John Steinbeck is best known for his weighty, quintessentially American classics like “The Grapes of Wrath” and “East of Eden.”
But one of his short stories, now published in English for the first time, is not about social injustice, arduous journeys or humanity’s capacity for cruelty. Rather, it is a funny tale about a Parisian chef whose cooking companion is a cat.
During a mid-20th-century stint in Paris, a city he loved, Steinbeck wrote a series of 17 short pieces, mostly nonfiction, for the newspaper Le Figaro. He composed them in English and they were translated into French. One of those submissions, a fictional piece called “The Amiable Fleas,” can be found in the new issue of The Strand Magazine, a literary quarterly based in Birmingham, Mich.
The magazine has previously unearthed pieces by Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Chandler. In 2014 it featured another short story by Steinbeck, the Nobel Prize-winning author. That one had been composed for a patriotic radio show during World War II, and Orson Welles read it aloud in a 1943 broadcast.
A LETTER TO ED ABBEY
(Recently found in one of my journals)
May 21, 1989
Dear Ed Abbey:
Lu Xun (Lu Hsun) was the pen name of Zhou Shuren. Lu is widely regarded as one of modern China’s most prominent and influential writers. His work promoted radical change through criticism of antiquated cultural values and repressive social customs.
Zhou was born into a poor family. His father was unable to provide for the family and he died during Zhou’s teenage years. Zhou’s mother was well-educated and she encouraged in his studies. Zhou demonstrated a keen intellect early in life. He studied at the Jiangnan Naval Academy, the School of Railways and Mines in Nanjing and the Medical College at Sendai in Japan. During the course of his studies, he became acquainted with social movements aimed at reforming and reshaping Chinese society.
During the course of Zhou’s political and intellectual development, he concluded that a “literary movement” was needed to build awareness and incite action amongst the oppressed. As early as 1906, he decided to publish a literary magazine, but his early attempts at organizing such an endeavor were unsuccessful. In 1908, he joined the anti-Qing revolutionary party, Guang Fu Hui, and he remained involved with this group up to the Revolution of 1911 which resulted in the removal of the Qing Dynasty. Zhou was ultimately disenchanted with the results of the Revolution, for although the Qing Dynasty was unseated, the people of China languished amidst imperialist intervention and oppressive semi-colonial conditions.
Zhou Shuren struggled with uncertainty as to how he could best utilize his political awareness while he immersed himself in the study of Chinese culture. He adopted the pen name of “Lu Xun,” partially in tribute to his mother, whose surname was Lu. With some encouragement from peers, Lu ultimately wrote and published his first story, “A Madman’s Diary,” in 1918. The story was published in the May Fourth movement’s magazine “New Youth” Lu’s work was well received and he followed up with a number of other short stories, including his celebrated tale of the Revolution of 1911, “The True Story of Ah-Q.” In 1923, Lu published “A Call to Arms,” which was an anthology of his most acclaimed works.
Lu Xun quickly gained notoriety as a stirring, insightful, and prolific writer. In addition to writing, Lu worked as an editor, professor and dean of studies. He began studying Marxism-Leninism in 1928 and shortly thereafter, he undertook the translation of works concerning Marxist literary theory. Although Lu never joined the Chinese Communist Party, he was widely regarded as a Marxist in the later years of his life and he worked closely with communists in many anti-imperialist and anti-fascist campaigns. Lu advocated a united front by the CCP and the Kuomintang against the forces of Japanese imperialism. While afflicted with tuberculosis, Lu continued to write passionately about the struggle against Japanese aggression until his death in 1936.L
From Mountain Gazette 55 ~ March, 1977
It is no great secret that many of the most talented and influential people in the arts (and other areas too, of course) often go unheralded. Who knows why some people garner recognition and others do not? There are any number of reasons, but there are some people out there trying to rectify that.
Today, In Sight is bringing attention to a book by photographer Timothy Duffy, who is attempting to bring a group of people who have labored in the shadows into the limelight with his new book, “Blue Muse,” published recently by the University of North Carolina Press in association with the New Orleans Museum of Art.
For at least 30 years, Duffy has been working alongside roots musicians from the American South. “Blue Muse” brings together a collection of tintype portraits of many of these musicians. Most of them are not famous; you have probably never heard of them. As Duffy says in his introduction to the book:
“Many of the musicians I photograph are not famous. In fact, most of them were not easy to find. Primarily, they are senior African American roots musicians born of the South. Their ancestors were among the earliest to arrive as unwilling immigrants to our country, and many of the musicians featured in this book claim a fair portion of native blood. They have some of the deepest roots in this country, but their America has never been the land of the free. Their ancestral cultures have been oppressed and forbidden, and yet they rise up singing.”
While the artists who are revealed in Duffy’s stunning portraits may not be well known to you or me, they, collectively, have continued a tradition of music that has influenced so many of the musicians who have gained wide recognition. Duffy’s portraits train our gaze on these artists who “want to be known and remembered.” After all, no matter what, they continue to rise up and sing. As the legendary photographer Sally Mann says about Duffy’s photographs, “His images movingly convey the soul of his subjects and of the places in which they live.”
Accompanying the publication of this book, there is also an exhibit of the photographs on view until July 28 at the New Orleans Museum of Art. More information about the exhibit can be found here.