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Prospects, An Annual of American Cultural Studies
Volume 20, 1995, p. 525-541
© Cambridge University Press

Noticing Howard Fast

by Daniel Traister

http://www.english.upenn.edu/~traister

Curator, Research Services, Department of Special Collections,
and English-language literature bibliographer
Van Pelt-Dietrich Library
University of Pennsylvania



1. Introduction

In 1933, Dial Press in New York published Two Valleys, the first novel by a very young man named Howard Melvin Fast. The publisher's blurb noted that "Mr. Fast is not yet nineteen." (He had been born in 1914.) In 1994, Seven Days in June, the most recent of Howard Fast's novels, appeared.1 Sixty-one years lie between Two Valleys and Seven Days in June.

During this interval, Fast has produced an uncommonly large oeuvre for an American writer with claims on serious attention. He has written books in several genres; stories equally varied and numerous; plays; scripts for radio, television, and the screen; and much occasional prose, journalistic and otherwise. Some of this productivity results, no doubt, from sheer longevity. But Fast has also written with a rapidity and a level of energy that were remarked even relatively early in his career.2 Many of his works were published to considerable acclaim, had excellent sales, and quickly entered public consciousness. Several-among them, The Last Frontier (1941), The Unvanquished (1942), Citizen Tom Paine (1943), Freedom Road (1944), Spartacus (1951), and April Morning (1961)-still retain whatever place in popular awareness is reserved for books widely assigned as texts in high schools and universities.

Almost as uncommonly for a serious American writer, Fast has also followed an active public career. He has been, among other things, a wartime and, later, political journalist and activist; foreign correspondent; candidate for public office; publisher; worker for the government's Office of War Information; newspaper columnist; and inmate at a federal penitentiary. Fast has actually lived what, for many people, has seemed one of the great literary myths of our time: he is the artist as l'homme engagé. On the other hand, of course, his politics have been distinguished not only by his leftist orientation but also by actual Communist Party membership, complicated by a very public 1957 withdrawal from the Party. He has been engaged, in short, on the "wrong," indeed, the losing, side of one of our century's great political wars.

Fast's politics, his productivity, and his popularity all combined to do his reputation little good. America's critical establishments have been predisposed to mistrust Fast himself for his political activities, Fast's works for their political stance,3 or (on occasion) both for their subsequent departure from those activities and that stance. These establishments tend also to suspect books that are produced as quickly and sell as well as his. Perhaps this generalized distrust explains the almost complete lack of attention paid Fast by the literary historical and critical communities.4 No matter that he is highly prolific; no matter that his books, often popular with readers, are also often taught; and no matter that he is, finally, someone who has been (if nothing else) part of America's literary and political scene for a period of time longer than most people have been alive. Fast is nonetheless very nearly invisible. Alan Wald's extremely brief encyclopedia article summarizes Fast's career (note 1, above). He has also written a short critical review of Fast as a writer (note 2, above). These are among the very few studies that try to offer anything resembling an overview of either the man or his career. The present essay offers a somewhat fuller survey than Wald has provided and suggests that both Fast and his work deserve new attention. In passing, as it were, it also indicates a few specific topics to which attention might profitably be paid.

It is based largely on a reading of many (but by no means all) of Fast's own works and on the criticism and history cited below. I have also relied heavily on the resources of the Howard Fast Collection. Housed in the Department of Special Collections, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library, at the University of Pennsylvania, the Fast Collection contains Fast's literary works in printed form (in the English language, in reprints, and in foreign-language translations); manuscript notes and drafts of published and unpublished works; printers' galleys, many with revisions that reveal how Fast worked on his books; his political and journalistic writings; his children's, genre, and pseudonymous works; and family, public, and political photographs and ephemera. The Collection is still growing, thanks to assistance from Fast and his family, and continues to add such examples of his literary, personal, business, and political correspondence and papers as survive. It documents the literary and public career of a writer both read and red whose very considerable presence in American letters, from the 1930s through the present, has yet to be assessed. Indeed, it seems not yet even to have been noticed.

2. Starting Out

The 1933 publication of Fast's Two Valleys announced the arrival of a new American writer of real interest. By the time The Unvanquished appeared nine years later, Fast was an established presence in the American literary firmament. The Unvanquished was quickly reprinted for Bennett Cerf and Donald Klopfer's Modern Library (1945), then the commercial equivalent of admission to literary canonization. (The Modern Library also published The Selected Work of Tom Paine and Citizen Tom Paine as a Modern Library Giant [1946].) Fast's books were not only praised, they also sold well. As a result, Fast found ready and frequent access as a writer of short stories to such "pulp" magazine markets as Romance and to such "slicks" as The Saturday Evening Post and Woman's Day. He was able to earn a living sufficient to marry and start a family.

Fast was writing his way out of a background that he remembered as impoverished both financially and emotionally. On the one hand, he could recall, with some pride, a friend once telling him that, "since Jack London, I was the first American writer to emerge from the working class" (BR, p.63). On the other hand, however, the anguish with which Fast described his background when he tried to evoke it (and he tried at some length for readers of Being Red) is palpable. That anguish may help to explain why, from the very outset of his career, he wrote as much and as quickly as he has. The painful memory of early poverty seems to have been a prod to exertion for Fast, just as it was for others whose memories of poverty were formed later, during the Depression. Perhaps Fast would have agreed (as Hicks, Rideout, and Wald have all argued [note 2, above]) that haste had unfortunate consequences for the artistic success of many of his individual works. Nonetheless, in fleeing an impoverished background, he may have felt unable to worry about artistry as an end in itself. He may instead have felt that no individual work mattered as much as the economic cushion they were, all together, placing between him and the dread memories of the conditions of his own past.

The Children was first published as a very long short story in Whit Burnett's Story (March 1937) and appeared ten years later as a short novel.5 It evokes Fast's background as clearly -and as bleakly- as anything else he was ever to write (including Being Red). Concise, powerful, and grim, the book seems never to have found an audience, not, at any rate, since its initial appearance; I find no evidence that it has affected anyone's estimation of Fast's career. The Children deals with a lynching. It is set, not in some distant, imagined, and benighted South, but in Fast's own well-known and well-remembered Manhattan. The lynching it depicts, racially directed but complexly motivated, is perpetrated not by warped and horrifying adults but by deprived and thoughtless urban street children, very much the sort of children among whom Fast recalled himself as having grown up. Indeed, the plot is based on an incident that continued to gnaw at Fast all his life. He would retell the story yet again, but as memoir rather than fiction, in Being Red, where he also recalled that he got the idea for the voice he used in the story from Henry Roth's 1934 novel, Call It Sleep (BR, pp. 42-43, 64).

Fast's fame and reputation, such as they are, now rest largely on his historical novels, the most frequently adopted for classroom use of all his books; and on his various evocations of immigrant and American Jewish life, bestsellers in the 1970s and '80s. The Children, however, is quite a different kind of work. Its first enthusiastic reception by Whit Burnett and by Story -at least as Fast, many years later, was to remember that reception (BR, pp. 65-68)-must have contributed to the writer's early reputation; it surely seemed a work of real importance when it originally appeared. Despite its present neglect, it provides evidence that at least something of Fast's early critical reputation depended on work which (like Roth's Call It Sleep) could be valued as proletarian fiction. Alan Wald has criticized Fast for "the shallow eclecticism and lack of clarity reflected in his political thought" ("Legacy," p. 99). Relying on the difference between realism and naturalism, as these approaches are distinguished by Georg Lukács, Wald finds Fast "disappointingly" naturalistic, evasive of complex and multi-layered human drama, and the victim of a "Popular Front" approach to the creation of a progressive literature for "the masses" ("Legacy," pp. 97-98). These strictures may seem valid to current readers as generalizations about Fast's best-known works. Yet The Children represents a different aspect of Fast's early work. Here, at least, Fast crafts a fiction that evades many if not all of the limitations to which Wald points.6

During the late thirties and early forties, claims on Fast's time increased. Some resulted from his marriage to Bette Cohen and the start of their family, others from the governmental and journalistic positions that he took up after the United States entered World War II, and still others from his increasingly complicated political activities. Yet Fast produced numerous books during this period. They continued to receive good notices and were frequently reprinted both in hardbound and paperback editions. Some even appeared in Armed Services Editions for distribution during and immediately after the war to American servicemen and -women. Not only his well-known novels but also some less well-known shorter works (as, for instance, The Story of the Jews in the United States, Jewish Information Series, no. 1, New York, 1942 ["for Jews in the Armed Forces of the United States"], and Patrick Henry and the Frigate's Keel, [n.p.] 1945, the Armed Services Edition reprint) circulated in this manner. They spread Fast's name to a vast potential readership. All of these books and reprints helped to solidify and extend a literary reputation that, moving from success to success, appeared to have nowhere to go but up.

On the dustjacket of the 1943 first edition of Citizen Tom Paine, his publisher wrote that Fast "has long been a name on the critics' lips." The blurb goes on to say that, with this book, Fast becomes "one of the few major American novelists." Any of Fast's readers in that year possessed of even a modicum of cynicism might well have paused over this phrase to consider the promotional nature of a publisher's puff; yet few even of the most cynical would ultimately have found much hyperbole in these laudatory words. They appeared to be but the sober truth. They were soon to seem, however, quite wrong.

3. Politics

Fast has told and retold stories about his engagement in the political battles of his time. Being Red, his 1990 autobiography, is the most recent version of this tale. He has also written others, such as The Naked God (1957).7 Several of them reveal his anger and lingering pain.

Fast lavished time from his working life as a writer on leftist causes in general and the Communist Party (which he joined in 1943) specifically. He helped staff The Daily Worker. He wrote for the Masses and other leftist or Party journals. He attended various world congresses called to consider one issue or another. He worked for Henry Wallace's 1948 presidential campaign. He was tried on federal charges and then imprisoned in 1950 after failing to overturn his conviction. Two years later, he ran for public office in his own name. In addition to works of literary imagination, he also wrote political journalism, articles, and tracts. The differences between these forms were not always vast. Novels about strikes (Clarkton, 1947) or about The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti (1953) appeared more or less concurrently with books of reportage such as Peekskill, U.S.A.: A Personal Experience (1951), about the riots when Paul Robeson tried to perform. Fast wrote many short political pieces, as well. A pamphlet about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising illustrated by William Gropper appeared the year after the war ended (Never to Forget: The Battle of the Warsaw Ghetto, New York, 1946). An article about the Peekskill riot-an event that affected him deeply-appeared in the Masses of October 1949 two years before his book on the same subject was published. He published a barrage of articles and pamphlets opposing the Korean War. A tract about literature-Literature and Reality (1950)-tried to connect his literary and political ideals; it appeared the same year he went to prison.8 All of this reportage, articles, pamphlets, and tracts was a major part of his output during the '40s and '50s. Not often collected or reprinted, it is, nowadays, almost completely unread. Even without reference to this enormous amount of writing, however, it would be difficult to estimate the time, energy, and commitment that Fast gave to leftist, Party, and Party-related causes. It would be equally difficult to over-estimate the effect of such commitments upon his work as a writer of imaginative fictions.

The two great political traumas he experienced were, of course, first, his trial and imprisonment, and, second, his later resignation from the Party. Unwilling to provide the House Un-American Activities Committee with the names of contributors of financial support for a hospital caring for wounded Spanish Republicans, Fast lost several appeals of his subsequent conviction for contempt of Congress. In 1950, he served a three-month sentence in a federal penitentiary.9 With the energy that he seems always to have shown, he was able to work on Spartacus while he was in prison. Within two years of his release, Fast ran for a Bronx Congressional seat as an American Labor Party candidate (1952). He remained a member of the Communist Party for several more years, until, in 1957, he finally broke from it in a public departure that caused considerable public stir. Many newspapers and magazines took note; Fast himself commented in several media, explaining his disenchantment with the Party and resignation from it.10 This resignation cost Fast several friendships, and some regard, from former colleagues on the left, while bringing him no new companionship or regard from the right. Following his public resignation, he had (also publicly) to forge a new and independent political stance. Simultaneously, he faced widespread opprobrium and serious threats to his ability to pursue his livelihood, to neither of which, of course, he was by this time a stranger. Since the later 1940s while he was still in the Party, as well as in the late 1950s after he had left it, such problems had made supporting himself and his family a much more pressing issue than Fast must have expected to encounter during the days of his early successes. He saw his problems as a consequence of his involvement with a Party which, he now felt, had betrayed the very ideals that had originally attracted him to it. His sense of betrayal parallels the feelings of many in his generation who, once able idealistically to view their own leftist political activities as a search for social justice, now saw themselves instead as dupes whose idealism had allowed them to be manipulated by people for whom "social justice" was a figleaf covering up other, less noble goals. Unlike numbers of his contemporaries, however, Fast, even after leaving the Communist Party, continued to proclaim that such justice could only be sought from a politics of the left. Nonetheless, he was himself seen as a betrayer by some who regarded his departure from the Party and subsequent activities as a sellout. Both his memoir, The Naked God, and its numerous journalistic relatives, and his immediate move to Hollywood and screenwriting, could be seen in this light, and were.11 The right had never trusted Fast; it did not now begin to do so. The left, despite his protestations of ongoing commitment to leftist ideals, ceased doing so.

Several of Fast's novels-Silas Timberman (1954) and The Story of Lola Gregg (1956) are among the most powerful12-represent issues that dominated this period of Fast's life. Silas Timberman concerns an academic community under attack by people who seek to purify the university of carriers of tainted thoughts. A non-Communist English teacher at a midwestern state university, Silas Timberman winds up in prison as the result of his disinclination to support local civil defense measures. His institution's leadership and the majority of its personnel do not assist Timberman to fight the charges of Communism to which this disinclination gives rise. Instead, the majority collapse ignobly and cooperate with those who seek, first, Timberman's dismissal and prosecution, and, second, evisceration of the practices of intellectual freedom for which a university supposedly stands.13 Lola Gregg, a closely related novel, also looks at what happened to ordinary people caught in the swirl of political emotionalism as America entered the Cold War and "the Great Fear." Lola Gregg's husband is, only slightly less than Silas Timberman, a political naïf. Both his world and, ultimately, his life, are disrupted beyond repair.

Since his emergence from the political wars of the 1930s, '40, and '50s, Fast's distance from organized politics has increased. Yet his concerns for the political life of the society in which he lives show no corresponding tendency to decrease. Sixty years after his first novel appeared, Fast published not only another novel but also a collection of newspaper columns, War and Peace: Observations on Our Times (1993).14 He began to write these columns in December of 1988, originally for the New York Observer, then for subscribers to the newspaper syndicate that picked up the column for national distribution. They have continued his lifelong critical engagement with American society through their author's eightieth year. So, of course, do the fictions he continues to write.

4. Troubled Times: (a) The Blue Heron Press

In Being Red, Fast describes how, as the 1940s drew to a close, his normal trade publishing outlets also closed down. Publishers rejected his new books, despite the critical and popular acclaim his earlier works had received-and despite the sales those earlier works continued to attain. This turnabout was a result, in part, of the relatively poor sales of his postwar books.15 More importantly, Fast felt, it reflected pressures analogous to those simultaneously affecting the broadcasting, screen, and theatrical media and known collectively as "the blacklist." Fast cites the direct intervention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a major source of this blow to his career (e.g., BR, p. 246).

After the manuscript of Fast's novel Spartacus had received multiple rejections, including some from publishers who had published earlier books he had written, a person at Doubleday urged Fast to publish it himself. George Hecht felt strongly that Doubleday had rejected a major commercial prospect. He guaranteed to purchase numerous copies of any edition of the book that Fast published for distribution through Doubleday's chain of bookstores. Thus discouraged, on the one hand, and encouraged, on the other, Fast responded by turning himself into the self-publisher of his own Spartacus at The Blue Heron Press, the imprint he established in order to follow Hecht's advice. Operating out of their home-then at 43 West 94th Street in Manhattan-Fast and his wife published the book and sold (as he recalled) more than 48,000 copies of it in three months (BR, p. 294). Its sales made it "the only self-published best-seller in recent history" (Wald, "Legacy," p. 94).16

Other books followed over Fast's Blue Heron imprint. Among them were his own Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti, Silas Timberman, and Lola Gregg. The Press also published other writers who, in the peculiar atmosphere of that time, were unable to receive normal publication and distribution in the United States. W. E. B. Du Bois' classic The Souls of Black Folk and a work by radical poet Walter Lowenfels were among the books by writers other than Fast that Blue Heron printed and distributed in both hard and paper covers. Fast's own books, however, were Blue Heron's staples for both new publications and the backlist.

(b) Genre Writing

Fast has written fictions in a great variety of genres. If we except his novels with generally "contemporary" settings, the genre for which he is best known is the historical novel. Within that rubric, some of his historical tales-most notably The Last Frontier-have western settings and themes. So do a few of Fast's short stories, some of which have been anthologized in collections of western tales. Fast seems, however, less a writer of "westerns" than of historical fictions some of which are set in the old west. He has also written for children since the 1930s, but these books seem a relatively minor part of his output. Neither the books set in the west nor his children's books give Fast the appearance of anything other than the author of "mainstream" fictions. Historical novels, themselves generally regarded either as a subset of mainstream fictions or indistinguishable from them, are rarely marginalized in quite the same consistent way that some other fictional genres routinely experience.

In fact, however, Fast has also published fictions in two very conventional, generically ghetto-ized literary forms, mystery and science fiction, although his work in these kinds remains less well known than his mainstream historical novels and bestsellers. Yet these works are by no means a minor nor even a numerically insignificant part of his literary output. The mysteries appeared with two pseudonyms17: "Walter Ericson" and "E. V. Cunningham." Some of the Cunningham titles have recently begun to reappear over Fast's own name. Sylvia, for instance, was republished in 1992. It now has a dustjacket that not only names Fast as its author but also tells prospective readers that "Fast . . . had written the book at a time when he was hounded by J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI for his then radical views . . . . But Fast could not stop writing." As a science fiction writer, Fast was able to use his own name.

Clearly, Fast turned to both forms for a variety of reasons. He had begun to write science fiction as early as the late 1930s, after all-that is, at a time well before his "then radical views" were out of fashion. After the end of World War II, however-as the Sylvia dustjacket remarks-among the most important reasons was that his ability to publish books of the kind through which he had first established his reputation was severely hampered by the political interdiction beneath which he had fallen. But Fast also needed to work in forms that gave him latitude to try things which would have taxed the limits of more ordinary novels. His interest in Zen meditative techniques, for example, plays an important role in one of his mystery series.

Science fiction, as a highly marginalized literary form, has also been traditionally less conservative than mainstream fiction. Both its formal properties and its range of permissible political points of view vary far from what is ordinarily allowed in popular fictions-and these variations were particularly characteristic of the genre during the 1950s. Science fiction editors also offered Fast outlets that permitted him to keep his own name when he published stories with them. Indeed, several magazines in which his stories appeared made much of his turn to science fiction, using his name and what they supposed to be its literary and status associations to raise the status of their own venture.18 More importantly, they allowed Fast a venue in which he could explore political themes. The self-consciously speculative nature of the science fiction genre has long permitted the presentation even of oppositional viewpoints with only slight allegorical protective coloration.

5. Popularity

Popularity and good sales are a serious writer's dream -but they may also prove a curse. Many of Fast's books have become bestsellers. Many have been adopted for use in schools. Many have attained notable paperback sales. Many have enjoyed considerable foreign and foreign-language sales. In all these ways, they demonstrate Fast's power to win audiences.

Fast achieved such success with relative speed. Two Valleys, his first novel, appeared in 1933. An English edition appeared that same year. It signified critical rather than financial benefits for the young writer. (When, a few years ago -as Fast has told me in conversation- he saw a copy of the first American edition for sale for $500, he told the bookseller that $500 was more than he had earned for writing the book.) But by 1942, only nine years after the publication of Two Valleys, Fast writes, "I was sitting right on top of eighteen pots of honey." He continues: "My third novel, The Last Frontier, . . . had been greeted as a `masterpiece' . . . and my new novel, just published, called The Unvanquished, a story of the Continental Army's most desperate moment, had been called, by Time magazine who found in it a parallel for the grim present, 'the best book about World War II.' . . . [At this time, too,] I finished writing a book I would call Citizen Tom Paine"-a book that would bring Fast even more praise and high (and still ongoing) sales (BR, p. 2).

Other major historical fictions, such as Freedom Road and April Morning, would also prove to be popular with the general public. As school texts, they would become, as they remain, consistent sources of income for their author. Between these two books, the self-published Spartacus would bring Fast still more success. Eventually, through its 1960 release as a movie, it would also help to puncture the pretensions of the Hollywood Blacklist. Its success would help Fast return to ordinary commercial publishing venues. Slighter works, such as The Winston Affair (1959), would yield income from both their various printed and their movie versions. The Winston Affair became Man in the Middle (1964), with Robert Mitchum and Trevor Howard.

Fast's extensive publications in foreign-language translations offer a specific instance of his broad popularity for which the evidence is almost more overwhelming than that of his English-language sales. Worldwide interest in Fast's work developed rapidly. His political views, of course, were well suited to the Depression era in which he began to write. Moreover, his books were exceedingly popular in the Soviet Union and the satellite nations of eastern Europe. Walter Felscher, now a professor at Tubingen but raised as a youth in East Germany, from which he eventually fled, remembers (without the slightest bit of pleasure) Fast's works as ubiquitous in bookstore windows in East Germany.19 A prominent American Communist Party member, Fast attained to a popularity in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe that, occasionally, translated not only into sales but also into royalties-somewhat unusual for Americans whose works were published in those places. (It was a popularity that also translated itself into the award of a Stalin Prize in 1954.)

In fact, however, his works had attained transatlantic interest, and not only in the Communist-dominated east, from the very first. Two Valleys, published in England in the same year it first appeared in this country, established a pattern of English interest in Fast's work that continues to this day. His books have also appeared in French, Italian, Rumanian, German, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, Greek, Czech, Croat, Hebrew, Bengali, Chinese, and Japanese, among many other languages. He was and remains proud of this evidence of popularity. The 1953 Blue Heron reprint of Fast's own Last Frontier lists on its title-page verso the twenty languages into which that novel had, by then, been translated.

The range and variety of foreign editions and translations of Fast's works, as well as their sales, indicate that Fast is among the most widely read of living American authors. So geographically widespread a readership is itself another reason for paying Fast increased critical attention. In addition, however, even as he was being ignored at home, Fast represented "American literature" to millions of readers throughout the world. How he was presented to them and how they received him are both questions that need investigation. Such inquiries will help us better to understand the complexities of how the idea of America and its literature have been constructed in our time.

In the 1980s and '90s, Fast continues to attract audiences, as sales of his series of novels on the American immigrant experience attest. But he rarely finds the critical acclaim, or even the notice, that his earlier works achieved (note 4, above). This change may result from ordinary shifts in literary taste and fashion. It may result from an aversion to Fast's perceived or actual political views and behavior. Or it may result from a general mistrust of broad popularity itself, Fast's or anyone else's. Whatever the explanation, Fast continues to write and to be read despite this context of general lack of attention or outright critical dismissal. His books continue to be used in classrooms and to sell well in bookstores. Yet scholars and critics routinely notice other contemporary writers while ignoring Fast. Bestseller status is not always its own reward.

6. Later Work

Blacklisting, political disillusionment, imprisonment: there seem few modern public pitfalls, including popularity, that Fast has not encountered. Yet his ability to keep on writing and to produce at a prolific pace has, from all outward signs, not been affected by these difficulties in ways an ordinary reader would notice. He has produced successful books despite the most awkward personal situations. The first of the novels that his postwar circumstances required him to self-publish, Spartacus, became a huge seller, despite its mode of publication and the general dismissal or utter lack of notice accorded the book by the media. April Morning, a fictional introduction to the experience of African-Americans in the Reconstruction era*, appeared while Fast was still working his way out of the after-effects of his 1957 resignation from the Party. It became another of his hugely successful historical novels and, like several of its predecessors, entered numerous classrooms.
[*NOTE: this is an arror, a description of Freedom Road, not April Morning, which is about a 15-year-old boy's coming of age during the battle of Lexington and Concord, April 19, 1775. st]

Fast's series of novels concerned with the immigrant experience in America began with The Immigrants (1977) and continued through Second Generation (1978), The Establishment (1979), The Legacy (1981), and The Immigrant's Daughter (1985). Using immigration and subsequent successful acclimatization to the United States as its frame, the series-a "family saga dramatizing both personal and epoch-making struggles against white supremacy, war, fascism, anti-Semitism, industrial exploitation, McCarthyism, and the subjugation of women"- achieved consistent bestsellerdom (Murolo, "History," p. 23). Jewish-American experience, long a major theme for Fast, is heavily emphasized in this series. Fast had previously published several non-fiction historical essays about Jewish history, including the 1942 armed forces pamphlet on U.S. Jewry mentioned above and a more broadly-focused history, The Jews, of 1968. Even as he was finishing The Immigrants series, he revisited Jewish themes in another novel, The Outsider (1984). This book concerned a rabbi's experiences in a small Connecticut town. Both The Immigrants series and his books on Jewish themes brought Fast considerable financial but few critical rewards.

Unnoticed among the books of his later period-Murolo, in fact, writes that Fast "did not . . . return to the historical novel" and adds that, as a writer of "historical epics," he "dropped out of sight" ("History," p. 23)-is The Hessian (1972), the novel that Fast himself once called (in conversation with the author) his best. The Hessian appeared when Fast was well beyond the initial period of working his way through the personal and political difficulties resignation from the Party had raised for him. He had once again resumed a commercially successful career. But he had not returned to critical favor. Perhaps as a result of critical inattention, The Hessian-in this respect very much like The Children-has never found an audience. Quintessential Fast, it seems a pure historical tale. Yet the relationship of its purely historical tale to current issues is strikingly clear. Fast imagines a tiny military incident and its aftermath during the American Revolution. The book begins with the killing of an American by a band of Hessian mercenaries travelling inland from Long Island Sound on Connecticut's High Ridge Road. (Fast has lived for many years in Greenwich, not far from the High Ridge Road, which can still be found in Fairfield County.) The Hessians take the American, who follows them, for a spy. No spy, the American they kill is instead a local simpleton whose death inspires the neighborhood to revenge. The Americans ambush the Hessians, killing all but one of them. What happens to the one whom they do not kill, a boy, is the burden of the rest of the novel, which is beautifully realized. Fast views his characters with clear-sighted sympathy and objectivity. The novel itself is utterly rooted in its time and place. Yet few of its first readers can have failed to relate The Hessian to the defining political problem of the moment when it was published, the American war in Vietnam. The power of this book, by itself, reveals a writer who deserves critical reevaluation.20

The Dinner Party (1987), The Pledge (1988), and The Confession of Joe Cullen (1989) are among Fast's later overtly political novels. Each is highly critical of certain aspects of American life. The Pledge, for example, finds the older Fast meditating upon some of his own youthful public experiences- experiences whose personal nature Fast has indicated elsewhere (BR, pp. 120-128, 131-132). In The Pledge, Fast recalls how, as a war correspondent, he encountered British misrule in India and American attitudes towards a wartime, and then Cold War, ally that made disclosure of British brutality impossible. A few years later, in The Trial of Abigail Goodman (1993), Fast looked with a dubious eye upon efforts to restrict women's right to an abortion.

One might have expected an aging Fast to have slowed down his pace of writing or moderated the critical perspective from which he views American public life. True, the stridency of some of his earlier work is gone. Yet Fast had never really adopted a "root-and-branch" critical stance in his fictions, perhaps as a result of his early acceptance of a "Popular Front" aesthetic. This is the aesthetic which, Wald argues, vitiated much of his radical potential (see "Legacy" generally; and note 12, above). Fast continues on as he has always done, dramatizing "excesses and abuses" but looking only obliquely, if at all, at "process." By and large, Fast writes anything but "analytical" fictions. Not only does he seem not to have slowed down his pace of production, but also he shows few signs in his later work of having moderated his critical perspective.

7. Being Red

Being Red (1990) is a remarkable memoir. In many ways, although Fast claims otherwise (BR, p. 63), it is his political "Apologia pro vita sua." Like many of his novels and short stories, it is available in paperback. (A second paperback edition has recently appeared.) Like many of those other works, it, too, has quickly achieved a classroom career. It is eminently readable. And it is worth reading.

It is true that Being Red goes over some of the same ground Fast had earlier traversed in The Naked God. In that book, Fast had similarly dealt with the impact of his involvement with the Communist Party. In 1957, however, his perspective was perhaps not yet quite distant or calm enough. 21 Fast therefore gave its concerns a second try, after thirty-odd years of additional reflection. In the later book, his tone has become more moderate and his range broader than either had been in 1957. Yet, in Being Red, Fast still conceives of his life and the shape his career has taken in terms of the Party. Its ideals, its betrayal of those ideals, and his own entry into, work for, and departure from it: all these remain among the determinants of the life Fast depicts. But Being Red is more than political self-exploration. A much longer book than The Naked God, it also has a range that the first book cannot match. It provides an unusually detailed entree into the life and work, as well as the political activities, of an American author. This author's career took him into several fields, in addition to politics, that most of his contemporaries rarely experienced; even those who experienced some of them almost never experienced as many of them as Fast. Notable among these, as it would be for any novelist and writer, is self-publication. Journalism; investigation, trial, and jail; a political candidacy: these, too, are notable. But more generally, Being Red illuminates the experiences, the issues, and the perspectives (the "world-view," if you will) in terms of which Fast chose to adapt and tell the stories that constitute the bulk of his work throughout his long and highly productive career. The record his book provides is all the more important because so many of his contemporaries, if they had similar experiences (perhaps especially if they had similar experiences), tried as hard as they could deliberately to forget them.

Being Red is far from a perfect history of its time (as if any such thing could be imagined). Its frequent omissions, distortions, and lapses-even, in fact, its tone-are, nonetheless, often as significant as what Fast deliberately and accurately includes, at least, for any reader interested in recovering the temper of the period through which its author lived and wrote. Its view of the impact of one of the great intellectual and political movements of our time on a sensitive, responsive, prolific, and influential American writer, however partial that view necessarily is, makes its documentary value incalculable. Being Red sheds a bright and a raking light on Fast's career and on his era. Because of its self-absorption and partiality, it cannot be the last word on either. But insofar as it provokes its readers to further recovery of hitherto suppressed memories, it is certainly a propaeduetic to thought about both.

If Fast had written nothing else, this one book would give him an abiding claim on our attention. In fact, he has written much more that begs for renewed attention to his career and his work. A survey such as this one succeeds insofar as it encourages just such a second look.


NOTES

1 I quote the publisher's comment about Fast's youth from the dustwrapper preserved on a copy of the first edition of Two Valleys in the Howard Fast Collection, Department of Special Collections, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library, the University of Pennsylvania. This Collection is described briefly below. Carol Publishing Group (Secaucus, NJ) published Seven Days in June.

For a brief survey of Fast's career, see the article (s.v. "Fast, Howard (b. 1914)") by Alan Wald in Encyclopedia of the American Left, ed. Mari Jo Buhle, Paul Buhle, and Dan Georgakas (New York: Garland, 1990), pp. 219-220 (hereafter cited as Encyclopedia). I have also used Fast's own autobiographical writings, especially Being Red (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990; hereafter cited as BR). As my text makes clear, I have also benefitted from the opportunity of speaking about his life and career on several occasions with Fast.

2 Alan Wald comments on this productivity, but not warmly, in "The Legacy of Howard Fast." Fast, he writes, "paid a heavy price for his machine-like production of books and screenplays." This essay appeared originally in Radical History, 17 (1983); it is reprinted in Alan M. Wald, The Responsibility of Intellectuals: Selected Essays on Marxist Traditions in Cultural Commitment (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1992), pp. 92-101. I quote from the later text (p. 99) and cite this essay hereafter as "Legacy." Wald recalls that Granville Hicks wrote in 1945 to warn Fast that high-speed productivity might well depend on a degree of carelessness and inattentiveness from which his work would suffer. In 1956, Walter B. Rideout also spoke of the same problem (with somewhat more sympathy) in The Radical Novel in the United States, 1900-1954: Some Interrelations of Literature and Society (rpt. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992), pp. 275-285.

3 The general disinclination of American literary historians and critics not only to valorize but even to pay attention to writers emerging from the political left is discussed by Cary Nelson. See his Repression and Recovery: Modern American Poetry and the Politics of Cultural Memory, 1910-1945, Wisconsin Project on American Writers (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989). Yet even those for whom such a generalization seems valid may, perhaps, doubt its specific applicability to a writer such as Fast, whose prolific approach to his writing career has produced works of distinctly uneven quality. In any event, it is difficult at best to propose an explanation for neglect; there are so many possibilities. But consider the exemplary diction of Mark Shechner, writing that "the emergence of Jews as major contemporary writers had to await the 1940s, when a prevailing fiction of documentary realism and proletarian romance, produced by the likes of Cahan, Fuchs, Gold, Howard Fast, and Albert Halper, gave way to the subtler and more evocative writing of Delmore Schwartz, Saul Bellow, Isaac Rosenfeld, and Norman Mailer, and a significant advance in articulateness, power, and modernity appeared to be at hand" ("Jewish Writers," Harvard Guide to Contemporary American Writing, ed. Daniel Hoffman [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979], p. 193). I suppose some readers may not feel that anything other than the "mere" passing of literary judgments-and certainly nothing that might, perhaps, be thought political ("the likes of")-is at work in this passage even when they encounter the names of the five writers whom Shechner defenestrates. In truth, however, I fail to have an imagination capacious enough to envisage such readers.

4 Priscilla Murolo writes that the "rave reviews" accorded the book in which Fast first explained his departure from the Communist Party, The Naked God, in 1957 "signalled . . . [Fast's] reacceptance by the cultural establishment" ("History in the Fast Lane," Radical History Review, no. 31 [1984], p. 23; cited hereafter as "History"). I cannot agree, seeing no evidence that Fast has been "reaccepted" by any "cultural establishment" whatsoever. The Modern Language Association of America maintains an online database that records scholarly and critical work undertaken by those who teach literature in our colleges and universities (and who, in current political mythology, are mostly demonized as the sort of left-wing subverters of accepted cultural norms for whom the Fasts of this world ought to be bread and butter). A search of this database for works that have Howard Fast as their subject yields, as of February 1995, seven items. The database is retrospective and presently extends back to 1963. To put this figure into some perspective, contrast it with the number of scholarly books and articles the same database lists that, published during the same thirty-two year period, concern other modern American writers of varied stature and status: e.g., Flannery O'Connor: 850; John Crowe Ransom: 146; Stephen King: 120; Isaac Asimov: 60; Ross Macdonald: 52. Macdonald, a popular mystery writer and the least studied member of this group, is the subject of more than seven times the number of publications devoted to Fast. In fairness, I should note that the MLA database does not turn up the articles on Fast by Wald or Murolo published in history journals that MLA does not index. Nonetheless, these figures reliably indicate the degree of "reacceptance"-that is, virtually none-Fast has attained since he left the Party.

Alan Wald notices this lapse of scholarly attention when he comments in passing that "we have not even made a rudimentary beginning of an examination of the major contributions of leftist writers to the historical novel (for example, . . . Howard Fast)" (Writing from the Left: New Essays on Radical Culture and Politics [London: Verso, 1994], p. 79).

5 As a novel, The Children appeared over the Duell, Sloan and Pearce imprint (New York, 1947). It was reprinted once again in The Howard Fast Reader: A Collection of Stories and Novels (New York: Crown, 1960).

6 This is a view that deserves expansion; I hope to expand it in a different framework than that permitted by a survey such as this one. One might nonetheless note that, in BR, Fast bathes the book in false and partly misleading bathos. In the memoir, he writes that The Children "was the only time, in all my long life as a writer, that I wrote of my childhood"; but since then, he concludes, and "even in a dispassionate telling in my old age, I find that walls separate me from the intensity of the suffering of those three more or less abandoned children, myself and my brothers" (p. 43). Readers who know no more of The Children than what the self-absorbed memoirist says of it here may decide on this basis that it sounds like a book they can easily live without. If so, they will miss a book at once more coldblooded, dispassionate, yet attuned to others, than its own author remembered in 1990.

7 Daniel Aaron writes, briefly and perceptively, about some of the limitations of The Naked God in his Writers on the Left: Episodes in American Literary Communism (1961; rpt. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992), p. 311.

8 Wald calls this work simply "a vulgar treatise on Marxist criticism" (Encyclopedia, p. 219). That may well be a justified criticism. Nonetheless, anyone who, considering the small number of representative articles, pamphlets, and tracts cited in the text as examples of Fast's occasional writings (and among which this reference to Literature and Reality is found), and who has even a slight sense of the vast number of other such ephemeral pieces Fast produced, may well suppose that, however vulgar any of these pieces may be, getting them controlled bibliographically would benefit all students of leftist thought in Fast's era. A serious bibliography of Fast's entire output would be even more valuable; he used many names and published in an enormous variety of venues. Questions such as the one Wald asks (above, n. 4) about the reception of Fast's historical fictions simply cannot receive a serious answer without this preliminary basic information.

9 Walter Goodman provides a brief overview of the background to this affair in The Committee: The Extraordinary Career of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1968), pp. 176-181, as does David Caute, The Great Fear: The Anti-Communist Purge Under Truman and Eisenhower (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978), pp. 177-178.

10 Fast wrote several times to explain his resignation from the Communist Party: see, e.g., "An Exchange with Howard Fast," Midstream (March 1957), pp. 29-47 (Fast's "My Decision" followed by the Editors' "Comment"); "On Leaving the Communist Party," Saturday Review of Literature (November 16, 1957); and "The Writer and the Commissar," Prospectus (November 1957).

11 The resentments which Fast's conversion elicited among his former comrades on the left must have been at least slightly exacerbated because of his former and fairly prominent role as a sort of "enforcer" of Party discipline. His participation in the correction of Albert Maltz, who fell into ideological error with respect to the question of the potential independence of the artist from adherence to political orthodoxy, is an oft-told tale; see, e.g., Aaron, Writers on the Left, pp. 386-390. This affair took place in 1946. Earlier still, Fast played a role in keeping Joseph Freeman's 1943 novel Never Call Retreat from being filmed because Freeman, who had broken with the Party in 1939, was regarded as a renegade; this matter is mentioned in Joseph R. Starobin, American Communism in Crisis, 1943-1957 (1972; rpt. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975), pp. 253-254 (n. 32).

12 Wald ("Legacy," p. 96) notes that the "left-liberal doctrine" with which Fast infuses these books "is not just simplified but fatally trivialized" by Fast's failure "to address the civil rights of those who were real `subversives' in the eyes of the witch-hunters." Instead, he portrays only simple innocents who are framed by McCarthyites. Fast criticizes "excesses and abuses," not "the entire process."

13 Fast was no academic; but neither were the issues he raised in Silas Timberman matters he could afford to find "purely academic." Ellen W. Schrecker usefully recalls Fast's experiences as a speaker barred from appearances at various universities in No Ivory Tower: McCarthyism and the Universities (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), pp. 91-93.

14 One of these columns provided an occasion for one of the relatively rare bits of knuckle-rapping notice Fast can still attract from the right (Being Red was to provide another occasion, of course). See William F. Buckley, "Mr. Fast Explains," National Review (February 24, 1989), pp. 62-63. Here Buckley explains how Fast, writing about abortion, fails to grasp significant distinctions between a fetus' right to life and the forfeiture of claims to the same right by a person convicted of a capital crime.

15 Wald writes that books such as Clarkton, Silas Timberman, and Lola Gregg were "less successful and . . . explicitly more radical" than Fast's earlier novels. He says that Freedom Road, The American (1946), and Spartacus were the "most successful" of Fast's books while he was a Party member (Encyclopedia, p. 219).

16 Since Wald wrote these words in 1983, a few other self-published bestsellers have appeared. They remain uncommon enough to warrant notice in The New York Times (see, e.g., Edwin McDowell, "The Rise of the Self-Published Best Seller," July 9, 1990, p. D6).

17 Fast used other pseudonyms, as well. In BR (pp. 159-161), for instance, he tells of his use of the name Simon Kent for a story whose title he remembered as "A Child is Lost," published and then often reprinted under that name at a time when his own name would have killed sales. "The Day Our Child Was Lost," by Simon Kent, appears-"Condensed from This Week magazine"-in Catholic Digest (February 1951, pp. 38-40), at a time when that magazine would have reprinted nothing "by Howard Fast."

See my comment at the end of n. 8, above. Until Fast's vast output has been given basic bibliographical attention, we remain unclear about both its extent and its reception, even when (perhaps especially when) those who were "receiving" it were uncertain or simply wrong about whose work they were reading.

18 Thus they unwittingly betrayed their vast distance from the arenas in which literary status was conferred-arenas where, for all practical purposes, Fast no longer had any reputation proximity to which could enhance the status of their own product. Nonetheless-to cite three literally random examples-Fast is prominently named on the covers of the March 1959, November 1959, and February 1960 Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction; two of those covers also give the title of the story to be found within.

19 I owe this recollection to a private communication from Professor Felscher.

20 Like The Children, this is a book to which I hope to return on an occasion different from the present one. I would, however, draw attention, if to nothing else, at least to the restraint Fast shows in developing the characters in this novel. His use of ellipsis, his refusal to "explain" them, is masterful. Fast never opens up the relationship of his narrator-a Roman Catholic physician-to his Puritan neighbors (and his Puritan wife) or to the Quakers also resident in the neighborhood. These relationships, and that between the narrator and his wife especially, remain among many sources of fruitful mystery in this book-and, I think, among the sources of its power.

As Wald, among others, has noticed (above, n. 2), Fast is too prolific. He is thus easy to underestimate. Not only has he written too much (who has read it all?), but also his most interesting books are not always his best-known books. The reader who concentrates on the latter may not invariably meet the former. On the other hand, of course, the ways in which Fast's various books have been received is itself a topic that would repay further study; it might by itself offer a kind of roadmap to U. S. literary politics over a large chunk of the twentieth century.

21 Barbara Foley is not alone in distinguishing between Fast's earlier and his later versions of this tale of disengagement. See her Radical Representations: Politics and Form in U.S. Proletarian Fiction, 1929-1941 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993), p. 220, n. 6.

1 I quote the publisher's comment about Fast's youth from the dustwrapper preserved on a copy of the first edition of Two Valleys in the Howard Fast Collection, Department of Special Collections, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library, the University of Pennsylvania. This Collection is described briefly below. Carol Publishing Group (Secaucus, NJ) published Seven Days in June.

For a brief survey of Fast's career, see the article (s.v. "Fast, Howard (b. 1914)") by Alan Wald in Encyclopedia of the American Left, ed. Mari Jo Buhle, Paul Buhle, and Dan Georgakas (New York: Garland, 1990), pp. 219-220 (hereafter cited as Encyclopedia). I have also used Fast's own autobiographical writings, especially Being Red (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990; hereafter cited as BR). As my text makes clear, I have also benefitted from the opportunity of speaking about his life and career on several occasions with Fast.

2 Alan Wald comments on this productivity, but not warmly, in "The Legacy of Howard Fast." Fast, he writes, "paid a heavy price for his machine-like production of books and screenplays." This essay appeared originally in Radical History, 17 (1983); it is reprinted in Alan M. Wald, The Responsibility of Intellectuals: Selected Essays on Marxist Traditions in Cultural Commitment (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1992), pp. 92-101. I quote from the later text (p. 99) and cite this essay hereafter as "Legacy." Wald recalls that Granville Hicks wrote in 1945 to warn Fast that high-speed productivity might well depend on a degree of carelessness and inattentiveness from which his work would suffer. In 1956, Walter B. Rideout also spoke of the same problem (with somewhat more sympathy) in The Radical Novel in the United States, 1900-1954: Some Interrelations of Literature and Society (rpt. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992), pp. 275-285.

2 Alan Wald comments on this productivity, but not warmly, in "The Legacy of Howard Fast." Fast, he writes, "paid a heavy price for his machine-like production of books and screenplays." This essay appeared originally in Radical History, 17 (1983); it is reprinted in Alan M. Wald, The Responsibility of Intellectuals: Selected Essays on Marxist Traditions in Cultural Commitment (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1992), pp. 92-101. I quote from the later text (p. 99) and cite this essay hereafter as "Legacy." Wald recalls that Granville Hicks wrote in 1945 to warn Fast that high-speed productivity might well depend on a degree of carelessness and inattentiveness from which his work would suffer. In 1956, Walter B. Rideout also spoke of the same problem (with somewhat more sympathy) in The Radical Novel in the United States, 1900-1954: Some Interrelations of Literature and Society (rpt. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992), pp. 275-285.

4 Priscilla Murolo writes that the "rave reviews" accorded the book in which Fast first explained his departure from the Communist Party, The Naked God, in 1957 "signalled . . . [Fast's] reacceptance by the cultural establishment" ("History in the Fast Lane," Radical History Review, no. 31 [1984], p. 23; cited hereafter as "History"). I cannot agree, seeing no evidence that Fast has been "reaccepted" by any "cultural establishment" whatsoever. The Modern Language Association of America maintains an online database that records scholarly and critical work undertaken by those who teach literature in our colleges and universities (and who, in current political mythology, are mostly demonized as the sort of left-wing subverters of accepted cultural norms for whom the Fasts of this world ought to be bread and butter). A search of this database for works that have Howard Fast as their subject yields, as of February 1995, seven items. The database is retrospective and presently extends back to 1963. To put this figure into some perspective, contrast it with the number of scholarly books and articles the same database lists that, published during the same thirty-two year period, concern other modern American writers of varied stature and status: e.g., Flannery O'Connor: 850; John Crowe Ransom: 146; Stephen King: 120; Isaac Asimov: 60; Ross Macdonald: 52. Macdonald, a popular mystery writer and the least studied member of this group, is the subject of more than seven times the number of publications devoted to Fast. In fairness, I should note that the MLA database does not turn up the articles on Fast by Wald or Murolo published in history journals that MLA does not index. Nonetheless, these figures reliably indicate the degree of "reacceptance"-that is, virtually none-Fast has attained since he left the Party.

Alan Wald notices this lapse of scholarly attention when he comments in passing that "we have not even made a rudimentary beginning of an examination of the major contributions of leftist writers to the historical novel (for example, . . . Howard Fast)" (Writing from the Left: New Essays on Radical Culture and Politics [London: Verso, 1994], p. 79).

12 Wald ("Legacy," p. 96) notes that the "left-liberal doctrine" with which Fast infuses these books "is not just simplified but fatally trivialized" by Fast's failure "to address the civil rights of those who were real `subversives' in the eyes of the witch-hunters." Instead, he portrays only simple innocents who are framed by McCarthyites. Fast criticizes "excesses and abuses," not "the entire process."


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