JOHN HENRY

NY: The Literary Guild, 1931. 1st Edition. Hardcover. Harpers' edition of The Literary Guild and first thus (stated on copyright page: there was also a trade edition.) 8vo, duotone blue, ArtDeco-patterned cloth boards, gold label title pastedown spine, in decorated dustjacket typical of The Literary Guild editions, decorated endpapers, illustrated throughout, title label nicked, dust jacket soiled and faded, internals of book near fine. Roark Bradford (1896 - 1948) was an American short-story writer and novelist. His novelistic version of John Henry popularized the folklore legend of the African-American railroad worker beyond railroad and mining and Black communities. According to the publisher's bio of Bradford in the rear of this edition, Bradford is "amply qualified to write about the Negro. He was born on a plantation near the Mississippi River, fifteen miles from the railroad. He had a Negro for a nurse. He has seen them at work in the fields..." Today, subject to contemporary criticism, Bradford's treatment of John Henry is seen as racial trope, no matter how high his intentions. Tipped-in to the front pastedown is a five paragraph TLS , dated July 18, 1932, Santa Fe, New Mexico from author Bradford to George E. Creel (1876 -1953). Creel, an investigative journalist, writer, politician and government official, served as head of the United States Committee on Public Information (CPI), the propaganda organization created by President Woodrow Wilson during World War I. The letter is in apparent response to Creel's solicitation of support for Franklin Roosevelt's candidacy for President. Creel's solicitation of Bradford was logical: Bradford had literary credibility and celebrity (a stage adaptation of an earlier novel had won a Pulitzer Prize), plus he had served in the Army during the Armistice (Creel' being head of the CPI would presumably carry weight with Bradford). Bradford's response in the summer of 1932 as the Great Depression was peaking is enthusiastically affirmative. He writes of a "triple incentive" to support FDR: the Bradford family are faithful Democrats, he personally admires Roosevelt and he loathes Herbert Hoover who would be "an ideal secretary for a Chamber of Commerce in, say, Evanston, Illinois." He pledges his support, noting that FDR as President should be such an obvious propositon that "an organized movement would be unnecessary" but, then again, "just eight years ago the great American people turned down a man like John W. Davis and selected Calvin Coolidge". (Davis was the Democratic Presidential candidate in 1924.) Besides some obvious parallels to the 2020 election (depending on one's political view), the letter is an exemplar of the pre-social media, old fashioned politicking that transacted on personal appeal by correspondence among the country's literati and public opinion leaders. After FDR's win, Creel, who lived in San Francisco, chaired the Regional Labor Board for California, Utah and Nevada, but eventually became disenchanted with some aspects of The New Deal. He ran in the 1934 California Democratic gubernatorial primary and was defeated to the left by novelist Upton Sinclair , who lost in the general election. Creel retired from Collier's magazine where he was an editor in the late 1940s. Bradford's first book, Ol' Man Adam and his Chillun (1928) was adapted for the stage by Marc Connelly  as The Green Pastures, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1930. Bradford adapted John Henry for the New York stage in 1940 as a musical, with Paul Robeson in the title role. Near Fine / Good+. Item #011676

Price: $475.00