Bob Rosenthal – Why A Secretary?

Bob Rosenthal, in front of art work by John Tyson at the Outsider Art Fair, New York City, 2022

Bob Rosenthal – (see earlier contributions to The Allen Ginsberg Project – here,  here and here  – and also the three-part posting here, here and here) writes today of another life-lesson learnt from Allen, his early experience as Allen’s secretary (a post he held for nigh on two decades) and why Allen so needed a secretary 

“Allen had several secretaries before he hired me. Tom Savage had been a secretary and Richard Elovitch was the secretary before me. Richard was a friend of James Grauerholz and in the Burroughs camp. He was stern with people on the phone. I was hired to fill in for Richard while he was in Europe. Allen liked my kinder telephone voice. People would gruffly demand to speak to Allen; I would say, “Let me see if I can find him”. I was hired in October of 1977.

In late 2021, an artist from Milwaukee contacts me. He tells me that he wrote to Ginsberg in the mid ’70’s and that I wrote back to him. He added that I helped him survive a decade in prison and to become an artist. I asked him what I had said in my letter that helped him so. He could not remember. I, of course, had no memory of this letter. He got me a ticket to see The Outsider Art Fair in New York City, 2022, because he, John Tyson, would be presented in it.


Notice on John Tyson from the 2022 Outsider Art fair

John Tyson – While incarcerated several times over a decade, John Tyson (b. 1958) found that making pen or graphite drawings, often using repetitive marks or small circles was a soothing practice. As a poet he also began incorporating stenciled passages of his own writings or quotes from other artists onto heavily penned or intensely layered graphite sheets of 8.5 x 11 inch paper. He then taped them together into larger works that could be folded and kept in envelopes that met the prison’s size regulations. Tyson had long been an outsider art enthusiast and collector, taking frequent trips to southern states to visit various artists and art environments. PSG is introducing Tyler’s work at the Outsider Art Fair and will present it more fully in the major exhibition, Against The Odds – Wisconsin Prison Art, in January 2023



I found his art and was impressed with his use of words and conceptual shapes. I sent him my picture in front of his works; he kindly sent me one of his drawings for my wall.

Now I can deduce the gist of his letter to Allen from my response. John must have been trying to feel Allen out about hiring him as a secretary, perhaps a remote help. Three months after starting to work for Allen, I was not yet secure in my position. Allen told me I could answer the non-personal letters myself. I found a letter in Allen’s mail that wanted my job. I intended to both put him off my job and give him some gift to take with him

January 13, 1978

Dear John,  

Allen’s need for a secretary is based on the very high volume of mail which he receives every day, plus his enormous files on Political, Literary matters, and service to other people who need his help. Added to that, the fact that he must travel  to give readings etc, so that someone must be here. But most of all Allen needs a secretary so his secretary can learn! OK? Good luck, Galena is a beautiful town

Bob Rosenthal

I am telling John that the job is complex and not a sinecure. And I note that Allen’s work is to be of service to others. My most important job was to learn as much as I could. That was a gift Allen gave me and I in turn have passed it on as often as I can.”

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