A Letter worthy of Thanksgiving

The attached text is from the comments section, but I wanted to highlight here.  It came this morning, quite by surprise.  Like the comments by other distinguished authors including Christopher Priest and James Sallis, it reminded me why I slog along this path of the honoring of George R. Stewart and his great novel, Earth Abides.

My original intention was to edit the message.  But it is so integrated that it shall stand as sent.  The only change  is to add links to Terence Green and his work.

Just finished your biography of George R. Stewart. Enjoyed it immensely — a very fine book. Like all good biographies, it gives a sense of the times and the place as well as the individual — especially the UC Berkeley milieu of that era. (In short, I learned a lot.)

I’m a Canadian writer and teacher, born in 1947, currently in my 12th year of teaching creative writing at Western University in London, Ontario, Canada (this London is a city of some 300,000, 2 hours south-west of Toronto). Before that, I spent 30 years teaching high school English, primarily in Toronto. I’m also the author of 8 books [That’s a review of one] (7 novels and a collection of short stories).

I bought and read the Ace paperback of EARTH ABIDES back in the early 60s (62? 63?) as a high-school teenager, and was duly impressed… So impressed, I might add, that I still have that particular 50-cent edition (more than 50 years now) on a bookshelf here in my office — an old favorite, and probably a collector’s item of sorts. I rank it with A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ — also never out of print — as transcending any genre, moving people, and opening eyes — touching the mind and the heart, as the best literature does.

When I spotted the trade paperback edition published by Del Rey about a decade ago, I bought it and re-read it. I was impressed once again. It more than held up. And just recently, I read it for the 3rd time, still moved and impressed — enough to search the internet for more information on Stewart. This is how I found and ordered your book.

I just wanted you to hear yet another story of how far-reaching his work has been, and by extension, how far-reaching your own appreciation has been.

Many thanks for the scholarship (and work) involved in spreading the word. I like to think there’s a potential, significant, continuous groundswell for the book, and that it will indeed abide long into the future, like Ish’s hammer. And you’ve helped.

Thanks to Terence Green, and to all those who understand the greatness of George R. Stewart and Earth Abides; and who take the trouble to let others in the “Fellowship of the Hammer” know their feelings.

5 thoughts on “A Letter worthy of Thanksgiving

  1. Dear Donald

    Apologies for the long silence from me. I am always thrilled to see the activity on your website.

    I was also thrilled to learn that somewhere in the archives there is an unpublished Stewart novel called THE DRY LANDS. I am agog to learn more!

    Is it complete? Is there any way in which I can read a copy of it (short of visiting the archive in person — I am locked in the UK most of the time)? I have many professional contacts in publishing, here, in the USA, and throughout Europe and the rest of the world. I am certain that I could gain the manuscript at least a sympathetic reading by major publishers, and probably beyond that a decent published edition.

    Do let me know — communicate by private email if you think that more appropriate?

    (I am just about to get hold belatedly of a copy of your biography.)

    With best wishes

    Christopher Priest

  2. Dear Christopher,

    Always good to hear from you, and glad to hear that you’ll be reading the bio. It’s not great literature, but I think it’s a good book about a very interesting man and his literary and – if I may – spiritual – journey.

    Stewart wrote several books which were not published, for various reasons. The Dry Lands and A Detective Story were never intended for publication – they were practice works. He was planning to write a distinguished novel at some point. He put those together, I’d guess, to get feedback from some of his colleagues in the Department of English. I enjoyed reading both, but should say that they are far below his usual quality – so approach them with open eyes.

    He also wrote a very controversial novel at the end of his life, which Ted (Theodosia) wanted destroyed. She was liberal; the novel seems conservative. The novel was preserved, in the Bancroft, but never published. I have a chapter about it in my book which should give you a better sense of the work, and the controversy.

    GRS also wrote several papers and articles that weren’t published. If there were a larger Stewart audience, I’d say that publishing those would be useful, at least for scholars. “The Four-Letter Words” would certainly be a big seller – Stewart’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek scholarly take on our favorite four letter words and their histories. Good scholarship, well-written, and a hoot to boot.

    Stewart also wrote a book called “IF.” (Think that’s the title.) Each chapter is a speculation about what might happen “If” – say, if there was no moon. I can’t remember the exact details, but it was interesting.

    The letters to Stewart in his Papers are extraordinary. The names of the authors of those letters might make a saleable book. There are two from Walt Disney; one each from Ansel Adams, John Steinbeck, Robinson Jeffers, J. B. Jackson, Theodore Steinway, Stanley Marcus, Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court Mosk, and others. There are several from Wallace Stegner, who honored Stewart as a great influence on his work.

    There’s also a radio script from a 1940’s murder mystery in which one of the main characters is George R. Stewart himself. I reproduced the script in my book.

    The papers are at the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. Viewing them takes some advance preparation with “bancref” since they’re stored off-campus. Here are links to the two collections: http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/kt9n39r1hp/



    I spent three weeks reviewing those letters and papers. I highly recommend reviewing the finding aids, and considering a research trip to Berkeley. If you’re lucky you may even be able to lodge in the Faculty Club at a fair rate; at least you can eat there, and it’s a good value in an extraordinary setting.

    The Dry Lands would be of nterest to you, since it’s speculative fiction.

    Just for your information – I’ve sold this house and will be moving. From Jan through mid-March I expect to be at temporary quarters working on a short-term job; then I’m leaning toward – of all places – Needles. It’s 125 degrees F in the summer, and has seen better days. But I have friends there and at nearby UNLV, and some projects to work on – and it’s within my budget. Emails should still get fairly rapid responses.

  3. A further thought – although I don’t know that The Dry Lands is worthy of publishing, I’d think that it would be possible to copy the manuscript. The Bancroft charges a hefty copy fee – but they’ll let people photograph ms items for something like $20 a day. Then, of course, you’d need to get permission to publish the work; I think the family still holds the copyright. If you know someone in the Berkeley area who would be able to photograph that manuscript, you could get the photos over the internet.

    One caution – GRS’s ghost might not be happy if that were published. However, if you used his novel as the basis for one of you own, with acknowledgement, that would be fine. After all, Stephen King writes that he based The Stand on Earth Abides.

    So many possibilities with the GRS material!


    Don S.

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