Life and works
Paul Goodman was born to Augusta and Barnett Goodman, Americans of German, Jewish, and middle-class heritage, on September 9, 1911 in New York City. His father left the family prior to his birth, making Paul their fourth and last child, after Alice (1902) and Percival (1904). Their mother worked to support the family as a women's clothes traveling saleswoman, which left Goodman to be raised mostly by his aunts and sister in New York City. His brother Percival Goodman, with whom Paul occasionally collaborated, was an architect especially noted for his many synagogue designs.
As a child, Goodman freely roamed the streets and public libraries of his native New York City, experiences which later inspired his radical concept of "the educative city."
Goodman attended New York City public schools, where he was a "good student" and came to associate himself with Manhattan. He also went to Hebrew school. Goodman performed well in literature and languages during his time at Townsend Harris Hall High School, and graduated first in his class in 1927. He started at City College of New York the same year, where Goodman majored in philosophy, was influenced by philosopher Morris Raphael Cohen, and found an intellectual circle of what would be lifelong friends. He graduated with a bachelor's in 1931.
Goodman wanted to make a career as a writer and so lived with his sister Alice while writing poems, plays, and stories. He did not keep a regular job, but taught drama at a Zionist youth camp during the summers 1934 through 1936, and audited Columbia University graduate philosophy classes. In 1936, Goodman became a literature and philosophy graduate student at the University of Chicago. He served as a research assistant and part-time instructor before taking his prelims in literature in 1940. Goodman was an active bisexual by this part of his life, though he entered a common law marriage with Virginia Miller between 1938 and 1943 and begat a daughter, Susan, in 1939. In 1940, Goodman was removed from his University of Chicago faculty position for issues pertaining to his open bisexuality and affairs with students. In 1940, he returned to writing in New York and was published in Partisan Review. His first novel, The Grand Piano (later designated as Book One of The Empire City) was published in 1942, and he and Virginia Miller split in 1943. He taught at Manumit, a progressive boarding school, in 1943 and 1944 and was let go for "homosexual behavior." Goodman was deferred and rejected from the World War II draft. In 1945, he published a book of stories as The Facts of Life and appeared in libertarian journals such as politics, Why?, and Retort as he started to develop his thoughts on anarchism. The same year, Goodman started what would become a 27-year common law marriage with Sally Duchsten, a secretary, that would last until his death. Their son, Mathew Ready, was born in 1946.
In 1946, Goodman began to participate in psychoanalytic therapy and was a popular yet "marginal" figure in New York bohemia. He published the novel The State of Nature (later to become Book II of The Empire City) and a book of anarchist and aesthetic essays, Art and Social Nature. The next year, he published Communitas, a book on urban planning written with his brother Percival, and the academic book Kafka's Prayer. He spent 1948 and 1949 writing in New York and published The Break-Up of Our Camp, stories from his experience working at summer camp. In the early 1950s, he continued with his psychoanalytic sessions and began his own occasional practice, which he continued through 1960. He published Gestalt Therapy with Fritz Perls and Ralph Hefferline in 1951. He also continued to write and published two novels: the 1950 The Dead of Spring (later to become Book III of The Empire City) and the 1951 Parent's Day. Goodman taught in Black Mountain College and was dismissed for reasons related to his bisexuality. He returned to his writing and therapy practice in New York City in 1951 and finished his University of Chicago literature dissertation, The Structure of Literature, in 1954. Throughout the late 1950s, Goodman continued to publish in journals including , Dissent, Liberation, and The Kenyon Review. The Living Theatre staged his theatrical work. A comprehensive edition of Goodman's multi-volume novel The Empire City was published in 1959.
Goodman became famous with his 1960 social criticism book Growing Up Absurd, which in turn brought him wealth and academic opportunities. He purchased a farm outside of North Stratford, New Hampshire, which he used as an occasional home. In the next decade, he published multiple books of social criticism and literature while teaching in a variety of academic institutions. He first taught at Sarah Lawrence College and published Our Visit to Niagara, a collection of sketch stories. In 1962, he released his critique of academia (The Community of Scholars), and collections of both his poetry (The Lordly Hudson) and his previous articles (Utopian Essays and Practical Proposals). Goodman had a daughter, Daisy, in 1963 and became a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. He published his "memoir-novel" Making Do that year, followed by Compulsory Mis-education in 1964 and People or Personnel, a treatise on decentralization, in 1965. Goodman participated in the 1960s counterculture war protests and draft resistance while continuing to lecture. Students invited him to teach at San Francisco State College in 1966.
His son, Mathew, died in a mountaineering accident in 1967, which led to a prolonged depression. Paul's friends claimed that he never recovered from the resulting grief.
He taught in London and at the University of Hawaii, and produced a collection of critical broadcasts he had given in Canada as Like a Conquered Province, a set of stories as Adam and His Works, and another poetry book, Hawkweed. In the early 70s, he wrote New Reformation, Speaking and Language, and Little Prayers & Finite Experience.
His health began to fail due to a heart condition, and he died of a heart attack in New Hampshire on August 2, 1972 just before his 61st birthday. He was survived by his second wife, Sally, as well as two daughters.
Little Prayers and a collection of his poetry that he had been compiling were both published after his death.