Monday, April 12, 2010

Unsung Hero

What really bothers me is that there is so little information about John Fitzgerald and it almost feels as if he is unsung. This is an author who should be harolded with the likes of Edger Rice Burroughs, Judy Bloom and Dr. Seuss. My favorite books, "Tarzan of the Apes", "Fudge" and "The Great Brain".
Most Fitzgerald fan's share the above viewpoint.

Just seven months after John's passing, Utah historian, Audrey Godfrey, made a case for his literary recognition.
She began her thesis with these words,
John D. Fitzgerald produced a bibliography of over three hundred publications; yet in Utah where he was born, the literary community has rarely commented on his works.  

One reason for this oversight Godfrey suggested may have been their "appeal chiefly to children, they are basically unknown to the states over-thirty citizens."  Writing deftly to support her case, she integrated reviews and interviews to present her purpose.  In her closing remarks she said,
The novels alternate between excellence and sentimentality, hallmarks of the Victorian storyteller. But Fitzgerald's purpose of depicting life's peculiarities and people in an interesting and humorous way with it's attending moral message, is as good a reason for consideration by the Utah literary community as any.
Unfortunately, it appears her plea fell on deaf ears.  Still working to make her case Mrs. Godfrey wrote a supporting piece for the Standard-Examiner, in it she returns to the themes of her thesis, but adds toward the end a swift finger wag to news editors.  "Fitzgerald's death caused barely a ripple in Utah's newspapers."

Audrey was not alone in her frustration.  At the close of 1989 a school teacher from Pennsylvania, came west to study up on Fitzgerald for his class.  He eventually gained some information, but found himself mostly disappointed.  In his two page letter to the editor of the Sun Advocate he wrote,
"Oftentimes, the people who have failed to recognize one's achievements are the people who are closest to that person.  In the case of John D. Fitzgerald, the residents of Price may be guilty of such neglect."
 Mr. Payne goes on to write,
At the local library, I did find some information about Mr. Fitzgerald....But even here, I was surprised by the lack of information expounding one of your native sons' contribution to the literary world.
Over the next two pages Mr Payne offers some suggestions to the town as a way to correct the neglect he finds.  One of those suggestions was taken up.  Mrs. Sharon Madsen did work with the library to create the only memorial to be found of Fitzgerald's work.  Her effort is a gift to the town.  The only problem is finding it. It is housed in the library, but not all the librarians know what or who it is about.  On the second day of my research trip I was explaining to the librarian who helped me eventually find the collection, what the books were about.  She was amazed, said she'd never heard of them and promptly checked one out to read that night.

As to why this happened I can only hazard a guess or two.  My first guess is that John wasn't promoter type.  Back then a book was bought and "PRed" by the publishing house. This is quite different than today, when authors have big signings and so on.  The other problem is John left Price at 18, and never really returned.  He came to Mamma's funeral and was gone again.  Fifteen years later a book was published.  Time and proximity may have helped cause the void in populist memory.

My other guess is launched against historians.  When I began reading through the various Utah State History books, I kept running across standard phrases applied to Fitzgerald's work.  Phrases such as "loosely based on" or "the fictionalized stories of".  Instead of "harolding" Fitzgerald's effort - dry historians chose to relegate it to "exempt" status.  A simple change of wording would invite others to read the books, if only for the flavor of Utah settlings that John invoked in his writing.

So though I can not say why this all happened.  I hope my blog and other connections I am trying to reintroduce his works to the American reading world, and maybe this time we can get him the honor his works deserve.


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