While I’m on vacation, I have a few posts put aside. Today, I’m going to tell you a bit about my father.
While everyone looks at the creative forces in my family, they start with my distant cousin, the great literary giant, Stanley Elkin. According to his place on the St. Louis walk of fame, “Since his first novel was published in 1964, Stanley Lawrence Elkin’s literary stature has grown unabated. A New York Times reviewer said, “No serious funny writer in this country can match him.” Elkin became an English instructor at Washington University in St. Louis in 1960 and a professor in 1969. A member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, he received Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundation fellowships, the Longview Foundation Award, and the Paris Review Humor Prize. Elkin’s novella, “The Bailbondsman,” was made into a movie. In 1982 Stanley Elkin won the National Book Critics Circle Award.”
I never made it through one of his novels but I gather from the reviews and notices in the years since his death, he was terribly good.
Or, we can look at Uncle Eric. Eric Bloom fronts the Blue Oyster Cult and as a high schooler in the 1970s, this brought a touch of fame. After all, you couldn’t make it through the decade without hearing “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” Trust me, he’s cool. You’d like him.
But, they’re on my mom’s side of the family.
On dad’s side, there’s well, dad. He graduated with a bachelor’s from Dartmouth and a master’s from Columbia and then went on to be one of IBM’s better salesmen in New York City. But, one of the reasons why he always encouraged my writing is because he was a good writer himself. I gather he would have been happy working as a writer or editor but was urged by his parents to get into something more stable.
I knew he wrote and worked on various Dartmouth publications but never really saw any of them. That is, until he passed away. Mom, not a terrible sentimental person, started trashing everything in preparation of a move. I rescued a handful of odds and ends, regretting those items that were lost (such as the original mounted one-sheet for Gunga Din and his IBM sales awards). Among them were some of these publications.
I have before me photocopies of clippings from the Dartmouth Jack O’Lantern, a literary publication. He’s listed as one of two managing editors. The very first item is a retelling of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in the patois of Damon Runyon.
An excerpt: “I am standing in front of Mindy’s a while back when I am tapped rather brusquely across the back of my neck. I turn around to see who would perpetrate such a mean trick and find myself face to face with three characters from over Brooklyn way. Three such characters I would not like to meet in the daytime and it is now growing dark. I retract the original idea of bopping one of them in the snoot because I found out years back that it is by no means wise to be disrespectful to such citizens from Brooklyn.” And it goes on from there with Scrooge the Bookie being visited by these three.
Dad also co-edited the Dartmouth Quarterly, his close friend and co-editor was a guy named Buck Zuckerman. He graduated, changed his last name to Henry and went on to fame and fortune. (Dad’s roommate was Ken Roman, former CEO of Ogilvy & Mather — so he had an accomplished circle of friends.)
He read a lot, proved to be a patient, solid editor and clearly loved the written word. I’m sorry I discovered his creative efforts late. I’m even sorrier he’s not around.