A New George R. Stewart e-Plaque at the Berkeley Plaque Project

 

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The Berkeley Historical Plaque Project is dedicated to placing plaques at, or about, historic sites in Berkeley.  Many of the plaques are physical, beautifully designed and placed at the locations interpreted.  Others are posted at the Plaque Project’s website, as e-Plaques.  The e-plaques allow people not in Berkeley to see the plaques, and learn about those being interpreted – a world wide version of the physical plaques, available to all.  The e-Plaques also allow an honoring of sites and people for far less than the $1000 cost of the physical plaques.

George R. Stewart has now been honored with an ePlaque.  With the permission of GRS Family Photo Collection Keeper Anna Evenson, the writing talents of Steven Finacom and company, and the leadership of Robert Kehlman, the plaque is now online at the link above. The Plaque gives a good overview of Stewart, his family, his life, and his work. It links to other honorings like the brilliant James Sallis essay on Earth Abides.  (Sallis is a poet and author, the writer of the novella DRIVE which was made into an excellent movie.)

The Plaque also links to a radio script, written by Stewart’s colleague, Berkeley author “Anthony Boucher.” “Boucher,”  nom de plume of William Anthony Parker White, created a series, The Casebook of Gregory Hood, which ran in the late 1940s.  One episode, The Ghost Town Mortuary, “starred” George R. Stewart. Follow the link at the bottom of the plaque to read part of that script.   (Some of the Gregory Hood episodes are online; unfortunately, The Ghost Town Mortuary is not.)

Eventually, it may be possible to put a physical plaque on what might be called “Ish’s House,”  the house on “San Lupo Drive” which was the Stewart home when Earth Abides was written, and Ish’s home in the novel. But that will need to wait until the time when there is funding available for it.  Until then – and after – this is a fine piece of work, to be enjoyed by people in many places around the globe – and beyond, if someone on the International Space Station is a Stewart fan.

Earth Abides Sheet Music Funded

The kind folks who sponsored the publication of the sheet music for Philip Aaberg’s Earth Abides sheet music have donated the full amount needed for the project.

This is a busy time for Sweetgrass Music and Philip Aaberg, but the music should be available in the near future.

Phil, in the meantime, is having a not un-typical Montana spring experience.  He was a lucky winners of the lottery to float the wild Smith River, south of Great Falls, one of the great fishing rivers in a state of great fishing rivers.  But, as Montana luck would have it, a late blizzard moved in earlier this week.  So Phil and friends ared hole up for a while.  All is well, and they should be home soon.

Life in Montana is never boring.  But it’s always conducive to creativity.

 

 

Will EARTH ABIDES be filmed?

Earth Abides, George R. Stewart’s great classic – in 20 languages now, and never out of print in 77 years –  thanks to Alan Ligda, who published the book for a few years through his Hermes Press when the Trade publisher dropped it and thus kept it in print until the Trade publisher realized its mistake  – is long overdue for film treatment.

 

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ALAN LIGDA, Publishing Hero

In the old days of movie-making, before computers and computer graphics, it would have been nearly impossible to film.  But today, when The Martian can re-create a believable long-distance shot of the Martian surface with a few layers of computer graphics, the post-apocalyptic Earth of Stewart’s novel would be easy to re-create.

Today long films based on several linked novels – think Lord of the Rings – make it possible to film long and complex books like Earth Abides.  EA, with its three sections (each in fact a novella) and its shorter interchapters between the three, could be filmed in a three part or five part version.

And Stewart’s Greek Chorus of observations, the beautiful bits of poetic prose set in italics which filter through the text,  would work as well with a viewing audience as they do with a readership, to help them see Stewart’s overview of events.

So it is with great interest I hear rumors of a plan to film Earth Abides as a mini-series.  A mini-series, it seems to me, is not as worthy of the book as a film or films would be; but remember that Lord of the Rings went through several anemic visualizations before Jackson made his mighty epic. So an Earth Abides mini-series would be a start; and if properly done, a fine start. It would certainly expand the fan base; and in so doing, eventually lead to an audience for a feature film or films.

IMDB has announced the mini-series plan.  There’s no detail about the series, but the public IMDB pages let us know it’s being considered.

Without giving away any secrets, I can confirm that another source has indicated the truth of the project.  No more details than are on the IMDB page, but one small slight confirmation of the interest by filmmakers, and their first steps to make it so.

Stay tuned.

 

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The Chicago Tribune publishes its tribute to George R. Stewart

“George R. Stewart: Unrestrained by literary borders,” Patrick T. Reardon’s fine tribute to George R. Stewart, was published yesterday in The Chicago Tribune‘s literary magazine, Printers Row Journal.    Editorial Assistant Andreea Ciulac was kind enough to send the link. (The Journal is published online only.)

The essay gives a good introduction to Stewart’s vast literary output.  As Reardon says, GRS wrote in many fields – history, geography, environmentalism, civil rights, and fiction – creating several new types of literature along the way.

Reardon highlights several of Stewart’s books – Earth Abides, Names On The Land, Pickett’s Charge, Storm, Ordeal By Hunger, and others.  He quotes from the books to show Stewart’s style in each type of work, thus giving readers a sense of how the books read.

The portrait Andreea Ciulac chose for the article was taken in 1938, probably for East of the Giants.  It shows Stewart as the distinguished scholar and author he was – in a time when the publication of a book by a company like Random House meant honor and a huge readership. (Thanks to Anna Evenson for permitting use of the photo.)

To see that portrait with its fine accompanying article in The Chicago Tribune is to feel immensely satisfied – this is the kind of honorable place where GRS belongs.  In the literary magazine of one of the great newspapers of the country.

The article should encourage a new readership for Stewart’s work.  As Andreea Ciulac writes,  “… I think the article makes you jump from your seat and go read something written by GRS!”  (Andreea is a pleasure to work with – cheerful, enthusiastic, efficient, a friend of literature, and now, we hope, of GRS.  Printers Row Journal is lucky to have her on the staff.)

By the way – I wrote in the last post that you can subscribe to the Printers Row Journal; but no longer.  On the other hand, you CAN subscribe online to The Chicago Tribune, and receive the Journal as part of the subscription, for a reasonable price.  I was impressed with the Journal,  and have subscribed for a few months to try The Tribune and the Journal.

 

 

A Plaque for Ish’s House?

If you’re a follower of this weblog, you may have already read the comment from follower Greg deGiere:

I just learned about the Berkeley Historical Plaque Project and want to urge someone to submit the Stewart house (which I found once through a street directory in the Berkeley Public Library), which is where I assume George wrote. As a student of political science, it has special meaning for me because, as I understand it, it was the model for Ish’s house and living room is where the state was created, so to me it’s something like Independence Hall.

I replied, suggesting that if he wants to work on the nomination, we’ll help as we can.  The idea is a good one, and appropriate.

The house on San Luis Road is the model for Ish’s home in Earth Abides.  He disguises it by renaming the road San Lupo Drive, but the physical characteristics of the house and the neighborhood are very close to the real house, as it was in the days of Ish.

It’s been changed quite a bit now, but his idea is something we should consider. Stay tuned.

Good idea, Greg.

Jill Stewart Evenson Has Passed Away

  Jill Stewart Evenson, daughter of George and Ted Stewart, passed away late last month of complications from surgery.  She was 90.

Named Jane, but always called Jill, she was born in 1925.  She lived a long and interesting life, leaving home to move to San Francisco in the 1940s, marrying Morris Evenson of the Painters Union, and raising her family.  But she still found time to earn two Masters of Art, one in Educational Research and the other in Art.  She worked in Educational Research at the Far Western Lab for Educational Research.  After retirement, she helped to coordinate artists’ shows in her retirement.  She even wrote some poetry; one poem was highly praised by her author father.

Jill was of invaluable help in all the GRS work and projects.  In fact, Jill was the one who introduced George and Ted Stewart to Thornton State Beach, and thus, indirectly, to me.

When I was researching the GRS biography, Jill graciously invited me to her home in Santa Rosa so I could interview her.  Then she arranged with her daughter Anna, the Stewarts’ first grandchild, a chance to review the family photo collection and scan in many of the photos for use in the biography.

Jill will be remembered as long as the GRS biography lives.  More, she will be known to all who read Earth Abides for as long as that beloved classic survives – it is dedicated to her.  Her father gave her the first copy off the press, autographed to her.
Here are some photos of Jill:
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Jill (in striped shirt) with Jack Stewart (back to the door) and others on Wallace and Mary Stegner’s house, early 1940s.
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Stewart family Portrait, mid-late 40s.  Jill is peeking out at the left.
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The first Stewart grandchild, Anna, with Jill and GRS.

The Value of a Small-Town Bookstore

For years, I kept my house in Deer Lodge, Montana, hoping to be able to move back some day.  Whenever the roads permitted, I spent time there, catching up with friends, fixing up the house, and seeing the changes that were taking place.

One of the best changes was the opening of a small, independent bookstore, Browsing Bison Books.  There are two owners; the one I’ve worked with is Cris.

When I told Cris that I was working on the George R. Stewart biography, she invited me to join the next meeting of the BBB Writers’ Group.  I agreed; and it was well worth the time.  In that small town in southwestern Montana, there was a vigorous small group of writers, some published, all interested in what other writers were doing.  I learned about their work, and experience writing.  One was a postman; others were students or local residents of various types.  They were interested in GRS,and his classic work Earth Abides  I was interested in what they were publishing.

BBB also has active book clubs, which gives local readers a place to meet and share their literary adventures with each other.

The juggernauts on the internet, like Amazon, seem to be destroying independent bookstores.  Yet, ironically, it is the ability of bookstores like BBB to sell through internet companies like ABE  that is helping keep them alive, even prospering.  As BBB tells readers on its Indie web page, they’ve sold books on six continents – something not possible before the internet gave the small bookstores that pathway to a global market.  It opens up a new world for independent bookstores, one were they can be intimate and neighborly parts of their communities, but also part of the larger community of readers on the Earth.

And it is through such sharing of literate knowledge across borders that enlightenments are born. It’s a practical, business-like version of the slogan “Think locally, act globally.”

George R. Stewart would be happy with this new model for selling books.  He’d also be pleased to learn that Browsing Bison Books, for a time at least, had new copies of Earth Abides for sale in the bookstore, in Deer Lodge, Montana.

Here’s a photo of the bookstore’s front window, from their facebook page.  (The building reflected in the window is the historic Deer Lodge post office, across Main Street.)

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Christopher Priest and George R. Stewart

The last few weeks have brought some interesting comments and communications from several places.  A student in Germany who’s doing a dissertation on science fiction and GRS, an academician who wants to translate one of GRS’s books into an Asian language, a professor in Philadelphia who sent his students’ reviews of Earth Abides, and the Keeper of one of the Disney blogs (THE Disney Blog, in fact), asking to mention the posting about GRS and Disney.  But the most interesting of all popped in just a few days ago – Christopher Priest, sending a link to his article about the influence George R. Stewart had on his work.

I knew Priest’s name, but went to the web to find more detail.

Christopher Priest is a distinguished, award-winning author of complex, literary science fiction written with a light touch.  One of his novels, The Prestige, was made into a film  by Christopher Nolan.  (The ending of the film differs from that of the book,  and seems to weaken the effect Priest so skilfully created in the novel.) Priest’s other novels get excellent ratings from readers and critics.  Here‘s a list.

Priest’s comment to the EA/GRS weblog was short, a link to a review of another author’s book.   “Standing On Shoulders” refers to Newton’s comment that he was merely standing on the shoulders of the great minds who preceded him.  In his case, Priest writes that he stands on the shoulders of filmmaker Ingmar Bergman and George R. Stewart.

As a young man, Priest saw four of Bergman’s films in two weeks – “Sawdust and Tinsel”, “Summer With Monika”, “Wild Strawberries”, and “The Seventh Seal” — and, he writes, the films transformed him.  Having seen three of those four myself, and at about the same age, I second his statements about their power.  (Years later, when I taught Film as Art in high school in San Francisco, I showed “The Seventh Seal”.  The students were so affected that they did not stir when the film – and the period – ended.  It was several minutes before anyone got up to leave, in complete silence, with none of the typical high school bantering back and forth as they left.)

At about the same time, Priest discovered Earth Abides; and, thus, George R. Stewart.  I”ll not go into detail here – read his article if you will – but I’ll say that in our brief conversations since his first comment to the web logwe’ve had some interesting talk about GRS and his brilliance.

Priest and I also had an interesting back-and-forth about the definition of “science fiction.”  Stewart’s best novels are all, in the purest sense, science fiction – that is, fiction based on and about solid science. But few readers would see Storm or Fire as conventional science fiction. Only Earth Abides qualifies.  Does that mean we need to come up with a new term to describe the type of fiction which is set in the future, or a parallel universe, or on an alien world?  Priest has proposed “visionary realism,” an excellent term but not yet popular with fans of the literature.  Maybe one of the readers of this post will have an idea?

If you’re on this page as a Stewart reader, I  strongly encourage you to pick up one of Christopher Priest ‘s novels. (I’m ordering a couple on payday.)  If you’re here as a Christopher Priest reader, welcome – and I suggest you read Earth Abides.

I also suggest GRS’s  Sheep Rock.  That novel has some of rich complexity and layers of truth which are the hallmarks of Christopher Field’s work.

It was a pleasure to learn that Christopher Priest found this weblog interesting, and I’m honored that he’s joined this conversation.   The circle of George R. Stewart is growing; and in the best sense of the STEAM movement, connecting art and science.  A small interdisciplinary fellowship of GRS followers is building, and that’s a good thing.

Buying a Beer For Cosmonaut Sali

George R. Stewart, as he often does for his readers, took me places I had only dreamed of when I was a lad.  Stewart’s emphasis on Earth and its ecosystems encouraged me to become a ranger; and I did that for both one state park system and the National Park Service.  Stewart’s Whole Earth vision, describing Earth from space in Ordeal By Hunger, Storm, and Earth Abides, encouraged me to seek work with NASA.  Fortunately – thanks to Mary Valleau of NASA who had also worked for the NPS, and her boss Garth Hull – I was hired as a NASA “Aerospace Education Specialist” – a traveling field educator who helped teachers, students, and communities learn about STEAM – the social and natural science, technology, engineering, art, and math required for spaceflight.  I worked at AESP for nearly ten years, first as State Representative for Southern California and Arizona; then as SR for Nevada and Montana.  (I have a Secondary Credential, BA and MA, and worked as a teacher on secondary and college levels.)

There’s a book in that work.

It was wonderful to work with students and teachers.  And working with astronauts and scientists to help develop educational material to teach about their missions was a milestone of my teaching career.  There were many adventures – one thing we did was to go to Johnson Space Center to learn about upcoming missions, which included going through some small sample of astronaut training.  So I practiced docking the shuttle to MIR station; and road along on the high-fidelity shuttle lift-off, abort, and landing simulator.  That was an E ticket ride.  I also met many of the Astronauts, including Barbara Morgan who was the first Mission Specialist with a teaching background. Barbara opened the door to space for teachers; several others have since gone up, full astronauts; two were  spacewalkers.  (Later members of the program would be known as Educator Astronauts)

But one of the most memorable encounters happened in the summer of 1997 at a bar near Johnson Space Center.  The 40 or so of us in the program were at the Center to be educated about the upcoming International Space Station construction and missions.  There were many briefings by Astronauts and astronaut crews who were to be involved.  William “Shep” Shepard, who was to be Commander of Expedition I – the first manning of the ISS – spoke at JSC; then invited those of us who were interested to meet him at the legendary Outpost, an Astronaut and scientist watering hole for 30 years. (You’ve seen the place if you’ve seen Space Cowboys.)

Only a few of us went.  I sat next to a very quiet man, who I didn’t know, and who had come there with Shep Shepard. I asked him how he knew Shepard.  “I’m Sali,” he said, “The first Uzbekistani Cosmonaut.  I go up on the Shuttle in January.”  After I got over the surprise, I decided to try out some high school Russian on him.  But he insisted on English:  “Shep said if I want to learn English I should go to a bar.”

“Well, then – can I buy you a beer?”

“Yes.”

And so I did.

The rest of the evening we listened to Shepard, a former Navy Seal, explain why we will not get to Mars without the Russians.  “I used to fight these guys,” he said, “but when it comes to long-duration space exploration they’ve written the book.  We need to work with them.”  We went back to our hotel, they went back to the Astronaut quarters.  I’d like to think that evening, and that beer, put a small stone in the cathedral of mankind.

Later that summer, I had the chance to work with high school students from the former Soviet Union.  One of the girls was from Uzbekistan.  “Sure.  Sali.”  “You know Sali?” she asked, in a wondering voice.  “Bought him a beer.”  My stock went very high; hers went higher with her companions.

Sali went up the next January; then went again, to spend nearly six months on the International Space Station. Click on the photo for more information:

220px-SharipovSalizhan Shakirovich Sharipov Салижан Шакирович Шарипов

All that from doors George R. Stewart opened.

I sometimes think of Sali, and his space explorer colleagues, looking out at Earth from orbit, and seeing the state of Nevada from space looking just like GRS described in Ordeal By Hunger – long before anyone had seen or photographed it. In fact, I was later to send up that passage, and ask Astronaut Ed Lu to photograph it from space – a way of honoring my old mentor GRS.

The Outpost, in a way, also reflected GRS’s work.  In East of the Giants and Earth Abides, fires sweep through to provide closure to the tale.  And thus it was with the Outpost:  In 2010, after a landlord threatened the long-time owners, a mysterious fire burned it to the ground.  Like Pancho’s Happy Bottom Riding Club at Edwards Air Force Base, the mythical Judith Godoy’s ranch, and the post-apocalyptic University of California at Berkeley, the Outpost passed into legend.  But it had done its job well.  Certainly it did so, on the night that, inspired by George R. Stewart, I bought Cosmonaut Sali a beer.

outpost-tavern-fire

George R. Stewart, Radio Character

Although George R. Stewart did not make much use of electronic communication devices or media, he did, as reported earlier, find himself involved in the creation of Disney films.  At about the same time, in the late 1940s, Stewart – or an actor playing Stewart – made an appearance on a radio mystery program.

Television was on the horizon in 1946, but Americans still listened to their favorite programs on the radio.  Comedians like Fibber McGee and Molly or Jack Benny, western stars like Roy Rogers and Dale Evans or Bobby Benson of the B-Bar-B – and mysteries or detective programs.

Mystery programs, which used the mind of the listener to create suspense or terror, were particularly creative and effective, because we all fear the unknown that we imagine much more than the known we can see.   The rattlesnake in your mind is much more terrifying than the rattlesnake on the trail.  Even today, it can be hard to listen to one of the more dramatic mysteries, like The Shadow, especially if you’re alone and it’s a dark and stormy night.

Mystery programs usually had a key character like Lamont Cranston – the Shadow.  The main character was often an urbane, slightly eccentric city type – an antiques dealer or bon vivant or independently wealthy person,  who had a nose for solving mysteries.  Think of Poirot or Inspector Morse or the modern Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch.

Gregory Hood was such a detective  He lived in a penthouse in San Francisco, made his money in the collectible art import and export business, and even had a Chinese house servant – the ultimate mark of cool for the radio detective.  One of Hood’s creators was local writer Anthony Boucher.  Boucher was the  pen name of William Anthony Parker White, who lived in Berkeley and knew George R. Stewart.  To make the show especially “real,” Boucher used Richard Gump, of Gump’s Department Store, which specialized in the sale of art, as a consultant.

By the time of the radio show, August of 1946, Stewart had become a well-known author.  Names on the Land had just been released; impressed with the book, Boucher decided to build an episode of the radio show around it.

Several episodes of The Casebook of Gregory Hood are available; unfortunately, “The Ghost Town Mortuary,” the episode with George R. Stewart, has not yet been found.  Fortunately, Stewart kept a copy of the script, and donated that to the Bancroft.  Here’s a portion:

…GREGORY: This place is handy for the one person who I think can help us on this case.
SANDY: And who is that person?
GREGORY: Professor George Stewart, of the University English Department.
MARY: Oh yes! He wrote “Storm”—a wonderful book.
GREGORY: True, but what is more to our immediate point is the fact that Random House recently published his new book: “Names on the Land.” It’s a classic and definitive study of American place-naming. His virtues are many. (with a chuckle) Including a fine sense of entering on cue. Here he is. (Raising his voice) Hello, George.
GEORGE R. STEWART: (clearance arranged) (straight and charming ) How are you, Gregory?
GREGORY: Fine. …

Stewart is able to identify the location where a kidnap victim is being held by one word on a note – the word is the name of a ghost town.  The town is real, and the name is discussed in Stewart’s place-naming book; but Boucher moves the town west for dramatic purposes.

You can learn more about the series here.  

You can listen to an episode here.

This was not Stewart’s only exposure on radio.  A few years after this episode, the classic radio drama series Escape broadcast a version of Earth Abides.  In order to capture its epic sweep, Escape broadcast the story in two half hour segments.  And in the days before high quality recording, it was broadcast in an East Coast and a West Coast version.  The star was the well-known character actor John Dehner.

Download here.  Listen here.

Note the use of the term “ecology” at the beginning of the broadcast.  This is one of the first uses of the term, or concept, in mass media.