CULTURE AND THE FUTURENEW MASSES cultural awards dinner, held last week, was a memorable event. It expressed a comprehensive unity which is a distinctly new phenomenon in our cultural life. Not only on the platform, but among the audience were noted figures in the cultural world. Their presence was a fitting answer to the attempts of Roy Howard's man, Frederick Woltman, to Red-bait the dinner in the New York "World-Telegram" and sneer away the awards as "Browder Pulitzer Prizes." And the program articulated the faith that, in the words of NM editor Joseph North, "we stand on the threshold of a great renaissance of culture in America." The role of NEW MASSES itself in furthering that culture and providing the social and political vision that the times require emerged clearer than ever. Throughout the storms of the past few years the magazine has held high two important values, the worth of culture and the worth of American democracy. And it chose the recipients of the awards on the same basis--men and women whose contributions and work have served these two values.
One important feature of the awards was the recognition accorded to the educational and cultural activities of organizations and institutions as well as individuals. Awards were given to three trade unions, the United Automobile Workers-CIO, the National Maritime Union, and the International Fur and Leather Workers Union, to the International Workers Order, and the 135th Street (Harlem) branch of the New York Public Library.
A detailed account of the dinner will be found in the "Between Ourselves" section of this issue. We present below the speeches of Howard Fast, author of "Freedom Road" and other novels; Daniel Fitzpatrick, cartoonist of the St. Louis "Post-Dispatch"; and Max Weber, noted painter; the statement of John Howard Lawson; the messages of the dinner's two co-chairmen, Senator Elbert D. Thomas of Utah and Paul Robeson; and the brief remarks of Fredi Washington, who received an award in behalf of Lena Horne, and Florence Eldridge March, who accepted in the name of her husband, Fredric March. The speeches of Quentin Reynolds, Carl Van Doren, Joseph North and others will appear next week.
Howard FastI DON'T recall when I first began to read NEW MASSES; it was always there. In those times, a decade and more ago, people were as puzzled as today, and about many things too, and it was good to have some barometer of unequivocal truth. So in accepting this award, in as wonderful a company of dinner companions as I have ever sat with, on what is for me a very proud and splendid occasion, I would like to acknowledge my indebtedness to the people who are giving it, and I would like to say that without them, without the whole long struggle of so many men of good will and good hope, I could not have written a line that would have meant anything to anyone.
It was suggested that in the five minutes allotted to me, I talk about the novel--and some of the five minutes are gone. And there's a great ideal to say about the novel.
I won't try to cover the ground. But I will say this--that I love the novel, and that I think, far from being in a decadent stage, the novel is only now coming from its infancy. Of all the art forms which the written word has taken, I believe this to be the most flexible, the most capable of endless evolution. We are at the birth of a literary era, not at the end of one. Or a rebirth, you might call it. Hawthorne and Melville and Twain, Frank Norris, London, Sherwood Anderson, Dreiser, Sinclair Lewis--they're not forgotten, nor is their work for nothing. Only by virtue of the fact that we stand on their shoulders can we do what we are doing, and if we tend to fumble not a little, it's because our possible canvas is vaster, our hope and future unlimited.
For my own part, I have been fortunate, for I came at a time when people were beginning to think about and remember the brave good men who made American democracy. Mr. [Carl] Van Doren here has written not a little about them; so have many others. I put them into novels as I believed them to have been, and if the books were successful, it was because the people were hungry for truth and hope and sick of the cascade of mud with which reaction tends to dirty everything and anything which is for America, for people, and for democracy.
I am very happy and very proud of this award. I feel as one of the other persons at this table did, when he discovered he was going to receive an award tonight. He said, "It means more to me than any award I ever got--because it comes from people who, I know, understand what I am trying to do."