The Children (1947) - Peekskill USA (1951) and Other Works, by Howard Fast
Viernes 6 de agosto de 2010, por
To those who are the most unfortunate victims of race hatred –the children, in the hope that they will grow up in a cleaner and better world. "The Children" is a story of the streets of New York, the slum streets and the children who live in them. It is a very moving story, filled with the contradictions of childhood, a mingling of horror and innocence, of tragedy and childish play and dreams. The characters in this novel, Ollie and Ishky and Marie and Shoemake, with their fears and passions, their young pride and prejudice, live in a world apart from the world of adults, though it is not a world of their making. It is a world as insecure as any jungle and there is a kind of terrifying beauty, as there is an inescapable evil, to the life that children must lead in such a world . // Germany Awake! That was in back of our minds, deep back, somewhere in the memories overlaid by almost twenty years, with one great war and many small wars in between, with Hitler mouldering in the earth, and Mussolini remembered as something strung up by the heels, like a stuck pig.
THE CHILDREN published by Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1947.
It was twelve years ago (1935) that I finished writing The Children. And, looking back, it seems to me that writing it was the most difficult literary task I had ever attempted, both in a physical and in a creative sense.
At the time, I was working twelve to fourteen hours a day in a factory in downtown New York. I followed the storybook maxim of the writer who would write, come what may, come heaven or hell. Rising with the dawn, I drank two or three cups of strong coffee; and I managed to write a little, a page or two, each day. It wasn’t a pleasant process, or one that I consider particularly helpful to the creative life. My wages at that time –and you will remember that those were very bad times– were eleven dollars a week; my health was not good. I was always tired –I always dreamed of the two or three extra hours of sleep which I had to deny myself or stop writing. And when I finished, when I finally wrote the last page of a book that had come out of my very gut, I realized that it was like nothing else that I had ever read, and would therefore probably be consigned to a desk drawer forever. In the two years that followed, I wrote almost nothing at all.
In the beginning, I rejected the manuscript myself. I put it away for three months and did absolutely nothing with it. Then I read in the papers that Whit Burnett, who was editor of Story magazine, was deeply interested in the short novel, and I left the book at his office. A week later, it became a discovery, and I was invited down to Story magazine to be told what a wonderful young talent I was –and to participate in the general excitement. This was one of their finds– as was most carefully explained to me –one of the reasons why their little magazine justified its existence. Of course, it was very long for a magazine, 45.000 words, and they would not think of cutting any of it, so they had to investigate the possibility of a special type of word-spacing, something that would permit almost twice the usual word-length on a page. The expense this involved was very considerable for a magazine like Story, and therefore they could not pay a great deal for it.
"How much?" I asked them.
"Fifty dollars", they said.
I turned this over in my mind. On a word basis, it was somewhat more than a tenth of a cent per word, a remarkable record for literary payment; but if I computed the hours I had spent on it during the past year, a thousand hours at the very least, I arrived at the magnificent wage of five cents an hour. I arrived at an estimate of what it was worth to break your heart and your head because you thought that the literary art was the proudest and the most worthy that man had learned. Then and there, I arrived at a decision –to write no more, to dig ditches, to operate a machine, to ride the freights, but to write no more.
Well, I didn’t keep to that decision, and I managed to get Story to raise its price to one hundred dollars. But I never again wrote for one of the little magazines. I don’t blame Whit Burnett for that condition; his was an unending struggle to keep alive the one outlet a sincere writer then had, and his was also a most considerable contribution to the literature of the ’thirties. But I did look with some new degree of understanding at a society that can offer the artist only poverty, hopelessness, and an occasional crumb of sustenance –a society that drives him to prostitution as certainly as it drives the poor women who walk the streets. I remember, some years later, discussing this with Stuart Rose, who was then an editor of The Ladies’ Home Journal. I no longer had to work in a factory, because Mr. Rose was buying most of the stories I wrote, and he was paying me six hundred dollars apiece for them. They were not good stories; they were not stories I was proud of then, and I would be less proud of them in the future, but they represented mountains of hamburger and steak and bread and butter. Mr. Rose said to me, one day, when I was lunching with him in Philadelphia:
"You know, I never read anything like ’The Children’. It was a poem. It moved me tremendously." He thought I should write more things like that, and he couldn’t understand why I disagreed with him.
1937. in: Story Magazine, Volume X, No. 56: pp 58-118, March 1937. 128 pp, 23 cm, Story Magazine Inc. New York.
The Children appeared in the March, 1937, issue of Story magazine. James J. Fee, Police Inspector of Lynn, Massachusetts, read his first copy of Story and decided that The Children was "the rottenest thing I ever read!" The two copies that usually went to Lynn were promptly seized. The next day, it was banned in Waterbury, Connecticut, and six hundred orders from that town promptly came in to Story. The ban spread over New England, which has been sensitive about such matters ever since Hawthorne was threatened with jail, whipping, and exile because he wrote The Scarlet Letter. This was the first time in six years that Story had been banned, and it resulted in one of the largest press runs the magazine had ever known.
Since that time, for one reason or another, book publication has been put off. During the war years, I felt that no piece of writing was of any great import unless it contributed something or other to the struggle we were waging for our very existence, and immediately after the war I had another book that I wished to have published first. So now, at long last, I am seeing The Children in book form. It is almost exactly as I wrote it. Only the most minor editorial changes have been made.
I have no apologies to make for The Children. When I picked it up, a few months before this writing, I read it for the first time in a full decade. It was like reading the work of a stranger, and I could bring to it that relationship a writer almost never has with his own work –that of complete objectivity. Even the various incidents in the tale had been forgotten. I reacted as a reader does, sometimes with pleasure, sometimes with disappointment, but always with incredulous interest that so pure and naive a sense of horror could be woven and sustained. Twelve years ago, I was close enough to childhood to remember the moods, the incidents, and the emotions described; today, as I approach my middle thirties, the curtain has already dropped, and there is no way back. The child’s world is his, and it is barred to the adult. If the story told here is successful, it is mainly because the child’s point of view has been sustained.
When I wrote it, I wrote out of bitterness and hate for what our society does to children; nor do I think that situation has appreciably bettered itself. Racism and the murderous lesser ’isms it breeds –is the curse and cancer of modern America; it is a radio-active effusion that penetrates to every level of our society, and unless we destroy it, as surely as the earth exists, it will destroy us.
I do not think I could write of the sickness of race-hatred today in terms anywhere like these. Too much has happened in the world since 1934, and too much has changed. In 1934, there was one year of Hitlerism, and we still believed those who said Hitler would not last a thousand days. Today, fifty million dead attest the hell that fascism can produce. The writer, today, has a responsibility he cannot ignore, and if I wrote about these matters today, I would have to examine far more completely the source which these children reflect.
And finally, there is the slum, the jelly on which the germ is bred. If anything, twelve years have given us more and worse slums. If this small tale does anything to help replace them with decent housing, it will be well worth the printing.
PEEKSKILL USA published by the Civil Rights Congress, 1951
Masses & Mainstream
March, 1949, p 3-7
Germany Awake! That was in back of our minds, deep back, somewhere in the memories overlaid by almost twenty years, with one great war and many small wars in between, with Hitler mouldering in the earth, and Mussolini remembered as something strung up by the heels, like a stuck pig. But when we drove through Peekskill, at half past seven, on the morning of September 4th, we saw the banner slung from housetop to housetop; the dead filth was alive again. "Wake Up America!" it said. "Peekskill Did!" That way the day began which none of us will forget very quickly.
For me, however, and for a few hundred others, it began a week before, on Saturday, the 27th of August. I must tell about that too, for I feel that things can be better understood, and should be better understood. On the 27th of August I discovered that it is not enough for a writer to write of things, no matter how well he observes those things, no matter how clearly he sees those things, no matter how well he tells his tales. A point comes in the anti-fascist struggle where even the most truthful observer must take another step; this I discovered at Peekskill. I had not discovered it before, not during the war, not through any of the many things I had seen and put down on paper.
I was asked to be the chairman of the first scheduled concert, in Peekskill on the 27th. I was spending my vacation in Croton, and I thought it would be nice to be a part of a concert where Paul Robeson sang, in a bowl of green hills and meadows, which is a better amphitheatre for such singers than a concert hall.
I also considered taking my five-year-old daughter with me, since she loves Paul so much, and since an occasion like this would be well worth remembering. Neighbors up there advised against it. "There have been threats by the Legion," they said. I left the little girl at home, not because I believed in the threats, but because I thought the concert would last too long.
The point is, I didn’t believe in the threats. Fascism was an abstraction, an abstraction I understood, but an abstraction nevertheless. For a week before this, I had read in the Peekskill Evening Star, a dirty little sheet, typical of our corrupt and rotten press, exhortations to prevent the concert. "The time for tolerance," said this miserable rag, "is over." But hadn’t the Journal-American issued this same frantic call for violence again and again, and to no effect?
I spent most of that day swimming with my children; we had dinner together; and then I went to the Lakeland Picnic Grounds where the concert was to be held. I arrived there at seven o’clock, an hour before the scheduled time of the concert. One more car was admitted after mine. Then the road was closed - by storm troopers, and no other term fits. Storm troopers they were, some in uniform, some in plain clothes, all of them fitted out with the historic equipment, the brass knucks, the billies, the rocks, the wooden clubs, the lead pipes, and the filthy slogans. Between five and seven hundred of them closed the road, locked us in, and proceeded to attempt the mass murder of fifty men and a hundred and fifty women and children. Only the first two hundred of us, girls and boys who had volunteered as ushers, some concert goers and their children, and a handful of trade unionists, ever entered the grounds; and for the next two and a half hours after the road was closed we fought the storm troopers. And for two and a half hours, the police stood by; hands off, for the police.
We lived -because we organized and fought and maintained our discipline; and we learned about fascism. Half of us had been in some part of the war, the Bulge, the Pacific, Africa, the C.B.I., but we learned about fascism here, and this was a little worse. The lessons were on our skulls, our faces, our bodies; and at the last, when we stood in a tight circle, with the women and children inside, we saw the literal, the great fire into which our books, our music, our pamphlets were tossed, while the storm troopers danced around in a drunken, screaming frenzy.
"Wake up, America! Peekskill did."
So we came back a week later, to Peekskill, and we had our concert. We had learned about fascism, so a week later, when we returned, four thousand trade unionists, Negro and white, Jew and Gentile, stood shoulder to shoulder, a living ring of steel. Paul Robeson sang, and Peekskill heard him. We learned about Negro-white unity when thirty-six Negro and white men, alone in the darkness and cut off, fought shoulder to shoulder for two hours, arms linked, and we saw the evidence of that unity, not only in Harlem where fifteen thousand Negroes and whites demonstrated their fury, but in Peekskill on the 4th of September, when we came back together, Negro and white, twenty-five thousand strong.
But we hadn’t learned enough. There were twenty-five thousand of us the second time, men and women of diverse backgrounds and beliefs, and only nine hundred of the storm troopers; we were disciplined and we had defending us the best of all fighters, the workers; but we hadn’t learned enough of the nature of that peculiar filth that capitalism excretes, that thing called fascism. It was the nature of the beast that we were unwilling to admit; and again I almost took my children and other people did take theirs.
When that day was over, we knew more, we understood more. Twenty-five thousand of us are different, and our blessed, beautiful, wonderful land is different too; and that must be known and understood. For in the course of that day, the 4th of September, 1949, we saw a thousand police, state troopers, sheriffs, deputies, county police, town police - we saw them join forces with the storm troopers and turn the aftermath of the concert into an orgy of blood and pain. We saw ourselves and our friends and our children covered with blood, beaten, blinded, maimed - we saw a battlefield stretched out over ten miles of road - we saw the sub-human frenzy of the union of police and storm troopers, Ku Klux Klan and Legion - we saw the hospital wards fill with our cut and bleeding - we saw what we had only read about, and when a storm trooper’s knife cuts the eyeball of a Negro lad in two, so that it opens up like an egg, and a policeman watches, smiling, there are no words sufficient. This we saw - and, as I said, we are different.
And the Negro people are different -make no mistake. This abomination at Peekskill, the logical extension of Foley Square, was directed against them, and against the Jewish people and against the Communists, and they are all different. I am different, and I am not just a writer anymore, and this is something writers who read this must understand, that from here on we must make of our writing a sword that will cut this monster of fascism to pieces, or we will make no more literature. Understand the difference! They thought the people would run, but they didn’t run; they stood like a mighty rock - together, Negro and white, Jew and Christian, Communist and Progressive. And the Jews learned that fascism in America is one with anti-Semitism, even as the Negroes learned that fascism in America is another face of Jim Crow. Even as the workers learned that the Communist Party of the United States, like Communist Parties everywhere, will not retreat, will not cower, will not give ground.
On Saturday, the 27th of August, in Peekskill, and on Sunday, the 4th of September, the progressives who came to hear Paul Robeson stood forth for America, for what is best and noblest in America. And the workers know, the Negroes know, the Jews know! The press will scream -but the truth proves out.
Yes, it proves out. There were two busloads of Negroes, and they went, on that same Sunday, to Hyde Park, to spend an hour or two in the library of a man they remembered and loved; and coming back to New York, their buses entered the Peekskill area, and suddenly their day’s outing was turned into flying glass, blood, and blinded children ...
So the truth proves out. We learned and we grew, and we are wiser, more sober, and less afraid. We have a governor in Albany who welcomed the storm troopers, aided them, and put his cheap stamp of white-washing approval on their work; but we have a people in our state who do not want fascism and are willing to pay a price to halt it. Halt it we shall!
More writings by Howard Fast
Howard Fast’s Other Works: "The first men", 1960 (page 1) - "The Martian Shop", New York, Bantam Books, 1961 (page 17) - "Wrath of the Purple", by Howard Melvin Fast, ¿1939? (page 29) - "May Day 1951", 01-05-1951 (page 40) - "Never to forget the Battle of the Warsaw Ghetto", by Howard Fast and William Gropper, Book League of Jewish Peoples Fraternal Order, I.W.O., April 1946 (page 44) - "Tito and his People", by Howard Fast, 1944 (page 55)
Spartacus, one of Fast’s best-known novels, was made into an Academy-award winning movie by Stanley Kubrick , starring Kirk Douglas. The Web abounds with reviews, and other sites related to the movie, some of the best of which are * Internet Movie Database. * Roger Ebert. * Frank Maloney. * Duncan L. Cooper. * Wayne Citrin. * Chad Polenz.
Spartacus is a 1960 historical drama directed by Stanley Kubrick and based on the novel of the same name by Howard Fast about the historical life of Spartacus and the Third Servile War. The film stars Kirk Douglas as rebellious slave Spartacus and Laurence Olivier as his foe, the Roman general and politician Marcus Licinius Crassus. The film also stars Peter Ustinov (who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as slave trader Lentulus Batiatus), John Gavin (as Julius Caesar), Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, Herbert Lom, Woody Strode, Tony Curtis, John Dall and Charles McGraw. The titles were designed by Saul Bass.
(6 de agosto de 2010)