writings ″portrayed an extremely sordid and poverty-stricken side of American life,″ and that they had been reprinted extensively by both the Nazis and the Soviet Union.

In Truman Capote’s file, documents indicate that the FBI was interested in Capote because he accompanied a black cast performing ″Porgy and Bess″ in the Soviet Union and wrote an account of the tour.

One document, labeled ″Confidential,″ said that Capote ″supports the revolution,″ referring to Cuba.