The catalogue of Irish-American writer Michael Sayers is now complete and available online via Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts.
Chances are, Michael Sayers is a name you aren’t familiar with, and a brief glance at the catalogue might suggest that he is interesting because of the people he knew rather than in his own right. After all, being a correspondent of the likes of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, and a former flatmate of Rayner Heppenstall and George Orwell is a pretty good claim to fame, right?
Early in his career, Sayers aspired to poetry and writing for theatre, but perhaps more interesting that his purely literary output was his work in journalism. Having arrived in New York in 1936 to work for renowned theatre designer Norman Bel Geddes, Sayers soon found himself writing articles for various left wing magazines, including Friday, PM and the anti-fascist newsletter The Hour. While he was working for The Hour, Sayers met journalist and the newsletter’s founder Albert E. Kahn. Kahn’s aim was to use The Hour as a vehicle for investigative journalism to counteract the pro-Nazi propaganda of organisations such as the German-American Bund and to expose acts of espionage and sabotage. He certainly found plenty of it – Kahn and Sayers collaborated on three books, two of which – Sabotage! The Secret War Against America (1942) and The Plot Against The Peace (1945) – dealt solely on the Nazi threat to the United States. Their third book, The Great Conspiracy: The Secret War Against Soviet Russia (1946) was an international best seller, though with its acceptance of the reasons behind the Moscow Purge trials probably put this book on the wrong side of history.
Did everything end happily for Sayers and Kahn? Well… Not entirely. It probably comes as no surprise that both Sayers and Kahn had Communist sympathies, and their journalistic works brought them to the attention of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Both were blacklisted. Sayers left America and came back to Europe, living first in Britain, then France. Like many other blacklisted writers he was invited to write scripts for Sapphire Films, working on episodes of The Adventures of Robin Hood under then name Michael Connor. Kahn and Sayers never worked together again. Judging by some of the correspondence in MS. 12451/7, it appears they had a disagreement over royalties, which seems like a suitably writer-y way to end a collaboration.