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CONROY, JACK - Fine Literary Letter Mentioning 'The Disinherited' and Richard Wright’s 'Native Son'
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CONROY, JACK - Fine Literary Letter Mentioning 'The Disinherited' and Richard Wright’s 'Native Son'

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CONROY, JACK. (1899-1990). American writer who pioneered proletarian literature with his novels The Disinherited and A World to Win. TLS. (“Jack Conroy”). 1p. 4to. Chicago, November 1, 1940. On letterhead of The New Anvil magazine to notable Civil War scholar and autograph collector ARNOLD F. GATES (1914-1993).


A thousand thanks for your good letter of October 18. It was considerably delayed in reaching me, due to the fact that Covici-Friede have been bankrupt for a year and more. Of course, I am gratified and pleased to know that you enjoyed ‘A World to Win’ five years after publication, and particularly since it didn’t make a tremendous splash in the literary pond. Yet some people liked it, and I am more or less satisfied. I hope you’ll get hold of a copy of my first novel, ‘The Disinherited.’ It had quite a wide critical response, and has been selling rather steadily for seven years, or did until Covici went blooey. There has been quite a brisk demand for it, since the Beards devoted several pages to it in their ‘America in Midpassage’, published last year. Most readers and critics prefer the first novel. I won a Guggenheim fellowship in 1935, and began work on a study of the migration of workers, white and Negro, from the South immediately before, during, and after the World War period. It was my first experience with a non-fiction title, and I’ve struggled with it a long time trying to make it read in a more lively fashion than the Congressional Record. I’m about ready to give it up and try a novel again, perhaps one about the coal miners again. In addition to writing, I have edited magazines now and then. The latest is The New Anvil, a revival of The Anvil. I make an earnest effort to encourage and print new writers who are not getting a hearing elsewhere. Richard Wright, whose ‘Native Son’ I hope you have read, was first printed in the old Anvil. I’m sending you a copy or two, and hope you’ll like it. Thanks again for your letter, and if you get hold of ‘The Disinherited’ I hope you’ll let me know how you like it, if you do, and if you don’t, why you don’t like it…”


Conroy’s writings spanned 50 years and defied literary convention. His talent was first recognized by H. L. Mencken who published his stories in The American Mercury. Conroy’s first novel, The Disinherited, discussed in our letter, was an autobiographical account of his own life, growing up in a coal mining camp, being forced to abandon his education, and the hardships he endured while working and losing a string of factory jobs. Considered a keystone of proletarian literature, The Disinherited was rejected by 12 publishers before its 1933 publication by Covici-Friede. The New York firm specialized in limited editions before branching out into fiction during the Great Depression, but was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1937. Our letter also mentions Conroy’s second novel A World to Win, a proletarian novel of the Great Depression published in 1935.


In 1933, Conroy founded the literary magazine The Anvil, whose motto was “We Prefer Crude Vigor to Polished Banality,” and which published the works of Erskine Caldwell, Nelson Algren and Richard Wright (1908-1960), best known for his novel Native Son, published the year of our letter. Like Conroy, Wright lived in Chicago where he was involved in communist politics and authored proletarian works. From 1938-1942, Conroy co-edited The New Anvil with Algren and published such luminaries as William Carlos Williams and Langston Hughes.


Conroy is likely discussing his work on the Illinois Writers’ Project where he was assigned to document African-American folklore, industrial folklore and the migration of workers from the South to the North. With Harlem Renaissance poet Arna Bontemps, he authored a book of folktales, The Fast Sooner Hound, in 1942, and They Seek a City on the subject of the Great Migration, published in 1945.  


Our letter mentions America in Midpassage by American historian Charles Beard (1874-1948) and his wife, historian and social justice advocate Mary Beard (1876-1958) and described in the May 16th, 1939 issue of the Kirkus Review as “an extraordinarily extensive survey of the history of this country, political, social, economic, literary and artistic – from the days of the ‘golden glow’ of Coolidge's administration, up to the present.”


Gates, a well-respected amateur historian of the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln, devoted 50 years to researching those subjects, reviewing books for the Lincoln Herald and contributing to such works as the anthology Lincoln for the Ages. He was an avid letter writer and “friend and unofficial agent of many a noted author,” (“Autographica Curiosa: How Not to Impress Emily Post,” Autograph Magazine, Butts). His own books include Amberglow of Abraham Lincoln and Ann Rutledge, Amberglow of Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed, Song of the Leaves: Quest of Johnny Appleseed and The Weaver.


Lightly toned at the edges. In very good condition. In excellent condition and uncommon.



Item #19600

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