We Remember

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Rosetta Reitz

Black Jazz Enthusiast, Women's Health Advocate, Writer
1924 – 2008
Rosetta Reitz
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Rosetta Reitz.
Photo: Jill Lynne
by Edward Field

The obituary for Rosetta Reitz in the New York Times portrayed her as a champion of black jazz artists, while the one in the Villager featured the feminist Rosetta who wrote the ground-breaking book on menopause. For me, Rosetta Reitz under her maiden name of Toshka Goldman will always be memorable as the founder of the Four Seasons Bookstore in Greenwich Village. It was there that I got an important part of my literary education after my military discharge in the post-WWII winter of 1946. Enrolled at NYU under the GI Bill, there I was in Greenwich Village, which quickly became my real university, especially when a classmate introduced me to the Four Seasons and the pretty, intense, dark-eyed proprietor, who always looked exotically Latin, or gypsy, almost Mayan, and though young, already an earth mother.

As reported in the Villager obit, Toshka learned the bookselling trade by getting a job at the ultra-literary Gotham Book Mart, working for the renowned Frances Steloff, who was such a gorgon that no one ever succeeded in working for her for more than a few weeks. But Toshka managed to hang on for six months, taking Miss Steloff's abuse, and learned the bookselling trade, especially the world of avant-garde literature in which the Gotham Book Mart specialized, and that she wanted to feature in her own bookstore.

The Four Seasons was one of only a few bookstores in Greenwich Village, and the readership for its specialty "modern" literature was tiny even in that literate community. Barely launched into my own poetry-writing career, I was dazzled by the literary figures I met in the bookstore. I listened in awe when Richard Wright, on a visit from Paris where he lived, spoke of racism being woven inextricably into the fabric of American society like the warp and woof of a rug. Another time, James Baldwin's girlfriend came in and spoke of joining Jimmy in Paris. The name James Baldwin was already known to me.

Another prominent visitor was Saul Bellow who lived on Greenwich Avenue where the bookshop was located. He was a Reichian, a follower of Wilhelm Reich, which was the most avant-garde of the schools of psychotherapy, almost a cult, and one which had many followers in the Village, including Toshka. The teachings of Reich went far beyond Freud, holding that our problems were not in some abstract 'mind' but tied up in the body itself. One method of building up the body's sexual energy and overcoming neurosis, according to one of Reich's nuttier ideas, was to sit in an orgone accumulator, a specially-constructed box—something like a telephone booth that collected particles of orgones, the sexual energy that filled the universe. The goal was a 'cosmic orgasm', enthusiastically pursued by Reichians and others in the Village, where Free Love had always been a bohemian rallying cry, and Toshka was a convincing Sex Goddess herself with her own orgone box in the back room of the shop.

The character of the bookstore changed at the beginning of the fifties, when Toshka met her future husband, the artist Robert Reitz, a tall good-looking man with fair complexion and blue eyes, in total contrast to her dark Semitic beauty. The bookstore with its stock of "modern" literature, poetry, and avant-garde fiction, must have squeaked by financially, but then Reitz introduced arty greeting cards, aiming at a different sort of client, less impoverished than the poets and writers that haunted the Four Seasons. Soon the shop relocated to the more commercially-viable Eighth Street, where Ted Wilentz's Eighth Street Bookshop later stood. My own life also changed in the grim fifties, and I saw less of Toshka, now Rosetta Reitz, as she closed the shop and devoted herself to having her three daughters.

We never really lost touch, and by the time she was divorced and writing her restaurant column Dining Out for the Village Voice, she invited me to dinner-she was a marvelous cook-where I met her current boyfriend, the writer Albert Murray. By then I was published myself and invited her to interview me on a literary program over WNYC, which she did with great competence. Rosetta could do almost anything, and in spite of her literary focus, she even studied to become a stockbroker and dabbled in the stock market, making "a little here, a little there" as she put it. She was only stymied in that career by one of the periodic crashes of the market.

Her literary career, in spite of the publication of her book on menopause and one on 'black mamas,' as she called the jazz singers of the twenties and thirties, never took off. She never found a publisher for her novel. When we met for coffee, she talked obsessively about it.

I was planning to interview Rosetta for a documentary about bohemia for a Danish film company and was about to call her when I got the notice of her sudden death. My idea had been to begin the interview by reading her my poem "The Last Bohemians" on the era that is gone and which is dedicated to her.

Edward Field lives in Greenwich Village with his partner and collaborator Neil Derrick, with whom he has written The Villagers, a four-generation historical novel dramatizing the history of Greenwich Village where he first met Rosetta Reitz. Field's literary memoirs, The Man Who Would Marry Susan Sontag, and Other Intimate Literary Portraits of the Bohemian Era—which includes reminiscences of Rosetta Reitz—were published in 2005. A recipient of several literary awards, Field is the author of Kabuli Days, Travels in Old Afghanistan, available from WorldParadeBooks.com.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "We Remember - Rosetta Reitz, 1924 - 2008." (Viewed on April 23, 2014) <http://jwa.org/weremember/reitz-rosetta>.