The joy of research means discovering new things, like a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist who seems virtually unknown today. Julia Peterkin’s Scarlet Sister Mary, the fictionalized story of the Gullah community on Peterkin’s plantation in South Carolina, won the Pulitzer for fiction in 1929. A Devil and a Good Woman, Too by Susan Millar Williams, is the only biography written about her. Thomas Landess’s book, pictured here, offers some biographical information, but it concentrates mainly on Peterkin’s oeuvre, including Roll, Jordan, Roll, the collaboration between Peterkin and photographer, Doris Ulmann. This is the first, published collaboration between a woman photographer and a woman writer. Appearing in 1933, it predates similar, collaborations, like Cabins in the Laurel, featuring a collage-like memoir by Muriel Earley Sheppard and the photographs of Bayard Wooten. Roll, Jordan, Roll also predates more famous collaborations like Walker Evans’s and James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.
“Threats to freedom of speech, writing and action, though often trivial in isolation, are cumulative in their effect and, unless checked, lead to a general disrespect for the rights of the citizen.” –George Orwell
I found this small, leather-bound SwedishPsalmbok in a used bookstore in Ventura, CA. In addition to how lovely it feels in the hand, its leather softened by the hands of another, its delicate weight, the fact that it is written in Swedish was intriguing. How had that book made a journey from Sweden to southern California? Moreover, who is Kris Lind, whose name is embossed in gold on the bottom right corner of the front cover, and how did he or she end up in California? Did his or her effects end up in this bookstore after a death, both book and man to be remembered no more (a line at the edge of the page reads, “Och han minnes den ej mer…” meaning, “And he remembered it no more……”)? Although I can’t read Swedish, I recognized the language on the page as some of my ancestors emigrated from Sweden to live in the northeast region of the U.S., where my maternal grandfather, Bernard Oscar Sandquist, was born. Growing up, I was told I was named for his mother.
Kris Lind may not be related to me in any way, but his or her Psalmbok now lives with me, no longer stripped from memory.
Vila väl, Kris Lind. Inte alla är glömt.
“You know, though, there’s a crack between reading and becoming. One thing is not the other. A seam, it seems, and here it’s brought to life. Through it we are aware again of light.”
–Ander Monson, from Letter to a Future Lover.
“There is only one thing a writer can write about: what is in front of his senses at the moment of writing… I am a recording instrument… I do not presume to impose “story” “plot” “continuity”… insofar as I succeed in direct recording of certain areas of psychic process I may have limited function… I am not an entertainer…” from Naked Lunch
Apparently, Burroughs recorded life using more than a pen. A new book has been published, Taking Shots: The Photographs of WIlliam S. Burroughs, the catalog that accompanied an exhibit of William S. Burroughs’s photographs at The Photographers Gallery in London. It seems there are more than a few writers who also took pictures, including Jack London, Eudora Welty, Ralph Ellison, Wright Morris, and William Faulkner.