Death of John Sanford, Marxist Novelist

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Mon Mar 10 00:42:46 MST 2003

*****   Sanford's originality came through to the end
Tim Rutten
March 8 2003

In his 99th year, John Sanford was such a singular writer that it's
somehow unsurprising that, when death came quietly for him Thursday
morning, even it could not quite end his extraordinary career.

Sanford published 24 books: nine novels, five genre-defying works he
called "creative interpretations of history" and 10 volumes of
autobiography and memoirs, including the five-book sequence, "Scenes
 From the Life of an American Jew." More than half his books were
completed after he turned 80. The most recent, "A Palace of Silver,"
which appeared just this month, was a meditative memoir on the life
he and his wife of more than 50 years -- the late screenwriter
Marguerite Roberts -- lived after they were blacklisted for refusing
to name names before the House Un-American Activities Committee in

According to his literary executor, Jack Mearns, the author left
three unpublished books "all written in the last four years. Last
summer, he finished the one called 'A Dinner of Herbs' [see
excerpts], which comprises vignettes about the women he knew. There's
a book about his father, 'A Citizen of No Mean City,' and another,
'Little Sister Spoken For' about the first five years of his marriage
to Maggie.

"John also had recently completed a major story called 'Judas and
Inquiry,' which is about Martin Berkeley, the informer who named more
than 150 names [including the Sanfords] before the committee in the
1951 hearings. To the end of his life, John wanted to figure out what
was going on in the mind of someone who informed," said Mearns, a
professor of psychology at Cal State Fullerton.

Sanford, who was born Julian Shapiro in Harlem and trained as a
lawyer, may have been the most neglected of serious 20th century
American writers. His books are a stunning fusion of formal
experimentation and supple, lyric prose. There is nothing like them
anywhere in American letters. Though he sometimes was compared to the
young John Dos Passos, Sanford's work was so original that it
confounded critics and their categories -- probably to his
professional detriment....

Mearns, Sanford's executor, is hopeful of finding a publisher who
will put the author's works, now mostly out of print, back on the
shelves. "My big fear," he said, "lies in the fact that few writers
have their reputations made after they die -- Herman Melville and
John's friend Nathanael West are rare exceptions. I hope John will
find a wider audience."

That's a thing devoutly to be wished. As Sanford himself once said,
"My books did not fail -- they just didn't sell."

[The full article is available at <>.]   *****

John Sanford
Introduction by Alan Wald

An extraordinary novel, told partly in verse, The People from Heaven
takes place in 1943 in Warrensburg, New York, where Eli Bishop, a
white shopkeeper, initiates a reign of terror on the populace
following his rape of America Smith, a black woman. The author, John
Sanford, is considered by many to be one of the finest little-known
writers of the twentieth century. In his introduction, Alan Wald
provides an overview of Sanford's career, his art, and his politics.

Originally published in 1943

"The best thing he has ever written and in some ways the most
important book of fiction published here in the last twenty years.
His language is marvelous." -- William Carlos Williams

"The People from Heaven won for your great talent another sincere
admirer in Orson Welles." -- from a letter to the author

"A sacred book, majestic in its rebukes of those who violate the
breath and origin of humanity while professing faith and going
through the motions of holiness." -- Carl Sandburg...

264 pages. 5 3/8 x 8 inches
Paper, ISBN 0-252-06491-7. $14.95

<>   *****

John Sanford

...A keen and incisive observation on the perilous and hilarious,
absurd and appalling twentieth century, Intruders in Paradise takes
on the influential personalities that history has strewn across the
Americas and gives them their unfettered due.

 From Francisco Pizarro's chaplain, Valverde, to J. Edgar Hoover in a
fetching frock; from the poignant voice of someone drowned on the
Lusitania to the creative musings of Andy Warhol; Sanford burrows--as
no other writer has--into the very soul of these quintessential
characters and with his words engages them, powers them to vigorous
and palpable life....

280 pages. 6 x 9 inches.
Cloth, ISBN 0-252-02343-9. $26.95

<>   *****

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