The Mencken revival has proved so durable largely because its subject planned it that way. Mencken—who worked as a reporter, theater-fiction-music critic, newspaper columnist, magazine editor, memoirist, and linguist—catalogued and stockpiled his unpublished and uncollected writing in a conscious effort to assist future editors and biographers in the exploitation of his back pages. He also instructed his estate to stagger these papers like timed charges, dropping them in 1971, 1981, and 1991. These bursts kept biographers and anthologists busy and focused anticipation on the next blast from the archives. What’s more, all this publishing activity has kept Mencken’s name in the news and very much alive in book reviews. My Life as Author and Editor (1993), which revealed the casual anti-Semitism and racism in Mencken’s private papers, added to his notoriety and reignited the debates over his legacy.
more from Jack Shafer at Bookforum here.