2016 JJLS Valentine Essay Contest Winners

“He had not meant, when he started the whole thing, for it to become such a big operation, such a production. But from the moment he had first stepped inside Woolworth’s with his mind made up and had gone to the candy counter and silently picked out the box, that was what it seemed to become nevertheless. And now, with it the last day before Valentine’s Day, and Woolworth’s ready to close up in just a few minutes, everything couldn’t have been worse.”

So opens “The Valentine,” a short-story by James Jones that explores the heart-breaking vulnerability of youth.

High School winners of the annual James Jones Literary Society’s “The Valentine” essay contest were recently announced by Chairperson Diane Reed. Jones’s short story tells the anguish suffered by a shy middle school boy who secretly vows to shows his love for his crush, the most popular girl in his class. After reading and discussing the story, students are asked to write an essay of at least 500 words reflecting on their reaction to it.

Congratulations to the 2016 winners from these eastern Illinois high schools :

First Place

Sydney Hoggatt, Marshall High School

Mykaela Patterson, Robinson High School

Second Place

Vance Oetjen, Marshall High School

Elaina Llewellyn, Robinson High School

Third Place

Alexandra Gower, Robinson High School

Lane Brown, Marshall High School

Marshall

Above:  Winners of the Valentine contest from Marshall High School and sponsors are, are from left: Amy Gard, sponsor; Sydney Hoggatt, first place; Megan Wilkinson, honorable mention; Kai Durflinger, honorable mention; Lane Brown, third place; Vance Oetjen, second place; and Alyson Thompson, presenter on behalf of the JJLS.

Garrett-Lexi-Kaela-Paige

Above:  Winners of the Valentine contest from Marshall High School included, from left: Garrett Blagrave, honorable mention; Alexandra Gower, third place; Mykaela Patterson, first place, and Paige Stewart, honorable mention.

Above, left, is Elaina Llewellyn, second place from Robinson High School. At right is Diane Reed, chairperson of the JJLS Valentine Essay Contest, and Mykaela Patterson, first place winner from Robinson High School.

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Special screening of ‘Eternity’ musical

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CHARLESTON, IL: A special screening of the new film, From Here to Eternity – The Musical, will be shown in the Doudna Fine Arts Center’s Lecture Hall on Saturday, April 23. Presented free of charge, the film will be shown at 4 p.m.  This one-time only performance is presented through special arrangement with renowned lyricist Tim Rice, and his special relationship with the James Jones Literary Society.

Based upon the James Jones novel, From Here to Eternity – The Musical is the film adaptation of a musical with music and lyrics by Tim Rice and Stuart Brayson and a book by Bill Oakes. The staged musical premiered at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London’s West End in 2013.

For those unfamiliar with Jones’ novel or Tim Rice’s adaptation, From Here to Eternity – The Musical is set in pre-war Pearl Harbor during 1941, where the girls sing “don’cha like Hawaii”, the men of G Company sing the blues, and where even on an army base, love and desire are never very far away. When main character Private Prewitt falls for the kind hearted escort club girl Lorene, and when his platoon sergeant, Warden, embarks on a dangerous affair with his commanding officer’s wife, the lives of both men are set on a course they cannot control. As war approaches, the worlds of the four lovers and the soldiers of G Company are dramatically ripped apart.

The production is full of interesting characters and fabulous dance scenes. Critics are hailing the adaptation as ‘everything you want from a musical’ (Hollywood News) and one critic from London’s Radio 4, Saturday Review exclaiming ‘the best new score I’ve heard in London for a very long time.’

From Here to Eternity was the debut novel of Robinson, Illinois native James Jones. Published in 1951 it is considered one of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century by the Modern Library Board. The book was later made into an Academy Award-winning film starring Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift and Frank Sinatra.

The Doudna Fine Arts Center’s one-time only presentation of From Here to Eternity – The Musical is presented free of charge. No tickets are required but seating in the Doudna Lecture Hall is limited. EIU’s English and History departments, the College of Arts and Humanities, The Doudna Fine Arts Center, and the James Jones Literary Society sponsor the performance.

The Doudna Fine Arts Center is located at 1860 South 7th Street in Charleston on the campus of Eastern Illinois University. Convenient free parking is located near the fine arts center. To arrange accommodations for those needing special assistance, contact Doudna Fine Arts Patron Services at 217-581-3110 ordoudnatix@eiu.edu.

Looking back at James Jones

By Lawrence Garber

In Viet Journal, the second-to-last work James Jones published before his death in 1977 at age fifty-five, there is recorded one of the most poignant moments in modern American literature. Poignant, that is, for Jonesians everywhere. On his way home from a writing assignment in Viet Nam where he witness the final phase of U.S. involvement there — an old soldier assessing a new kind of war — Jones made an unplanned stop in Hawaii. It was late March, 1973, thirty-one years since he had last seen these islands as an infantryman at Schofield barracks, twenty-two years since he had made claim to them as his own mythical territory in From Here to Eternity. He was nearing fifty-two, already beginning his slow death of congestive heart failure, a craggy, middle-aged ruin of the fierce cock-of-the-walk he had once been; and this was his nostos, a return of Odyssean magnitude to the one spiritual home that had permanently scored his consciousness (an ours) that had made all his literature possible, that had set his attitudes for life.
cms_visual_39708It is not given to many to have such a place to return to, one that resonates so clearly and painfully with a sense of genesis, and Jones records the compulsion to re-enter his past as if under the sway of siren-songs: “I had not been in Viet Nam more than a week, before I knew I was going to do it. And once I had made up my mind, it seemed I had known all along that I would go. That I could not not go. A sounding of Recall. The song ‘Jamaican Farewell’ was much in my mind…” In The White Album, Joan Didion has written that Hawaii belongs to Jones in the same way that Kilimanjaro belongs to Hemingway and Oxford, Mississippi, to Faulkner; places not only of sources but of recapitulations, terrains for discovering where we have gone because we have never quite left them. In Honolulu, on Waikiki, at Schofield barracks, Jones retraced his steps, seeing out what remained of his youth, “a certain twenty-two-year-old boy, walking along Kalakaua Avenue in a ‘gook’ shirt.” It was something akin to the seven stations of the cross of for the man who had written the finest army novel in the language while still in his twenties: the Royal Hawaiian Hotel (preserve of the officers), the New Senator Hotel (where Lorene in Eternity had worked as a prostitute), Wu Fat’s Chinese restaurant (where Maggio had gone off guard duty and into the stockade), the Waialae Golf Coruse (where Prewitt had been killed trying to return to his unit), the Post Library where Jones himself had first read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel and knew instantly that he had been a writer all his life without having yet written a word. One has to understand that Jones’s return at fifty-two to the setting of his first novel was a return for all of us who had been moved and turned by the great work: a kind of communal nostos for a generation that had discovered in Jones the perfect voice of revolt and conscience.

But during the tour, Jones was disturbed, too, by all the things that had changed of the world he had known and understood and a profound sense of futility and loss shades his account. Something to do as well with the scorched veteran of life he had become, with the personal and literary wars he had fought and lost and drawn since the heady days of his first success. Then, on the day of his departure, the climatic moment: that morning he drove out to Makapuu Head, for “something kept telling me I shouldn’t miss Makapuu.” One the way there, Jones became increasingly depressed as he saw how the landscape had altered, the farms and cattle ranges gone, the bulldozers and earthmoving equipment at work extending the Lunalilo Freeway. It had been at Makapuu Point in November of 1941 — a month before the Japaneses attack on Pearl Harbour — that Jones’s F Company had dug five pill-boxes into the cliff rocks, and now, suddenly, as Jones got closer, “the constantly starting and stopping cars…seemed no longer to be there…A curtain had dropped behind me, cutting me off from them, and with a kind of frightened, awed wonder I stood looking at a scene that had not changed one glass blade since I had last looked at it thirty years before.” Then a further miracle of sorts happened and Jones was not only merely encountering the landscape of his past but, for a brief awesome moment, reliving it as the young man he had once been:

My feet started carrying me up the complex of faded paths as surely as thought they knew the way before my eyes did…. They were all there. All five of them. I stood in each of them a long time, looking out and remembering times when late at night I had sat behind machine-guns in all of them, staring out into the dark toward Rabbit Island and the beach that faced it. When I came up out of the last one and started back down, I looked down and automatically placed my foot on a natural step in the rock that we had always sued to climb in or out. I was still there, unchanged, uneroded, unchipped. An my foot still knew where it was. I stood staring down at it for several seconds, shocked, and when I looked back up and looked down the hill at the tourists and the clustered cars, it was as if I were back in 1942, when the overlook was empty, peering forward into an unforeseeable future when it would be open and crowded with sightseers, as it was now. The only thing that was different was that I was alone, that there was nobody with me.

But Jones wasn’t alone. As one of the millions of readers who had read From Here to Eternity in the fifties and thrilled to its realistic depiction of the peacetime army and the tragic rituals of honour and comradeship, and as one of the considerably fewer who held onto the faith over the years that Jones was unique, an American original, whose gifts were instinctive rather than learned (like a Joe Louis, a Rocky Marciano), I like to think that Jones’s lonely nostos was a shareable thing, that he had built a spiritual landscape in his work of textured and tactile that it could be inhabited permanently like all the great houses of fiction. The real estate of Elysium. Many would disagree, and I must admit that my own perspective on Jones and his accomplishments has long ago passed beyond the critical and into something resembling a personal graph. In the way of an unofficial apostle, I tend to see all of his many flaws and complexes and limitations as the weaves in a larger, bolder tapestry. Certainly, after the great success of Eternity, his reputation suffered considerably (the price for writing an early great novel must always be paid in America, Jones himself knew); from Some Came Running  onwards, critical perceptions of his work were variously lukewarm and cruel, and eventually dismissive. The point has always been, thought, that either Jones’s impact on his readers was immediate and personal, or not at all. It has to do with the kind of writer he was, digging directly into his own sounds for material, making absolutely no attempt to compromise or camouflage his own obsessions, never playing it safe. That, above all else, is why he appealed so powerfully to me and a whole generation still in their teens when From Here to Eternity appeared in 1951. Even then, at the height of his early fame, a winner of the National Book Award, the last author to be edited by Maxwell Perkins at Scribner’s, growing rich, there were those who thought his world view as basically adolescent, filled with half-baked philosophies, narrow macho codes and the residues of his own sexual frustration. The truth was that at the deepest psychological level he had tapped into the fundamental crisis of untried youth and the response, particularly of my generation, had been profound and overwhelming. No other novel of the time was more fantasized over than this one.

I can remember bothering my father to drive me down to Coles bookstore at Yonge and Charles in downtown Toronto when I was fourteen to buy a copy of the first paperback printing of From Here of Eternity with its famous black-and-red bugle cover. I knew that they would not have sold me, over the counter, this hesitating, skinny kid with brushcut and glasses, such a sizzling work, and my father had to go in to buy it for me. I can still to this day still inhale the smell of that fresh Signet pulp paper, like the scent of oil on leather. I remember the following summer when I first tired my hand at a novel, a fifteen-year-old’s version of Jones’s epic, sitting in our backyard on Rostrevor Raod, writing in longhand on long yellow sheets an army novel called The Boovermak Episode, which ran to three hundred pathetic pages and managed to recycle every relationship, incident and tragic nuance of the original. I remember that when I first went to Paris in 1962 I would gravitate regularly to the Ile St. Louis where Jones and his family lived in a remarkable apartment at 10 Quai d’Orleans overlooking the Seine; circling the area, I would sometimes linger in the narrow rue Budé in front of the heavy entrance doors wondering if I would ever muster the courage to push the buzzer and pay my respects. I never did, though Jones was known to be a notoriously easy touch and extraordinarily generous to people like myself, aspiring young writers without credentials. I became an habituté of Shakespeare and Company, an untidy little bookstore across the river because I knew that Jones sometimes dropped around to scour the shelves or attend cocktail parties in the upstairs quarters. George Whitman, an American, who still runs it, was equally generous to young people going for broke in the land of Hemingway; there was free coffee on a hot plate upstairs, chairs and sofas for reading, corners for down-and-outers to sleep in overnight; if you re-shelved a book with your bookmark still in place George wouldn’t sell it until you had finished. The sort of place Jones would’ve liked, unpretentious, fundamental, open-ended. I met him there one afternoon, at last, as he browsed along the narrow corridors of shelves. He was square-bodied, lantern-jawed, fierce-looking; not a big man but he gave the impression of compacted power that went all the way to his eyes. I managed to push out something, half-greeting, half-tribute, and he nodded, and that was it,sadly. And I remembered an hour’s conversation with Mary McCarthy in London, Ontario, a few years after his death, when she spoke of his problems as a writer and virtues as a man. I ought to have paid him a call in Paris, she said; he was good at that sort of thing. Strangers who buzzed him up from the rue Budé often stayed for dinner.

After the terrific impact I had experienced with From Here to Eternity, I took to following his career as closely as I have any writer’s. At the broadcast publicity level, that wasn’t difficult since Jones was perhaps the first post-World War II writer to achieve international celebrity, to sign blockbuster multi-deal contracts, to leave live out the dream of the rich and famous American artists living in Europe, wintering in Klosters, Switzerland, scuba-diving in Greece and the Bahamas, establishing at his residence in Paris a gathering place for expatriates where the weekly Saturday evening parties were legendary. He was regarded as a cultural phenomenon by the media right from the start, good copy this heartland American ex-soldier boy who marched brashly into Max Perkins’s office at Scribner’s, carrying his manuscript in a box, demanding attention; who had written the most exciting novel of the decade while crossing America in a trailer; who kept a vast collections of guns and knives and knew how to use them; who boxed for real, and was photographed by Life in his fencing outfit, daring the fates to take him on. Norman Mailer called him the most naturally gifted author of his generation, Ed Murrow interviewed him on “Person to Person,” and the somewhat misleading myth of the noble savage who had seized his moment and confounded the establishment began. It was a trap that extent of which Jones only realized later, but it was the sort of story — helped along at the time by Jones himself — that proved as fascinating to the public as the big novel he had produced.

And, of course, every subsequent book he wrote I bought and devoured, even when the reviews ran thin and wicked: the 1,266-page Some Came Running (1957),the most exhaustive study of mid-western America in the language; the jewel-precision war novella, The Pistol (1959); the scuba-diving study of masculinity and its illusions, Go to the Widow-Maker (1967); the short-story collection, The Ice Cream Headache (1968), containing some pre-Eternity material that dealt with the pain of coming of age in the middle of American; his misfiring novel built around the Paris student revolution of 1968, The Merry Month of May (1971); his gutsy excursion into the hard-boiled detective genre à la Chandler and Hammett, A Touch of Danger (1973) and WWII (1975), the latter an informal history of the war ostensibly written to accompany reproductions of war art but containing perhaps the best account of the Pacific theatre from the combat soldier’s point of view. Most of all, there was the war trilogy, the first and final books of which enveloped his career and defined his life. Eleven years after From Here to Eternity came The Thin Red Line (1962), considered to be the best combat novel since The Red Badge of Courage, and then the last book of the trilogy, so long delayed, that he was so desperately working on at this death, Whistle (1978), published posthumously, its final sections dictated on his deathbed. Fearing not death so much as not finishing.

But there was a lot I didn’t know about Jones that anyone interested in the significance of his life and work would want to know. Frank MacShane’s biography, Into Eternity — the first full biography — gives a needed shape and scope to the life and measures the man and the oeuvre in a way which makes no larger claims than his achievements justify or that Jones himself would have wanted. “The Life of James Jones, American Writer” is the subtitle of MacShane’s book, and it is in Jones’s quintessential Americanness, in his roots and in the curve of his career, that MacShane finds his theme:

James Jones story is American to the bone…[There was an] almost mythic quality [to] his rise from obscurity…He had appeared like a comet from the heart of America, and he wrote with a directness and a truthfulness that recalled such distinctly American writers as Walt Whitman and Mark Twain. No one before had quite expressed Jones’s vision of American as a country of people torn between optimism and cynicism…Jones felt the naked and desperate energy this fundamental schism created in American life, and he was therefore able to evoke a response in his readers that few of his contemporaries could match…A man with the most ordinary of names, he was interested in the most ordinary of people…The intimacy of the provincial world in which he grew up made him see how intensely emotional human relations really are.

Yet while in a large part MacShane’s biography is a tribute to the kind of man and writer Jones was, it is by no means a panegyric; if Jones was a diamond-in-the-rough, a forceful, compelling literary jock, his character was nevertheless deeply flawed. He was obstinate and crude, fascinated with violence, obsessed with the reaches of his own masculinity, individualistic to the point of dismissing most received wisdom on principle, irretrievably suspicious of intellectuals and of all forms of political activism (one cause of his falling out with Mailer), a drinker, a fighter, a bully, scornful of writers like Proust, Lawrence or James whom he considered “effete” and corruptive (his favorites were Kipling and Conrad), and mistrustful of women (me married at thirty-six, before which he preferred the uncomplicated company of prostitutes). MacShane’s ordering of his materials demonstrates not only how Jones combatted and struggled thought these warps and limitations in his personal life, but how, at the bravest level of self-awareness, he utilized them as an integral part of his work. Indeed, Jones is frequently depicted as a classically fissured personality, a textbook American paradox in whom toughness and generosity, sentiment and cynicism, conservatism and rebelliousness, compromise and integrity operated in uneasy, troubling relationship. No one was more personally respected and admired among his contemporaries than Jones, a man of deep emotional attachments and loyalties, of roisterous charm and genuineness; yet his volatile nature also rendered him unpredictable and capable at times of surprising meanness and impatience. Jones’s personality was in this way a battleground, an explosive field of shifting contrary pulls: a war within that permitted him to understand so well those other wars he fought as soldier and author. The appeal of such explosiveness and self-division to a generation born into blandness is obvious. Equally appealing is that throughout his career Jones attempted to resolve this fissure by creating in his books two central figures who could represent his own disturbing two-sidedness: Robert E. Lee Prewitt and Milt Warden, Dave Hirsh and ‘Bama Dillert, Jonathan Hartley and Harry Gallagher — idealists and cynics, rebels and compromisers. Jones even resurrected his three major figures from Eternity (Prewitt, Warden, Stark) and made them principals (under new names) in his other trilogy novels in order to trace their development and, by implication, his own in terms of the conflicts that had shaped his life. MacShane views this as an imaginatively creative act, a refusal to let go of the demons; and it is certainly true that few writers have been as scrupulous in confronting the big existential issues on the one hand and the narrow psychic debilities on the other that make humans perform as compulsively as they do.

MacShane’s treatment of Jones goes some way towards solving various puzzles that have always mystified me concerning his entrenched attitudes. Why are Jones’s fictional women, for instance, so unfinished as characters compared to the intensity and depth of his male figures? A soldier’s world, of course, is a predominately male realm, but even in his “civilian” novels like Some Came Running or The Merry Month of May women are dealt with in remarkably stereotypical terms, often as insidious Circe figures, endangering masculine honour and integrity, The facts of Jones’s background and rearing explains a lot here. He was born on November 6, 1921, in Robinson, Illinois, to parents already in their mid-thirties. As a boy he was neither as large nor as athletic as his older brother Jeff, had weak eyes, wore glasses, failed at organized sports and possess small hands; he “quickly found that the best defense was to be aggressive and he began to abandon his natural gentleness for a more aggressive attitude.” Out of frustration and anger, he became a rebellious figure at school where “he was unpopular with his classmates….because he always compared unfavorably with his brother,” a naturally gifted athlete. The cult of masculinity that pervades his early work can be seen to have its origins here, in his need to provide his strength of character, and to turn his essential loneliness and sense of inadequacy into a principle of independence. His relationship to his mother is another key to his attitudes regarding women and sexuality, for one of Jones’s greatest themes revolved around the notion of American sexual maladjustment. She was tough on him from the first and he disliked her intensely. In a letter to his brother in 1967, he remembered her as “totally selfish, totally self-centered, and totally whining and full of self-pity…she was also basically stupid.” MacShane writes that “in later years, Jones went out of his way to make sure he did not emulate her in any way and occasionally blamed her for shortcomings in his own life. Undoubtedly she affected his attitude towards women, making him cautious and mistrustful.” When he was dying of congestive heart failure (she had died of the same disease in 1941), he went so far as to curse her memory for having willed him what he considered to be a hereditary weakness. Her influence on his sexual attitudes was even more direct:

One day, discovering that he was masturbating, she told him that if he continued to do so, his hand would turn black. For a while he stopped, but as the fear of his hand turning black receded, he started again. After discovering him in the act one night, his mother waited until he fell asleep and then went into his room and rubbed black shoe polish into the palm of his hand.

It is a curious thing, though, that however much he found commitment to women difficult, they tended to direct his life in powerful ways. The second important women whose influence shaped his attitudes was Lowney Handy, a figure who is one of the more bizarre minor footnotes in the history of American literature, and out of whose character Jones later drew a devastating portrait in Go to the Widow-Maker. Also, a resident of Robinson, Illinois, she was forty years old, seventeen years Jones’s senior, when he moved in with her and her husband following his discharge from the army. Lowney saw in Jones the makings of a great writer and herself as a kind of midwife to literature whose essential task was to provide the proper atmosphere and training for her proteges, of which Jones was the first. She became his mistress, apparently with her husband’s approval, not so much out of love or even promiscuity, but as “a charitable act,” servicing Jones’s sexual needs so that he could give his full attention to his writing. This was typical of Lowney’s views regarding the creative imagination and she was, in every way, a woman of fixed, dogmatic ideas concerning art,  sex, philosophy. Her plan from the beginning was to develop Jones as a person “so that he would be capable of writing the novel she sensed was in him, struggling to get out.” She was self-taught, attracted to the individualism of the American transcendentalists, convinced that only the most spartan regimens  could push an artists into producing a great work. For fifteen years she dominated Jones’s life and thinking, taught him how to overcome and re-channel personal bitterness and private anger, and managed to transform his earlier “adolescent” yearning for an ideal woman’s love into something pragmatic and cynical: “Under Lowney’s tutelage, he lost his former yearning for a woman to love, and now looked upon sex simply as a biological urge that needed occasional tending.” Women, love, marriage, were the enemies of artistic freedom, she counselled, entrapments that diminished male energy, sapped and distracted from creative power.

After the enormous success of Eternity, Jones helped Lowney found her famous “Colony,” a barracks-like compound in Marshall, Illinois, where aspiring young writers were made to live in austere minimal conditions, follow her instructions to the letter and go through a form of physical and mental training devised to release their fundamental masculine nature (belching, farting and coarse language at the table was encouraged). The Colony and its rules became legendary and Life magazine did a nine-page spread — called “James Jones and His Angel” — on the experiment. It was run on Spartan principles reminiscent of the army:: there was a special diet for colonists based on Lowney’s study of Yoga, 6:30 a.m. rising, lights out at 8 p.m., no newspapers or radio, no women members or female visitors, physical labor in the afternoon, exercises in copying out word for word the published works of masters like Hemingway, Faulkner and Jones himself (a practice based on Lowney’s theory of “osmosis”), and fifty dollars a month for a trip to the whores in Terre Haute. This “literary boot camp” was intended to purge the colonists of ego,  to develop the discipline and self-knowledge necessary to write important work which meant, Lowney preached, ridding themselves of all external relationships and ambition. She encourages her young men to renounce family, marriage and emotional relations and all “sissyfying” Proustian impulses were discouraged by the threat of instant expulsion. .Jones was, of course, cock of the walk at the Colony, absolved from many strictures, and at the center of a world he could control. Eternity was, naturally, the model all colonists aspired to. But gradually even he began to realize Lowney’s limitations and the limited life that was offered there — a perverse extension of the regimentations of the Schofield barracks — an escape from the sort of emotional responsibilities that came with fuller, freer relationships he had been schooled to mistrust. And for all Lowney’s messianic zeal, history will record that not a single significant novel ever came out of the Colony; only Tom Chamales’ Never So Few is remembered at all.

Jones’s escape from Lowney’s domination was one of those difficult, bloody breakouts that characterized most of his choices; but the woman who replaced her, actress Gloria Mosolino, whom he married in 1957, gave a domestic and social order to his life that broke the pattern of barracks regimentation he compulsively maintained since his army days in Hawaii. Gloria was a beauty (she had been a stand-in for Marilyn Monroe during the filming of The Seven Year Itch) from a slightly shady Mafia family in Pottsville, Pennsylvania; she was stubborn and strong in the Jones mold, a party-girl and a gambler, and there is something of Bogart and Bacall in the fireworks they generated in their first years together. That marriage brought out new and surprising aspects of Jones; it certainly game him a healthier perspective concerning his own masculinity, muted the violent streak in him, and established him at the center of a more stable circle than he had ever known. Paris became their home for seventeen years where Jones discovered himself playing mentor and pater familias  to countless expatriate Americans passing through. And because of his own unstable childhood and lack of strong bonds with his parents (his father had committed suicide when Jones was in the army), he was determined to provide a settled, happy environment for his own two children, Kaylie and Jaimie. In this phase of his life, grounded in a kind of island domesticity, Jones was able to pushed beyond the sacrosanct rituals of male boning in his work and in Go to the Widow-Maker, his fourth novel, he could take an ironic and even comical view of those macho codes and anxieties that had been so deeply embedded in the sweats of Eternity.

But as MacShane’s skilled deployment of his materials shows, Jones, for all the powerful women in his life, had been shaped by the army and it never left him. His work ethic and discipline were impressive; the collection of knives and guns was oiled and tended with the fastidiousness of a man who still needed to believe that his survival depended on them; the Friday evening poker games that eventually replaced the Saturday night parties at 10 Quai D’Orleans were boisterous and risky and in them was something of the gambling pits that he had  known in Honolulu and at Schofield barracks. Yet if he had been shaped by war, he also knew how to revise the experience, how to give heroism another name. He had won the Purple Heart at Guadalcanal but he had never been under any illusions about the nature of courage. A Japaneses soldier he had bayonetted to death had caught him unawares defecating in the jungle and their grapplings had a dark gallows humor to it; the “wound” that brought him home in the middle of the Pacific campaign was a bad ankle suffered during a football game scrimmage; his discharge from the army in 1944 had been prompted by a series of psychiatric reports that found him mentally unfit for further combat. Like Stephen Crane before him, Jones was determined to be absolutely authentic in his report of similar men in extremis, to see fear and hopelessness as the twin dynamos that propelled millions of infantrymen through the shadow of the valley. The interwoven subtitle to WWII is “Evolution of a Soldier,” and Jones’s war novels can themselves be seen to evolve from prelude (Eternity) to combat (The Thin Red Line) to aftermath (Whistle). In each case, heroism suffers a further diminishment from its customary meaning. It is a cynical view that less and less romanticizes its own sense of grief; and in the final pages of that last novel at the end of his life, the recycled version of Prewitt, Warden, Fife and Stark find no way out of their misfit states except through suicide and madness.

MacShane offers a further surprise to those (myself included) who always viewed Jones as a primitive operating on gut instinct for the authentic in human relationships. It had long been a cherished belief of mine that Jones was a natural in every sense, that even his trademark stylistic awkwardness was somehow a confirmation of the instinctive straight-shooter I conceived him as being. It turns out, however, that Jones’s conscious literary ambitions were much higher than most gave him credit for. In preparing for From Here to Eternity, for instance, he steeped himself in Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Stendhl’s The Charterhouse of Parma, turning to epic models where the army itself had served as a microcosm of society. “He was eager to render the modern army as they [these authors] had rendered the armies of the preceding century. He knew that in the modern age military conflict had to be presented in modern terms, but he wanted to preserve the scale of the great nineteenth-century novels to which he hoped it would be compared.” He also experimented with language in Eternity, dispensing with apostrophes to get closer to the spoken language “where punctuation marks don’t exist;” and he deliberately devised an ungrammatically awkward prose to reflect the characters of his men and the world they inhabited, “to achieve a rhythm that would carry the emotional burden of what he was saying.”

Jones’s literary ambitions were certainly never small; only Thomas Wolfe before him in this century had possessed such an epic impulse for the grand, sweeping view. In Some Came Running, Jones claimed that he wanted “to do for the great American myth and illusion of romantic love what Cervantes did for the myth and illusion of chivalry.” When he finished that work, he posed for Life magazine with his twenty-three-hundred manuscript pages: “It was more than two feet thick and Jones could barely hold it.” From Jones the epic vision had to be made a tactile thing, dependent as much on literal weightiness as on great designs. Jones called this work his most misunderstood; no work by an author has ever received more vicious reviews. Yet Running is technically his most adventurous novel. Who would have guessed, for instance, that Jones had been influenced by the impressionist experiments of Flaubert and Ford Madox Ford? Yet Jones attempted to work a variation of le style indirect libre into his narratorial strategies in Running, using devices “intended to break down the barrier that traditionally exists between the language of the narrator and the language of the characters.” He believed that the abrupt change between colloquial dialogue and formal narrative was jolting, [and] he tried to reproduce in storytelling the quasi-grammatical circumlocutions he thought typical of midwestern speech and thought.” MacShane ranks Some Came Running — despite its structural flaws and tonal inconsistencies — with the work of Anderson, Wolfe and Steinbeck in portraying “the feelings and beliefs of a hitherto unrecorded segment of the American population…allowed to speak with an honesty and directness” uncommon in literature. In fact, every novel that Jones wrote was carefully conceived at the most erudite levels. The Thin Red Line, a combat novel modeled partly on Stendahl and partly on the Battle of Borodino section of War and Peace, was “meant to go further than either of those books in emphasizing the absurdity of war while concentrating on the personal side of combat and on enlisted men rather than officers.” To capture that personal side, Jones developed a another special narrative technique: “The story is told from the point of view of an omniscient narrator; but without breaking the rhythm of the narrative, Jones switches into the head of an individual soldier so that the reader has simultaneously an overview of what is happening.” Jones as  Joycean? The notion is mind-boggling, yet he is revealed as a disciplined craftsman throughout his writing life, charged with the sense of literary tradition, pushing himself into difficult technical ranges, later influenced by the theories of Robert Ardrey and Tielhard de Chardin whose ideas he approached with a freshness and even a naivete inherent in his larger suspicions of all doctrinaire systems.

As in many an American fable, he came home to America to die… In 1974, he accepted an appointment at the Florida International University (Miami) as part-time visiting professor in creative writing. At a salary of $27,500 (for a writer who averaged between $160,000 and 200,000 a year) he conducted seminars and offered pithy, epigrammatic advice:

Show me the sympathetic insurance man. Everybody suffers.

The key is to catch the main character on the cusp of change.

Keep your first drafts.

A lot of American girls have built-in chaperons.

Jones’s decision to return to America was partly the result of having felt himself to have been a tourist in France for seventeen years; he had never learned the language properly, had had little to do with French literary circles (he considered the nouvelle vague creatively bankrupt), never troubled to understand the complex nuances of French society, and eventually saw “how artificial his relationship to France had been.” Such cultural loneliness has been self-induced, of course; he loved Paris as a city and the life-style it could offer him, but like many Americans living in Europe, he worked around the culture that was not his own, preferring the role of un-involved witness which is another form of freedom. Eventually, though, that sense of distance — which had produced The Merry Month of May — made him anxious to re-enter the American experience which had seeded his finest work, and after Florida, Jones and family settle in a farmhouse in Sagaponack, Long Island, where the race to finish Whistle was almost won.

He died at 7:45 p.m., May 9, 1977. All those who had been weaned on his fiction took the loss badly.The novel that we knew he had long planned on the gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt would never be written,. At the funeral service, old friends like William Styron and Irwin Shaw and Willie Morris delivered moving eulogies. The most highly regarded bugler in the army — arranged by Senator Edward Kennedy — played taps. It had been a brave death; alert and working on Whistle almost to the very end, he had sat on the edge of his hospital bed with tubes attached to his body, knowing that his heart could fail at any moment, dictating to Willie Morris in a faint voice the ends he had planned for those other soldiers, Prewitt, Warden, Stark, he understood so well. Dying himself and swiftly, he guided them into death with him.

There is an anecdote which touches nicely on what Jones means to me. It occurs about two-thirds of the way through MacShane’s masterly biography. In Paris,

After a quarrel in the car that made Jones walk away and leave Gloria to drive home alone, she became so flustered that she couldn’t get the motor to start. When a policeman arrived, she explained the situation by saying “Mon mari est en chaleur.” [My husband is hot.] Surprised, the policeman helped to get the car started and said, “Madame, you are very fortunate. I advise you to hurry home at once.”

There is a great deal of truth in that malapropism for Jones was always a writer in heat, never letting up on the intensity with which he confronted the big issues, never retreating from the larger questions a writer can ask. If he lacked the smoother skills of his immediate contemporaries, the daring political consciousness of Mailer, the narrative controls of Styron, the stylistic graces of Capote or Mathiessen, there was still a genuineness, a largess, a particular rage to his work that made him an American original. What Thomas Wolfe had been for Jones, Jones became for much of the generation growing up in the fifties.

I definitely should have pushed that buzzer in the rue Budé.

Lawrence Garber, Ph.D., is a retired from the  faculty of the University of Western Ontario, however he continues to teach there part-time and is a recipient of the Angela Armitt Award for Excellence in Teaching by Part-Time Faculty. He is the author of several works of fiction including Sirens and Graces (Stoddart, 1983) and Visions Before Midnight (Penguin Canada, 1980).

Reprinted with permission from Lawrence Garber. This essay appeared in The Brick Reader (Coach House Press, 1991).

 

 

 

 

Some Go Hungry is an extension of the same hypocrisy and religious bigotry Jones wrote about so long ago.

By J. Patrick Redmond

James Jones often said that what a writer does is he fools with the facts. In his second novel, Some Came Running, inspired by his hometown of Robinson, Illinois, Jones shines a light into the dark undercurrent of hypocrisy and religious bigotry in the fictional town of Parkman, Ill. And, in doing so, he angered many people in Robinson. He fooled with their facts. To this day, what remains of the old guard, at the mere mention of Some Ccache_947126783ame Running, still turn up their noses and purse their lips. I imagine dinner conversations at the country club in which the name “James Jones” is whispered, as Midwesterners tend to do when uncomfortable, like saying cancer or homosexual. I am a Midwesterner. I understand them. I know my people.

I met Kaylie Jones, the daughter of James Jones, in March of 2010 at Books and Books in Coral Gables, Florida, during her book tour for Lies My Mother Never Told Me.  I told her I was born and raised in Vincennes, Indiana, just across the Wabash River from Robinson, that my family had been in the restaurant business in my hometown for over a half-century. I told her my story. “Nothing has changed in almost 60 years,” she said. “My father wrote about the same thing.” She advised me to read Some Came Running.

My novel, Some Go Hungry, which comes out May 3, 2016, is an extension of the same hypocrisy and religious bigotry Jones wrote about so long ago. A young man perceived to be gay is murdered; his body disposed of in a farm field drainage ditch—his hometown apathetic. It was just a gay guy they seemed to say. Twenty years after the murder, a restaurant family finds itself embroiled in a similar battle, not of their making, with a youth pastor at the local fundamentalist church.

I, too, fooled with the facts. In Some Go Hungry the fictional community of Fort Sackville, IN, shares the same sort of soil, the same puritan code as Parkman, Ill. And I’m certain, just like James Jones, in some hometown circles my name will also be whispered. There is something about shedding light on hypocrisy and religious bigotry that still angers a great many people. But I am honored to be in Jones’ company, and if it weren’t for him and his daughter Kaylie, we might all still be sitting in the dark.

J. Patrick Redmond was born and raised in southern Indiana and recently returned to his home state after sixteen years of living in South Florida. He has an MFA in creative writing and literature from Stony Brook University in Southampton, New York. He is a contributing blogger for the Huffington Post, and his writing has appeared in the NOH8 Campaign blog, the Southampton Review, and in the Barnes & Noble Review’s Grin & Tonic. He is also the 2012 recipient of the Deborah Hecht Memorial Prize in Fiction. Some Go Hungry (Kaylie Jones Books, 2016) is his first novel.

Some Go Hungry, an e-first book also available in paperback, will be available in May 2016 from Akashic Books, Amazon and at independent book stores.

James Jones leaves the Army

 

Campbell_1
Fort Campbell, Kentucky, under construction in 1942. In 1943-44, James Jones was stationed here after being wounded on Guadalcanal.

By George Hendrick

Dr. Hendrick is a retired University of Illinois English professor and department chair who served as the first president of the James Jones Literary Society. He has edited two books regarding Jones: To Reach Eternity: The Letters of James Jones and To the End of the War.

Wounded on Guadalcanal in January 1943 and suffering from an injured ankle, the psychologically distressed James Jones (1921-1977) was sent to a hospital near Memphis, Tennessee. Once able to move about, Jones was given passes to go into Memphis. He took a suite of rooms in the Peabody Hotel, where there was non-stop drinking and casual sex. Jones soon grew tired of the sexual scene but his heavy drinking continued. He felt guilty about being alive when many of his comrades were dead on Guadalcanal. He feared his luck had run out, that he would be found fit for duty and be sent to England in anticipation of D-day. He was angry, filled with rage, and deeply depressed. He was not receiving any psychological help for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Examined again, he was declared to be fit for duty. Because of his psychological state and his weak ankle, he had expected to be discharged. His reaction was to get drunk. He appealed for a reexamination, and this time he was classified as fit for noncombat duty. When his orders came in November 1943, he was assigned to the combat unit 26th Division, K Company, 101st Infantry Regiment preparing to be sent to England and then the invasion of France.

Angry and rejected, James went over the hill, taking an overnight train to Robinson, making his first visit since 1939. He stayed with his Uncle Charles and Charles’ wife Sadie. James Jones was obnoxious and drunk most of the time. Charles Jones believed that his drunken nephew was besmirching the Jones family name, just as the suicide of James Jones’s father, Dr. Ramon Jones, had dishonored the family. Aunt Sadie, afraid the two men would quarrel, decided to seek help for her nephew from Lowney Handy, an unofficial social worker in Robinson, who helpg pregnant girls, the down-and-out and troubled soldiers.

Married to Harry Handy, superintendent of the oil refinery there, Lowney was an unconventional free spirit who was interested in the Hindu religion, Theosophy and its founder, Mme. Helena Blavatsky, an occultist and spiritual medium. Sadie told Lowney, an unpublished writer, that Jones “thinks he wants to write.” Lowney agreed to see him.

Lowney described that meeting: “You should have seen him then. He swaggered; he wore dark glasses; he even asked me to read his poetry aloud. He had obviously come over for a free drink. Then he saw my books.” Lowney continued, “He flipped through them and plopped them back as if he were gulping down what they had in them.” Lost in the books, “The chip on the shoulder is gone,” Lowney said. “The poor guy. The poor lost guy.”

Jones’s poetry convinced Lowney, known for making quick decisions, that he was going to be a great writer. She would be a Pygmalion, helping him chisel his success. She would help him control his anger and erratic behavior. She was a true believer in Jones from the first day, probably November 3, 1943.

Jones returned to Lowney’s house the next day and took her to bed. Jones in some notes wrote that “she subjected herself to me, she made herself my disciple in everything from writing to love.” He was badly mistaken. The authoritarian Lowney had set out to dominate him, to alleviate his psychological problems, to get him discharged from the army, and to get him on the road to being a writer of renown.

At the end of two weeks, Jones returned to Camp Campbell; he was not court-martialed because a warrant officer had marked him “delayed in route.” Within a few weeks he was AWOL again, with Lowney and her husband, who did not object to her relationship with a troubled, aspiring writer. Upon his return to Camp Campbell at Christmas time, he was transferred to the 842nd Quartermaster Gas and Supply Company also stationed at Camp Campbell. He was soon made a company clerk. He was at work on his novel called They Shall Inherit the Laughter.

While he was busy as a clerk, he wrote his brother, “ideas, sentences, whole paragraphs would pop into my head – and I wasn’t able to write them down.” At night, he would write page after page of his novel, then tear them up and throw them away. To get a better environment for his work, he went AWOL again, probably about May 15, and stayed with artist friends in Indianapolis where, relieved from stress, he was able to write 20,000 words in two weeks.

Jones’s commanding officer, Captain Eugene A. Mailloux, inquired of Lowney where her protégé might be. She made telephone calls, located him in Indianapolis, and then went to Indianapolis to convince Jones to return to Camp Campbell. Lowney then wrote this disingenuous letter [her later handwritten marginal notes are in brackets]:

June 2, 1944 [4 days on D Day]

Captain Eugene A. Mailloux,

842nd Q.M. Gas Supply

Camp Campbell, Kentucky.

Dear Sir:

In answer to your inquiry concerning the whereabouts of my friend, Sgt. James R. Jones, I regret that I am unable to be of any help to you. I also want it on record that I will not assume responsibility for any of his erratic actions as he is the sort of person whose actions are positively unpredictable. Not that I mean this as derogatory, however, since you say you have checked with the men and studied his record I am certain you understand what I mean. I can furnish all sorts of proof from anyone living here in Robinson, his home town, as to his instability as an ordinary citizen, although harmless if left alone to work at the one thing he cares about.

Jones is an artist. He is very sensitive, and certainly far from conservative in his thinking. Like all artists he is not aware of any law, so cannot predict what he may do, am positive he has never understood the terms ethics as you and I define it. I have heard him say that when he was overseas he meant to kill his commander officer and that the only reason he did not do so was that the opportunity did not occur. [Capt. Mailloux had told me he meant to ship Jim overseas for D. Day This got him out at once – James read this while still in the Lock up was angry with me –.] This of course could have been a form of showing off, but I felt at the time that he spoke the truth.

On the other hand, I am sure, he is a writer of very rare promise. This is not only my own opinion but I have shown samples of his work to a number of people and they have been unusually impressed. Among these was Tom Uzzell, former fiction editor of Collier’s Weekly. All agree that he is brilliant, undoubtedly genius. If he is a poor soldier this will account for it, for genius is almost invariably remarkably astute in one line and utter failures in all others.

You say your aim is to help him. I am glad that he is in the hands of an understanding person who realizes that writers of his ability (my friends agree that he is in a class with Hemmingway [sic], Tom Wolfe, John Dos Passos, the few great develop so in a century.

If you are to check further with people living here in his home town, I suggest you write Bayard E. Heath, maker of the Heath Toffee Bar, who was a boyhood school friend of his father and [he] will confirm my state as to his lifelong instability and his suicide. Judge William B. McCarty will back this information that one of this father’s brothers was a gangster and ‘taken for a ride’ in East Saint Louis a few years ago. Also he will enlarge on the fact that another brother is a shyster lawyer, who had to leave here for a number of years, making his home in Florida because of crooked dealings. Dr. Sam S. Allen will give you medical statistics on the family histories of his parents, having the same instability on the maternal side. Mr. Maxwell Minor, one of his high school teachers, who still resides here will confirm his abnormal brilliance as well as all the trouble he caused the faculty. I have been told that he was son probation at this time, with talk of being sent to the reformatory, however, I cannot verify this and it may be nothing but gossip. But this I am sure, through his conversation to me, that he hates society and feels that he owes them nothing because of all the buffing around he has received. Both of his parents died while he was overseas and not yet twenty.

Again I wish to make it quite clear that I will not be held responsible for any of his notions, although I consider him quite harmless if he is allowed to follow his profession, I might even make it as strong as destiny. But there will never by any stability nor dependability in this character along the line of a good conservative citizen. This is the history of his case and even though I have made a tremendous effort on my part to help him and will do so again, I will not be accountable for anything he may do. I will wire or call you if I should hear of hers whereabouts.

Sincerely yours.

[Mrs. Lowney Handy]

I have not been able to verify that Jones wanted to kill his commanding officer. Jones’s Uncle Charles did not have a sterling reputation in Robinson. Jones’s Uncle Paul walked on the shady side, but I have not seen evidence that he was a gangster. I have seen no evidence that James Jones as a high school student was in serious trouble with the law.

Captain Mailloux responded to Lowney on June 7, 1944. Jones had returned on May 30, 1944: “As soon as he reported to me, I of course, put him under arrest. As I saw he was under some mental strain and in a very depressed mood, I called the Detachment Surgeon and had him placed under observation. They in turn are taking action toward a possible discharge under Section VIII, AR 615-630 (Inaptness or undesirable habits or traits of character).” Lowney and Jones knew the stigma attached to Section VIII discharges and wanted an honorable discharge for Jones. There was a major problem Jones had to overcome: because of his third AWOL he was to be court martialed.

Captain Mailloux assured Lowney that her letter of June 2, 1944, would be an exhibit, “to prove that he is mentally unbalanced.” The captain, however, believed that Jones was not mentally unbalanced and not Section VIII material. Instead, he asserted that Jones “is conceited, egotistical, selfish individual who thinks that he is a genius because a few people have told him so.” Still, the captain had certain sympathies for Jones, who had been wounded on Guadalcanal. Mailloux did say that whatever the medical decision was would also be his decision.

Captain Mailloux told Lowney that Jones should accept army orders “no matter what his personal feelings are. We all have a job to do these days and that personal ideals should be laid to one side until that job is done.” That is to say, Jones should expect to see duty in Europe.

Jones was sent to the stockade for a short time then moved to the neuropsychiatric ward for observation. Dr. Howard E. Roberts of the Medical Corps made these notes on June 1 about his interview with Jones: “Feels he had done his share and wants out to write because of intense desire to express himself. Says if he gets ordered overseas again he will commit suicide but the world will be the loser by missing his writing. Patient feels depressed mostly but has brief spells of elation. Sometimes he feels he stands outside of his body and see himself as an actor in a play. He has disturbed dreams and is bothered by memories of combat, blood, stench of death and hardships. Feels it was valuable to him tho as background for his writing.”

Dr. Roberts at first diagnosed “acute depression,” but after observing Jones’s “mood swings, compulsive behavior and some schizoid characteristics,” he also diagnosed psychoneurosis, mixed anxiety and compulsive types with schizoid trends.

Jones wrote to his brother Jeff on June 3 about his interview with Dr. Roberts. Jones thought he wasn’t believed when he said he would kill himself if ordered overseas again. If I don’t get out of the army, he wrote, “I’ll either go mad or turn into a criminal – which is just next door to a writer anyway; that all I want to do is write and that nobody and no thing means anything to me except writing.”

Lowney played on Captain Mailloux’s sympathy for Jones. She wrote him on June 10, 1944 saying she hoped he would continue to help her: “I agree with your statement that Pvt. Jones would be a tough job for somebody. And since you are convinced that I am the person to undertake it will do everything I possibly can. I am most anxious to work with you, since you are willing to see that he gets every opportunity as long as he is not favored above the group.” Lowney was going to be in Kentucky later in the week and hoped to talk with Captain Mailloux. She probably did see him. She did see Jones, and she undoubtedly gave him advice on how to present himself to Dr. Roberts and the Medical Board.

Captain Mailloux had also written to Jones’s brother, Jeff, and Jeff was then interviewed by a social worker. The social worker reported that Jeff believed his brother was a man of principle and honor but too much the individualist to fit into the army.

Captain Mailloux was away from Camp Campbell for a short time and Lt. Fred F. De Palma wrote Lowney on June 21, 1944, that he had seen Pvt. Jones in the Station Hospital the day before and he was dismissing the court-martial against Jones, allowing the Medical Board of Officers, meeting that night, to review the case and render a decision. De Palma had good news: “It’s almost a certainty that Jones will be discharged.” He continued, “The boy seemed to be relieved.”

Lt. De Palma assured Lowney that Captain Mailloux “probably exhausted every opportunity in helping out Jones.” De Palma had written to the captain the night before to bring him up-to-date on the Jones matter. De Palma wrote, “It’s just as he planned it.” The captain had changed his mind; his original view was that Jones should be sent to Europe.

Captain Mailloux still being absent, Lt. De Palma wrote Lowney on June 26, 1944: “It’s happened. Jones is now Jimmy. The only time he’ll see private is on a swinging door. We got his records completed here as soon as possible and transferred to the casual company that actually does the discharging.” The certificate of disability stated that at the time of enlistment Jones’s psychoneurosis was not in existence, and since it was not fault of his own he should be discharged “for disability in line of duty, and not due to his own misconduct.” Jones received an honorable discharge on July 6, 1944. Lowney claimed credit for the discharge. She did help change the captain’s mind.

For Jones’s wounding & transfer to Memphis, see MacShane, Into Eternity, pp. 54-62.

For Jones’s first AWOL and his meeting with Lowney Handy see A.B.C. Whipple, “James Jones and His Angel,” Life, May 7, 1951, pp. 142, 144, 147, 149, 150, 152, 154, 157. Jones wrote about his going AWOL and meeting Lowney in They Shall Inherit the Laughter; those chapters are included in To the End of War, ed. by George Hendrick. New York: Open Road Integrated Media, pp. 25-107.

For Jones on Lowney as his disciple, see To Reach Eternity, page 37. For Jones’s behavioral problems in Robinson while AWOL, and with his differences with his Uncle Charles, see To the End of the War, pp. 69-107, 147-150 & MacShane, Into Eternity, pp. 61-70.

For Jones’s writing before going AWOL for the 3rd time, see To Reach Eternity, p. 43.

The letter of Lowney Handy to Captain Mailloux, June 2, 1944, is from Archives/Special Collections, University of Illinois at Springfield.

Captain Mailloux to Lowney Handy, June 7, 1944; Mrs. Lowney Handy to Captain Mailloux, June 10, 1944; Lt. Fred F. De Palma to Lowney Handy, June 21, 1944; and Lt. De Palma to Lowney Handy, June 26, 1944, are from Archives/Special Collections, University of Illinois at Springfield. Dr. Roberts’s notes on James Jones are from Frank MacShane, Into Eternity, pp. 68-70.

For Dr. Roberts’s psychiatric report on Jones, see MacShane, Into Eternity, p. 69.

 

 

 

Snapshots from 2015 JJLS Symposium

Their stories told. Their voices heard.

fellows

Above, past James Jones First Novel Fellows, seated from left, Stephen Policoff, Leslie Schwartz, Greg Hrbek, and in back, Mary Kay Zuravleff, Robin Oliveria, Louise Wareham Leonard.

 

Their stories told. Their voices heard.

At the November 2015 symposium of the JJLS, six former James Jones First Novel Fellows reflected on how the fellowship has changed their lives — making it possible for their stories to be told, their voices heard.

The following fellows participated in a panel discussion at the symposium. In addition to having their winning entries published, each has gone on to publish subsequent books.

Greg Hrbek (1996 Fellow)

Most recent book: Not on Fire, But Burning (Melville House 2015)

Twenty-year-old Skyler saw it from the window: a metallic object that descended from the sky at terrific speed, slowed above the Golden Gate Bridge, and then severed the bridge’s suspension cables before a toxic mushroom cloud lifted above San Francisco . . .

Flash-forward to a future America, where no one knows who was responsible for the explosion in San Francisco—or even what that explosion was, exactly—but Muslims have nonetheless been herded onto the old Indian reservations in the west. In suburban New York, Skyler’s little brother Dorian is twelve and dreaming about killing Muslims . . . when his next-door neighbor adopts a Muslim orphan from the territories.

That simple act of benevolence will set off a series of increasingly terrifying incidents that force an entire community to reckon with their most deeply held beliefs, and—for Dorian—will lead to either tragedy or redemption.

From a NPR review:

Hrbek shifts deliriously between first-, second- and third-person points of view, not to mention past, present and future tense. At first this feels annoyingly gratuitous; gradually, though, this piecemeal perspective reveals a deeper purpose. Not on Fire toys with the edges of meta, slipping here and there into a dizzying self-awareness that underscores Hrbek’s running commentary about the fractured nature of reality. At the same time, the story stays solidly rooted in a propulsive, suspenseful plot, full of lyrical dialogue and gorgeous language. It isn’t easy to unpack, but Hrbek rewards the effort with head-spinning subversions of what speculative fiction is expected to do. There are no clear answers or pat explanations. And as Dorian and Karim become drawn, each in their own way, toward violent extremism, the book takes time to meditate meaningfully on hate, fear, faith and what sets us on paths that we often feel powerless to depart.

http://www.mhpbooks.com/books/not-on-fire-but-burning/

Louise Wareham Leonard (1999 Fellow)

Most recent book: 52 Men (Red Hen Press, 2015)

52 Men is taut, spare and highly compressed autobiographical fiction for the mobile age, it is immensely funny and sexually charged.

From an interview with Caroline Leavittville:

You’re a critically acclaimed poet. Did writing fiction come naturally to you? How different was it?

For me the hardest thing, was finding the right form to express my experience. For a long time, I thought I was supposed to be a traditional novelist – but I struggled with, for example, multi-generational psychological dramas that seemed to make sense of everything.  I couldn’t fit my life or past into that; nothing matched up neatly, it seemed impossible to find one way to see things, one vantage point that stayed the same. I thought for a time that poetry would work best for me because it has hidden spaces and is subtle and oblique.  Yet as soon as I started to create my own kind of work – a mix of styles, – a kind of intense ‘poetic’ prose, with space and elision and the ability to change directions and emotions, I felt happiest. Quickness, lightness, intensity, that’s what I love in language, in hybrid works, in texts that use different forms. http://louisewarehamleonard.com/

Robin Oliveira (2007 Fellow)

Most recent book: I Always Loved You (Viking 2014)

From an interview:

In this book, you write about the process of being and becoming an artist. Did you find a connection between writing and art? Do you paint?

I have painted and drawn as a hobby, but I am not an artist. In fact, my forays into that area were gently discouraged by an art teacher at the University of Washington Extension. But as I wrote this story, I did find a great deal of connection between the two disciplines. To be an artist is to be an artist, no matter the medium. All artists face either a blank page or a blank canvas or a block of stone or….it can go on and on, because art has many guises and many mediums. But the process and fears, to me, are the same. It was a relief, in many ways, to discuss the difficulties of producing art through the eyes of painters. I felt freer to explore what I perceive to be the truth about creative work.

 What is your writing routine?  

I, like Degas and Cassatt, keep regular working hours. I write for at least six hours a day, sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on how much my brain will tolerate. I can usually tell when my brain has turned off; I have found that trying to continue to write after that is a waste of time. Mostly, I write on a treadmill desk, which means I have an elevated desk with a treadmill underneath. I walk at about 1.1 miles per hour while I compose. However, depending on my task—rewriting or editing—I sometimes write lying in bed or sitting outside on the front terrace, but only when it’s not raining.

http://www.robinoliveira.com/

Stephen Policoff (2004 Fellow)

Most recent book: Come Away (Dzanc Books 2014)

Who is the small, greenish girl Paul Brickner repeatedly sees skittering around the edge of his yard in upstate New York? No one else seems to see her. Ever since Spring was injured in a fluke fall, Paul has been possessed with the anxiety that he might lose her.

From an interview with Serious Reading:

I have been told that my novels are slipstream. I’m not really sure what that means, and certainly I never had any thought about what genre I was writing.  My novels seem to be dark domestic comedies with a mild buzz of the supernatural. My first novel, Beautiful Somewhere Else, involved possible alien abduction on a vacation to Cape Cod; Come Away features the lore of the changeling and repeated sightings of a sinister green child within a happy marriage in upstate New York. My novel-in-progress has a ghost or two. I suppose that the boundary-crossing (is this a literary novel? Is this fantasy?) perplexes some people, which is OK with me.  Maybe that’s what slipstream means?

http://www.dzancbooks.org/our-books/come-away-by-stephen-policoff

Leslie Schwartz (1997 Fellow)

Most recent book: Angels Crest (Doubleday 2004)

Living in a small town in the mountains of California, Ethan Denton is a lucky man. Most things have gone his way, and being granted full custody of Nate, his young son, has given him a near-perfect life. On a crisp winter morning just before the start of deer season, Ethan and Nate set off together to discover the beauties of the forest. As he parks the truck, Ethan spots a pair of magnificent bucks and, eager to take a closer look, leaves Nate asleep in the car seat, a brief, impulsive decision any parent might make. When he returns only a few minutes later, the door of the truck is open and Nate is nowhere to be seen. Ethan and other members of the community search for the missing three-year-old, their fears rising as an unexpected blizzard blankets the woods.

From an interview with the Writer’s Program:

What are the most detrimental things that keep a writer from getting words onto the page? What can be done about it?

The first thing is that writers worry too much about getting published when they don’t even have a first draft. Or they worry too much about what people will think, especially if the novel is thinly disguised autobiography. Writers should have more fun, and worry less. Secondly, new writers really need to understand that writing is all about revision. And this takes time. New writers get too wrapped up in this feeling that they need to hurry up and finish, rather than participate calmly in the experience of writing, which is so sublime, really, and in some ways, infinitely more rewarding than publishing. Finally, writers must read and they must constantly find a way to improve their work. All of these things take enormous courage and perseverance and I think above all else the people who get published are the ones who just keep plugging away, no matter how hard it might seem.

http://www.leslieschwartz.com/

 Mary Kay Zuravleff (1994 Fellow)

Most recent book: Man Alive! (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2013)

All it takes is a quarter to change Owen Lerner’s life. When lightning strikes the coin he’s feeding into the parking meter, the pediatric psychiatrist survives, except that now he only wants to barbecue. The bolt of lightning that lifts Dr. Lerner into the air sends the entire Lerner clan into free fall, and Man Alive! follows along at that speed, capturing family-on-family pain with devastating humor and a rare generosity. This novel explores how much we are each allowed to change within a family—and without.

From an interview with Fiction Writers Review:

During your book launch, you shared with the audience that you originally wrote Man Alive! in past tense but revised the entire manuscript in present tense. Why?

The novel was supposed to be done, and as I was rereading it in past tense, I realized it was too slow. The problem was pacing. The visualization I had in my head was that the family was arranged like billiard balls on a pool table and the lightning strike hits cue-ball Owen, which in turn scatters them in all directions. The reader is supposed to feel like she is just holding on for the ride; in past tense, that urgency was lost.  First, I trimmed language, the flowing, surreal account of what Owen felt and imagined in his scrambled brain. But that made it too truncated, too staccato. I realized that the problem was tense. If I wanted the reader in the fire with Owen, present is the more empathetic tense. Usually, present tense slows things down because it takes so long to get anywhere, right? Past tense is one of elision. You can really travel in past tense. But for Man Alive! I needed the reader to be right inside the flames.

http://www.marykayzuravleff.com/

An exploration of cowardice through “The Thin Red Line” and other works

Cowardice Presentation
Chris Walsh presents the keynote talk at the JJJLS symposium.

 

Coward. It’s a grave insult, likely to provoke anger, shame, even violence. But what exactly is cowardice? When terrorists are called cowards, does it mean the same as when the term is applied to soldiers? And what, if anything, does cowardice have to do with the rest of us?

These are some of the provocative questions raised by Chris Walsh‘s Cowardice: A Brief History (Princeton University Press, 2014). Walsh gave the keynote talk at the James Jones Literary Society’s November 2015 symposium in at Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

Bringing together sources from court-martial cases to literary and film classics such as Dante’s Inferno, The Red Badge of Courage, and The Thin Red Line, Walsh reviewed the great harm thaj10318t both cowards and the fear of seeming cowardly have done, and traced the idea of cowardice’s power to its evolutionary roots. But he also argued that this power has faded, most dramatically on the battlefield. Misconduct that earlier might have been punished as cowardice has more recently often been treated medically, as an adverse reaction to trauma, Walsh contended, discussing a parallel therapeutic shift that reaches beyond war, into the realms of politics, crime, philosophy, religion, and love.

Walsh’s work won the 2015 Bronze Medal Winner in the Independent Publisher Book Awards, World History category. He is associate director of the College of Arts and Sciences Writing Program at Boston University and has also taught at Emerson College, Harvard University, and the University of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso. His work has appeared in Civil War History, Essays in Criticism, Raritan, and the Yale Review.

2014, 2015 First Novel winners read from works

Kaylie & Don with Winners
Kaylie Jones, far left and Don Sackrider, far right, of the JJLS pose with the First Novel Fellowship’s two most recent winners, Cam Terwilliger and Josie Sigler. 

During November 2015’s James Jones Literary Society symposium, the two most recent winners of the James Jones First Novel Fellowship read from their works. Cam Terwilliger of Montreal, Quebec, received the 2014 award for his entry, Yet the Wilderness Grew in My Heart. Josie Sigler, of Portland, Oregon, won in 2015 with her manuscript titled The Flying Sampietrini, a novel. Each received a $10,000 prize for first place.

Terwilliger’s Yet Wilderness Grew in My Heart is set in 1757 during the French and Indian War. It centers on Andrew Whitlaw, a gentleman physician. After a ruinous attempt to found Manhattan’s first medical college, Whitlaw must return to his older brother’s manor in the Hudson Valley. There, the physician becomes embroiled in his brother’s obsessive pursuit of William Bell, a counterfeiter operating on nearby Native American land. When Whitlaw discovers a native girl claiming to be Bell’s wife, she leads him into the heart of the frontier in search of the mysterious counterfeiter.

Terwilliger’s writing has appeared in a number of literary magazines, including West Branch, Electric Literature, Post Road, and Narrative, where he was selected as one of the magazine’s “15 Under 30.” His fiction has also been supported by fellowships from the Fulbright Program, Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, the Elizabeth George Foundation and the American Antiquarian Society. A graduate of Emerson College’s master of fine arts program, he has taught at Grub Street and Louisiana State University.

Sigler’s novel, The Flying Sampietrini, tells the story of Celestino, a member of the corps of workers whose ancestors built St. Peter’s Basilica. For nearly five centuries, the men of his family have labored at dizzying heights and daunting depths to care for sacred objects and works of art. During the German occupation of Rome in World War II, Celestino must choose between protecting those works of art and saving the lives of a group of Jewish boys who’ve fallen under his care. Sixty years later, his granddaughter, Michela, an art historian and conservator living in New York City, has lost her lover in the bombing of the World Trade Center. While awaiting the birth of their first child, she finds a series of journals in which her grandfather has written his story.

Sigler is the author of The Galaxie and Other Rides, a collection of stories set largely in post-industrial Detroit. Her book of poems, living must bury, won the Motherwell Prize and was published by Fence Books. Her short work “The Compartment” garnered Gulf Coast’s Barthelme Prize. She has completed numerous writing residencies, including time at The Millay Colony for the Arts and the PEN Northwest Margery Davis Boyden Wilderness Residency. She has received a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship and an Elizabeth George Foundation Grant. Sigler holds a dual doctorate in literature and creative writing from the University of Southern California.

November symposium: tributes and insights

The November 2015 James Jones Literary Society’s Symposium, held at Wilkes University, had many high points. For JJLS members, none could top the heart-felt accolades and gratitude expressed by six former James Jones First Novel Fellows. During a panel discussion, each testified that winning the Fellowship changed their lives in many ways, but what meant the most to them was the affirmation of themselves as writers. The JJLS can take tremendous pride in supporting this powerful legacy to James Jones for the past 25 years.

In addition, Chris Walsh, (right) author of Cowardice: A Brief History (Princeton Guest SpeakerUniversity Press, 2014), gave an insightful keynote address on the subject of his book that included The Thin Red Line as a source.

Other highlights included:

  • A private screening of From Here to Eternity – The Musical.
  • Panel discussion of the James Jones Legacy
  • Author reception and book signings by past James Jones Fellows
  • Banquet with readings by 2014 and 2015 James Jones First Novel Winners
  • Free fiction workshops for the public taught by James Jones First Novel judges.
  • JJLS board meetings.