Prepare for a Celebration:

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For years this weblog has been promising news about a possible film version of Earth Abides.  There may be more detailed news soon.  That’s all I can report now – but please stay tuned…. and prepare to celebrate.

ligda

The late Alan Ligda,  who gets the credit for keeping Earth Abides in print without a break for 74 years.  When Random House dropped the book his Hermes Press bought the publishing rights and produced a beautiful edition.  When that printing sold like hotcakes, Random House bought the rights back. 

Hermes Press edition:Hermes EA

George R. Stewart and the Unnaming of the Land

Words, when written, crystallize history; their very structure gives permanence to the unchangeable past. –Francis Bacon, essayist, philosopher, and statesman (1561-1626)  

George R. Stewart’s Names On The Land was published in 1945 just as World War II ended.  In a letter to Stewart, his friend, Pulitzer Prize Winner Wallace Stegner, jocularly said he was interested in reading the book to see if GRS had included some of the more salacious names on the American land or if he’d cleaned them up so as not to offend the blue noses.  Stewart was name-honest in the book, but discreetly so. 

Today, however, that approach would surely result in loud protests over his description and explanation of the origins of American place names. 

There is a wave of censorship about place names and an avalanche of renaming not unlike the practice in Orwell’s 1984 of changing history and word meanings on a frequent  basis:  Done for political reasons and ignoring the effect on the history of our nation and our times. 

Some names are clearly insensitive, and no one should oppose such renaming.  But many names which WE have made derogatory were in their original meanings only descriptive.  If the naming bluenoses insist on sanitizing them to the detriment of their true meanings it would be unfair to those who originally used them.  Much better to modify them so the original meaning is clear. 

“Squaw,” for example, originally meant “young woman” or woman to Algonquin and other indigenous peoples; when immigrants began flooding here certain of them made the word a slur; but to deny the honest name is to give the racists who changed its meaning another nasty victory over those first American peoples by corrupting their language.  If “Squaw Valley” is offensive, re-name it “Young Woman Valley.”

Place names are also often used to honor people who at particular times in our history had a profound effect on our nation and our world. Sometimes their influence is seen as glorious; sometimes, in hindsight, as dangerous.  Yet in removing “Washington” from the maps because he owned slaves we also remove reminders of him from our history.  Ironically, that could mean other countries who’ve honored the man who led our fight for independence would be celebrating him but Americans would forget who he was. 

One especially egregious example is the current attempt to remove Joseph LeConte’s name from the land.   LeConte and his brother John were Georgians who owned slaves during and before the Civil War.  Extremely racist, they supported the Confederate war effort.   After the rebels were defeated the LeContes moved west to California.   Excellent scientists and university administrators (they’d been professors in a southern university) the brothers were quickly hired by the new University of California to provide strong academic foundations for the new school.   It was a sound decision – John LeConte, Physicist and UC’s first President, established a physics program that would eventually lead to the discovery of new elements of matter – two of which, Californium and Berkelium are named for the University. Californium is at the heart of many smoke detectors. 

John’s brotherJoseph LeConte was a beloved geology professor, botanist, and namer of species, who with his close friend John Muir and a few others founded the Sierra Club.  The good work done by the club and its inspiration for the modern environmental and public lands protections movements are achievements on a summit of the greatest human accomplishments – like the Declaration of the Independence, written by another slave owner, Thomas Jefferson.   Yet the 21st century Sierra Club, which owes its existence to Joseph LeConte, has “unnamed” the Lodge in Yosemite Valley which was built by the contributions of Sierra Club members and UC faculty and students to honor LeConte. 

There was also an attempt to tar John Muir with the brush of racism.  The true danger of Orwellian renaming is this: If those who founded the Sierra Club were racists, why, the Club may be a racist institution, so its arguments and programs for preservation of wild places can be ignored. 

There’s a name for this kind of argument in debate circles: “Ad Hominem” – “To the man” – in which you turn a question of fact into a slander on an individual or an organization to cloud the evidence for the other side’s (stronger) case. 

Another problem with such Orwellian “unnaming” is that it allows history to be forgotten.  As George Santayana wrote, Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it

In the Lake Tahoe and Carson Pass area, many features and places are named for Civil War people and events.   Fredricksburg (a massive Confederate victory), Burnside Lake (named  in jest by former southerners?) for the Union General who lost the Battle of Fredricksburg), Jeff Davis Peak (named for the President of the Confederacy), Reno (named for a fallen Union General).  Those names are messages to help future scholars piece together the connections between the Lake Tahoe area and a Civil War thousands of miles away. 

The proper way to deal with offensive names or names which carry an offensive history behind them is to add a plaque or addendum on the map explaining why they are offensive and that they’ve been left so people will know their history and not repeat its mistakes. 

George R. Stewart was aware that such unnaming could happen, and he cautioned readers against it in Names On The Land“The classical interests of the later eighteenth century are as much part of the history of the United States as are the existence of the Indian tribes or the Revolution.  To maintain, as many have done, that Rome and Troy are mere excrescences on our map, is to commit the fallacy of denying one part of history in favor of another part–or else is to be ignorant of history.

“The ideals and aspirations of the Americans of that period deserve their perpetuation.”

In a similar way, Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, and Sarah Botstein wrote in the LA Times (9-11-22): 

Do Americans today have the courage to look at the mistakes of our past for the sake of our improvement? Courage, in this case, includes our willingness to teach our entire history, to confront the difficult along with celebrating the positive. ….

…“If we’re going to be a country in the future, then we have to have a view of our own history which allows us to see what we were,” historian Timothy Snyder told us. “And then we have to become something different if we’re going to make it.”

***************

Centuries ago, Thomas Jefferson wrote   …a name when given should be deemed a sacred property….

George R. Stewart would heartily agree.  Fortunately, through his writings on place names – some in his books, some now preserved in hidden places – future scholars will be able to discover why we named places for certain things or certain people at certain times.  And while they will surely wonder at our glorification of the ignorance of our own history, they will honor George R. Stewart for his celebration of Names On The Land.

Frank Brusca’s Route 40 Today website is live

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In the late 1940s and early 1950s, George R. Stewart traveled the “main street of America,” U. S. 40, from coast to coast several times:  He had an idea for a book.  Like most of his works, it would be completely unique, ushering in a new type of book – the popular “odological” or road book.   

U.S. 40: Cross Section of the United States of America was published in 1953.  He chose U. S. 40 since it connected the Atlantic with the Pacific, followed the most central route, and was built upon several historic and prehistoric trails.

It contains essays about the history and development of American roads, the sounds and smells of driving the highway (before air conditioning sealed cars’ windows closed and shut out the external aromas and anti-smoking laws banished the internal aromas of smoke),  a final reflection on the future of highways (freeways were just being developed)  and a photo essay of road signs and and text  about the place names they carry.  He divides the US into sections, east to west, often doing so by the former historic trails that took humans over that particular part of the geography; each has an introductory essay about that section. 

Then Stewart gets to the meat of the work – a series of photographs of  archetypal  locations along the road, some of which contain road-related activities and people, carefully described in the most precise (yet poetic) manner on an accompanying page. 

Thus, photo 26, “Tavern,” shows the historic Red Brick Tavern, built as a waterhole for the “pike-boys” who drove the wagons carrying freight along the National Road that preceded U.S. 40.  Photo 50, “Two Species,” taken at a buffalo preserve just west of Denver, shows grazing buffalo and a few humans observing and photographing them.  Photo 85, “Donner Pass,” taken from an elevation a good climb up a mountain just south of the Pass, shows the beautiful curving highway as it climbs from Donner Lake over the central Sierra Nevada, with the magnificent Rainbow Bridge and a prominent Sierra peak behind it.  And so on, for the 92 photos that define the book. 

(By the way,  the peak behind the Rainbow Bridge at Donner Pass is now officially  “George R. Stewart Peak.”)

With U. S. 40 George R. Stewart created a roadside interpretive guide to the United States of America.  Travelers along the highway used and use it as such a guide.  (I do.)  My collection includes two first editions of U.S. 40 with travelers’ notes in them.  When Wingards of Pasadena, California, for example,  visited a place Stewart described, they penciled in the date on the page; so we know they drove through Kansas City on June 10, 1956, and crossed Colorado’s Berthoud and Rabbit Ears Passes on the 13th.  And some unidentified driver typed and taped a small page on the frontispiece of their copy recording the year and model of their car (a 1941 Dodge Sedan, NY license plate) and listing each day’s mileage and the places they stopped that night. 

The book doesn’t have the widespread fame of Stewart’s Earth Abides, but it has its own power and has created and inspired a network of creative people.  Tom and Geraldine Vale wrote what is certainly the first “descendant”  of a George R. Stewart work:  https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1533632.U_S_40_Today

U.S. 40 Today: Thirty Years of Landscape Change in America
 

Now considered a minor classic, the Vales’ book followed Stewart’s route, photographing and describing most of his sites 30 years after the original U. S. 40 was published. 

William Least Heat Moon was partly inspired by the book to write the brilliant American masterpiece , Blue Highways:  A Journey Into America. A few years later,  working with  road colleague Frank Brusca, he wrote an entire section about GRS and U. S. 40 in his  work, Roads to Quoz, an American Mosey

One more accolade to George R. Stewart and U.S. 40 deserves a mention here.  Production is beginning on a documentary by Filmmaker Doug Nichol about Stewart and the road.  As the project develops, I’ll be sending progress reports.  In the meantime, if you want to see his well-regarded, highly rated, and darn-right-enjoyable work, here’s the link to a wonderful film he recently produced, California Typewriter.

In the meantime,  Frank Brusca is carrying the U.S. 40 torch onward.  For decades, he’s been working to create a work of literature, geography, and photographic that would carry Stewart’s book into the 21st century and the current world of the web.  Now, I can announce that he is premiering the work.   On the “Return to Route 40” website, Frank  carries the site’s followers from east to west along U. S. 40, with maps and current photographs of most of Stewart’s sites.  He adds a description of each site as seen and photographed by Stewart and by the Vales, and includes his own contemporary comments.  It’s really a brilliant site and I highly recommend it to all lovers of things Stewartian, and all lovers of roads – especially the classic blue highways like U. S. 40.  There is very reasonable fee to join his site’s premiere section – well worth it – but also a free section.  So you can get a good idea of his masterwork even without paying the $2.50 a month fee.  In fact, you can even preview the first post on the paid site for free  (There is an error on the page.  Ignore the “this plan cannot be found” and scroll down to see the links to the free website or the paid site.)

Frank’s Return to Route 40 is a work that honors the work of his predecessors, like William Least Heat Moon, Tom and Geraldine Vale, and, of course, George R. Stewart.  If you are an odologist – one who follows the Blue Highways – an armchair traveler, or simply one who, like old Chaucer’s folke —

Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye,
So priketh hem Natúre in hir corages,
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages
 
 
— longen to goon on a pilgrimage,  Frank’s website is a good place to begin. 
 
 
Return to Route 40
 
 
Return to Route 40 Image courtesy Frank Brusca
 
 
 

A Major George R. Stewart Anniversary is Soon Upon Us

EA Morleys

In early October, 1949, Random House published the First Edition, First Printing of George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides. Since that day, October 7, 1949, Stewart’s novel has never been out of print, and the impact of the work on society and culture has been substantial. See this article for a summary of the book, its themes, and its influence.

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Recently republished by Mariner Books, with a fine new Introduction by Kim Stanley Robinson, the novel continues to inspire its readers with page-turning prose and provocative ideas. If you’ve never read it, this would be a good time – as the nights lengthen and the weather encourages evenings sitting by the fire with a good book at hand – to read the new edition. If you’re a fan of the novel, this would be a good time to read it again, seated in the easy chair by the fireplace.

Ish's Hammer(1)

Three Days and Counting

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If you’ve been waiting to buy the “glorious” 2020 Mariner Press edition of Earth Abides, with an Introduction by distinguished author Kim Stanley Robinson, this is the week.  The new printing of Earth Abides will be released on October 13th.    (But not necessarily shipped;  Amazon sent a notice that they would alert buyers when pre-orders ship.  Other places to buy the book include your local bookstore.   Or Bookshop, which helps support local bookstores.)

Even if you have a copy, you may want to purchase this new edition — published 71 years after George R. Stewart predicted a major pandemic which would affect the entire human race.  This is the novel that inspired Stephen King to write The Stand, and poet/novelist James Sallis to write a poetic review of the power and glory of Stewart’s novel.

Sallis writes, in part,

This is a book, mind you, that I’d place not only among the greatest science fiction, but among our very best novels.

Each time I read it, I’m profoundly affected, affected in a way only the greatest art — Ulysses, Matisse or Beethoven symphonies, say — affects me. Epic in sweep, centering on the person of Isherwood Williams, Earth Abides proves a kind of antihistory, relating the story of humankind backwards, from ever-more-abstract civilization to stone-age primitivism.

Everything passes — everything. Writers’ reputations. The ripe experience of a book in which we find ourselves immersed. Star systems, worlds, states, individual lives. Humankind.

Few of us get to read our own eulogies, but here is mankind’s. Making Earth Abides a novel for which words like elegiac and transcendent come easily to mind, a novel bearing, in critic Adam-Troy Castro’s words, “a great dark beauty.”

Is Coronavirus the Earth Abides plague?

George R. Stewart was quite a prophet.

In his first great work, Ordeal By Hunger, he told the story from an ecological (or Ranger’s) point of view.  But he began with the Astronaut’s point of view from Low Earth Orbit.  Not bad for a book published in 1936. (It’s still the best book about the Donner Party).

As he prepared for the publication of his ecological novel Fire he sent a letter to a Book-of-the-Month club publicist that prophetically explained:

“I consider the main theme … to be the problem of the relationship of man to his environment.  I really think of myself, in most of my books, as what might be called an ecologist. ”  (From a letter in the Bancroft Library’s George Rippey Stewart Papers. Published here by permission of the Stewart family.)

In the Third Book of The Years of the City, Stewart predicted how societies fade away, in a novel with disturbing parallels for today.

And in his classic work, Earth Abides, he predicted the end of the Anthropocene – the human era –  through a disease that spreads rapidly throughout society, decimating most of the human race.

EA Morleys

His interest in the idea came from his own experience.  After graduation from Princeton University in the Class of 1917 (one of his classmates was F. Scott Fitzgerald), Stewart, like many of his classmates wrapped in patriotic passion by the US’s entry into WW I, enlisted.  Like other army soldiers – young healthy men expected to be the most resistant to disease – he contracted the Spanish Flu.  It nearly killed him; and it would interfere with his health for decades – eventually leading him to have one lung removed.

The flu infected ONE THIRD of the human population of the Earth.  It may have killed as many as 50,000,000 people.  And, like other recent epidemics, it became deadly when some component of a virus jumped from animal populations into a strain of human flu.  This is exactly what caused the launch of coronavirus – almost certainly from a live animal market in China.   Read about the 1918 epidemic.    It killed perhaps 50,000,000.

(An excellent article about the Spanish Flu epidemic, In Flew Enza, focuses on the effects at UC Berkeley — discussing Stewart’s experience, and  Earth Abides.)

So far COVID has killed about 6000, and has a 95% cure rate.   This is not meant to discourage prudence but to point out that we are far from the 1918 pandemic.

Be prudent.  Don’t panic.

If this already frightening disease, coronavirus, should mutate, Stewart’s prophesy could well become (at least partially) true.  There are still isolated human populations – as many as 100 tribes, the Sentinelese being the best known – which might avoid the disaster.

Will this be the Earth Abides virus?  Hopefully not.  At least Stewart helped prepare us with his novel.  The book is so widely-read and in so many languages that certainly many of those who are in the leading roles to battle this epidemic have likely read it, and have thus been thinking for decades about what to do if and when such an epidemic should happen.  It has in fact been impressive to see how quickly they have begun to respond to it.  So we shall wish them well and hope for the best.

In the meantime, you may want to re-read Earth Abide.

POSTSCRIPT, on the first day of spring 2020:

There is major economic and social disruption today – the economic weakening of a society, and the isolation of neighbors from each other when cooperation and high social capital are needed but prevented by locking down a town.  A city with which I am familiar (as was George R. Stewart) has one case. They have demanded the closure of all businesses except food and drug stores and the hospital.  Businesses can’t pay rent or employees; employees can’t pay rent or buy food.  For ONE case in a city of more than 50,000.

And there are proposals to close the national parks – the best places for people to get the medical benefits of fresh air and exercise with the best of social distancing.

This would be a good time to consider Rudyard Kipling’s poem IF – especially the first few lines:

 

If

by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

 

Let’s also follow the example of the locked-down Italians:  Sing songs of hope.

Be prudent, keep your head, keep the faith.  And sing from your balcony.

 

Holmes Books

There are many pleasant meetings on the George R. Stewart Trail.

On a walk through beautiful Historic West Carson, I took a breather on the  bench near The Martin Basque Restaurant.  Not long after, a rider on a classic Schwinn came by.  He called out a neighborly greeting. I returned the greeting.  He stopped and we began to talk.   An hour later we were still talking.  It was one of those friendly swappings of stories which enrich lives, and unearth the most unlikely and wonderful connections.

He knew where Atwater Village is, one of the few who do.  His grandmother’s name was Theodosia, an unusual name but also the name of George R. Stewart’s wife.  He’d been a YAK – Youth Conservation Corps member – and we’d worked with the Yaks and similar groups in the old ranger days.  He’d fought fires, like the one described in Stewart’s fine novel FIRE.

And – the highlight – his great-grandfather was Robert Holmes, founder  of the legendary Holmes Bookstores in San Francisco and Oakland.

In Ranger days, when money was tight and our interest in Stewart’s books strong, on payday some of us visited Holmes in San Francisco – at Third and Market – to seek first editions of Stewart’s books.  We found many, and many of those cost a dollar. His Oakland store had more collectible antiquarian books, but it was a long drive and anyway we had no money for rare books. So our collections were founded at Holmes in San Francisco.

The Holmes bookstores finally closed – buildings old, foot traffic low, no internet on which to offer books in those days.  The last one was the Oakland store, which closed in 1994, 101 years after Holmes opened his first store on Mission Street in San Francisco.

As my new friend talked about his family, and Holmes Books, I closed my eyes and saw the stacks – and smelled that wonderful aroma of old books – where my GRS collection began.

If the internet had been strong in those days, Holmes would still be in business –  it is the internet antiquarian book store fronts which are keeping such bookstores in business.

My new friend Lumpy (the name given him by his beloved Brotherhood of the Surf on Southern California beaches we both frequented (but me much earlier, and not surfing)) talked on, about the old Southern California days for a while.

Then we parted, promising to get together again when time permits.

Walking home, I felt the breath of Carl Jung on my neck.  And since the Oakland Holmes Bookstore is supposed to be haunted , Jung’s breath felt perfectly appropriate  Here’s to synchronicity!

 

 

 

The More-or-Less Annual George R. Stewart, Jimmy Stewart Christmas Post

Time to re-post this story of the close connections between George R. Stewart and Jimmy Stewart, and between the mythical It’s a Wonderful Life town of Bedford Falls and the real Indiana, Pennsylvania, boyhood home of both Stewarts.  Christmas ispast, but Little Christmas awaits.  And since the iconic film ends with “Auld Lang Syne” this is perfect for New Year, 2019.  It’s a Wonderful Life is still popular on local screens around the country:  This year, the local Carson City, Nevada, Galaxy Theater showed the film twice on the Saturday before Christmas.  Long may it live.(Don’t miss the interview with one of the stars at the end of this post.)

 

It’s A Wonderful Story

(Originally posted on December 13, 2015)

This is the time of year when most of us watch the classic Christmas movies.  A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sims, Miracle on 54th Street, A Child’s Christmas in Wales,   (An almost unknown gem, produced in Canada, starring Denholm Elliot); and, of course,  It’s a Wonderful Life.

In Arroyo Grande the local theater,  owned by a man who loves movies, shows one of those classics each Christmas. The admission is a can of food or a toy, to be donated to those in need – in the spirit of the movie.  …To see such a film on the big screen, surrounded by local neighbors of all ages is a reminder of what we’ve lost.  Now we watch movies on TV, often alone, and usually less intently. But watching Miracle on Thirty-Fourth Street  or It’s a Wonderful Life in the movie theater, we are enfolded in the story.

For many people It’s a Wonderful Life   is the Christmas movie.  So those who are George R. Stewart fans will be interested to know the connection between that classic film and GRS.

George R. Stewart spent his boyhood in Indiana, Pennsylvania, where his mother’s family lived.  His maternal grandfather, Andrew Wilson, planned to be a teacher and even helped found a school (which became the prestigious Kiski School).  But he couldn’t earn enough to support his family so he went into the mercantile business.  He had a hand in a hardware store in Indiana, owned by another Stewart.  That Stewart’s son was James Stewart, also born and raised in Indiana.

George and Jimmy looked alike.  With all the similarities in family history, geography, and physiology, you’d expect they were related.  But they shared only one possible distant relative,   and they lived in different worlds, in Indiana.  The George Stewarts went to the middle-class Presbyterian church on the flats; Jimmy Stewart and his parents to the upper-class Presbyterian church on the hill.  GRS went to a public high school out west, Jimmy to a prestigious private school in the east.

Their paths apparently never crossed.  When he was 12 GRS and his family left Indiana for California in 1905, the year James Stewart was born. Out west, nothing in their interests or their work brought them together.  Yet in this Christmas season we should remember there is one thing they shared:  The experience of life in a small American town in the early 20th century.  Watching It’s a Wonderful Life we share the town with them, for a time walking the streets and meeting the people of the town and the time where the boys grew up.

Here’s a passage about Indiana, Pennsylvania as Bedford Falls:

George R. Stewart’s boyhood town was so archetypically American that it could pass for George Bailey’s “Bedford Falls” in Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life. In fact, the town was “Bedford Falls” – at least for the movie’s male star. Indiana, Pennsylvania, was also the boyhood home of James Stewart, who played “George Bailey” in Capra’s film.   Although the movie’s “Bedford Falls” was built on a studio backlot in the San Fernando Valley, Jimmy Stewart said that when he walked onto the set for the first time he almost expected to hear the bells of his home church in Indiana.

Each year, Indiana holds an It’s a Wonderful Life Festival, with a parade, hot chocolate, tree lighting, and continuous showings of the film at the Jimmy Stewart Museum. People line the streets in their warm clothing bringing life to the snow-bound town as the movie brings life to the streets of Bedford Falls.

This Christmas, when you watch Capra’s film please give a thought to the boyhood of George R. Stewart, celebrating his Christmases in a town which for Jimmy Stewart believed was the model for Bedford Falls.

Merry Christmas to everyone.

  1. A Christmas gift, for 2019 readers – a link to the radio interview with “Tommy Bailey,” one of the Bailey children growing up in Bedford Falls, setting for It’s a Wonderful Life. 

Posted in Christmas festivals, Christmas movies, Uncategorized | Tagged American small towns, Christmas movies, Frank Capra, It’s a Wonderful Life, movies, Tommy from It’s a Wonderful Life | 3 Replies

 

 

Waiting with Bated Breath: Will We Hear George R. Stewart reading his manuscript of Earth Abides?

UCB_Doe_7The Bancroft Library, nestled between the Campanile and the Doe Library,

University of California, Berkeley

Photo copyright: MikkiPiperImaging.com   Used with permission.

 

The Bancroft Library will digitize recordings of several manuscripts recorded by George R. Stewart.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, GRS decided to record his drafts.  (Before this, his drafts were written with sharp pencils, so he always kept a wad of sharpened pencils near his desk).  Since tape recorders were not available,  we believe he used the Dictaphone or a similar system.

Over the years of researching and writing about Stewart and his works, the idea of finding those recordings and digitizing them never went away.  But the big question was whether or not the Bancroft Library had the ability to digitize fragile recordings from an “ancient” format – if they existed and could be found.

Then, this week, a message came from the Bancroft Library:

I am happy to let you know that we are finally moving forward with digitizing the SoundScriber discs created (we believe) by George.  The process has taken quite awhile as we switched from our original plan of having them digitized by our normal vendor to having them digitized by a somewhat new and much less invasive process.
Our normal audio vendor is set up to digitize physical audio formats, like the SoundScriber discs, by playing the disc on a machine with a stylus, much like you would listen to a record a home.  The player is connected to some fancy equipment that records a digital file of the audio.  The SoundScriber discs are extremely fragile and their inherent fragility means that playing them once might completely erase the audio.  We were very nervous about the fragility and spent some time researching other methods of digitization that could mitigate the harm to the physical media.  Luckily for us UC Berkeley is the home to Project IRENE, which is a project team that works on digitizing obsolete media using optics.  
 
They have spent the last few years working on wax cylinders from the Phoebe Hearst Museum and the Library of Congress.  We brought the possibility of the SoundScriber process to them and they were excited for a new challenge.  They have now purchased new equipment to allow for their existing equipment to “play” SoundScriber discs and we plan to start digitizing the George Rippey Stewart discs soon.
 
As you can see from the Project IRENE website, they make as much of the material they digitize available as possible.  We would like to know if you would be amenable to us making the material available to researchers in the following ways:
 
1. in the Reading Room at The Bancroft Library
2. on the internet at one of our collection sites and/or through the Project IRENE site (without downloading capabilities for researchers)
 
The material has not yet been digitized so we still do not know what is actually on the recordings.  Please let me know what questions, comments, concerns you may have about making this material available to researchers.
MML,
Permission and Access Officer

The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley
lange@berkeley.edu

 

The answer to the letter was a resounding “YES!” — from the GRS family and those of us sharing George R. Stewart with scholars, artists, and the general literate world.

And so it begins.

Ø Ø Ø

The backstory of events that brought us to this point is full of twists and turns.  It depended on the hard work of GRS Helpers, including Michael Ward, Keeper of the George R. Stewart Wikipedia pages.

I had contacted the Bancroft as a somewhat-anonymous scholar wondering about digitizing the recordings. But Stewart left strict instructions with the Bancroft:  No one was to listen to those recordings without his specific written permission.  When GRS passed away in 1980, permission would need to come from the family’s holder of copyright.

The Bancroft Librarians began searching for the family keeper of permissions.   Discovering Mike’s excellent GRS website they contacted him, asking if he could direct them to the person who could authorize the digitization and sharing of the recordings.Mike directed the Bancroft to me.

I connected them with Ed Stewart, GRS’s grandson, who manages permissions since his father Jack Stewart’s death.  Ed quickly gave his ok.

The Librarians began the process of finding the best and safest way to transfer those fragile old recordings to modern digitized form.   The letter explains the next steps they’ll take to preserve those treasures of literature.

bancroft-reading

Heller Reading Room, The Bancroft Library

The Bancroft Library is one of the great literary repositories on Earth.  Their collections include ancient papyrus texts, 49er diaries and journals (including those of the Donner Party), the Papers of the founders of the National Park Service and the Wilderness Society, and Mark Twain.  (Clemens’ family insisted on the Bancroft.)  And  the Bancroft holds the Papers of George R. Stewart, soon, we hope, to include his recordings of several of his manuscripts.*

Of course, as the Bancroft Librarian says, we don’t yet know exactly what’s on those recordings.  But there is good evidence that some of them contain GRS’s reading and verbal notes on his great epic, Earth Abides.  That novel, never out of print, influenced writers like James Sallis and Stephen King (who based The Stand on Earth Abides), and composer-musicians including Phillip Aaberg and Jimi Hendrix (Hendrix was inspired to write Third Stone from the Sun by Stewart’s book). Stewart’s novel is one of the great inheritances from our time, to all time.

GRS Composer/Scholar Philip Aaberg’s new video from Montana’s HiLine, honoring the Montana Farmers’ Union.

The hope we may soon be able to hear GRS reading parts of the novel in draft form is, well,  stunning.  The idea that the Bancroft will share that with the world’s scholars is a credit to them and the tools of this age.

It has been a long journey, indeed full of twists and turns, aided along the way by critical helpers, as our small band of scholars seeks the holy grail:  To teach the literate world and the STEAM-thinking world about George R. Stewart’s books and his ideas.  Now, at a summit on the Stewart Trail, we appear to be close to receiving a boon.  That boon – hearing Stewart read his manuscripts –  will be shared with the world.

Whatever is on those recordings, I am infinitely grateful for the hard work of all who have brought GRS and his works to this point.

As digitizing progresses, I’ll send updates. Stay tuned.

Bancroft Ranger          National Park Service Ranger ready to do NPS research at the Bancroft Library

 

*The Bancroft uses donations to fund such special projects, and also accepts donations of exceptional items that are within the purview of their collections.  You might consider sending them a donation .

News About U.S. 40 and Earth Abides

Christmas and New Years are over, so there’s time to bring everyone up to date about recent George R. Stewart-related events.  The Donner Summit Historical Society reports some major work on US 40, a Route 66 leader has connected with this site through his interest in U.S. 40,  and there’s a new French translation of Earth Abides.

In the January issue of the Donner Summit Historical Society’s excellent online magazine, Donner Summit Heritage, Editor Bill Oudegeest includes articles on U.S. 40; one carries news about plans to upgrade the Historic Route over Donner Summit.   On page 14, there’s a review of a book about early travel over the road; on page 18, various items about U.S. 40, which begins with the notice of the road upgrade.    The current issue isn’t yet posted on the main DSHS pages; but will be soon.  However, if you become a paid member – and you should! – you’ll get the Heirloom every month.

U.S. 40 was, if any road was, the George R. Stewart Highway.  He hitchiked the eastern section in 1919, when it was still the National Old Trails Road, often drove it across the country, and finally wrote a classic book, the first popular “odology” (road geography) book, U.S. 40.  Stewart’s book led to another classic, Vale and Vale’s U.S. 40 Today:  Thirty Years of Landscape Change in America; the authors followed old U.S. 40 in 1983, re-photographing as many of his original locations as they could, describing landscape change in the thirty years since Stewart’s book was published.  A few years later Frank Brusca posted his wonderful U.S. 40 pages, with even more information about the historic highway and its current character.  Recently, in Roads To Quoz, William Least Heat Moon includes an entire section on Stewart and U.S. 40, opening the section with a quote from Stewart.

Finally, earlier this month, Fred Cain contacted me via Michael Ward’s wonderful George R. Stewart Wikipedia pages.  Fred is working on a plan to re-authorize U.S. 66 as a marked highway, not simply a series of older sections of the now-deauthorized highway.   As it turns out, Fred is also a great fan of Stewart’s U.S. 40 and Vale and Vale’s U.S. 40 Today.  We’ve been in an email conversation which includes Bill Oudegeest about getting better signage for the historic U.S. 40 Route.

Here’s a bonus for U.S. 40 historians and fans – a test photo for the book, never published. It’s from the Anna Evenson/George R. Stewart Family Collection, published here with permission.  (Please don’t republish it without Anna Evenson’s permission.  I can forward a request to her if you wish to use the photo.)

us 40 trials 187

 

GRS used a Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex to take his photos.  The Rolleiflex is one of the great cameras of a great era in photography, when Edward Weston and Ansel Adams were creating their best works.  Stewart knew Adams, and there’s a letter in the GRS papers from Ansel Adams to Stewart.

The Rollei’s format is square, 2 1/4 by 2 1/4 inch, so the photos in the book are in that square format.  (35 mm and most digital cameras have a format that is longer than it is high.)

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Here’s the cover page of the new French translation of Stewart’s great novel, courtesy of Philippe Grand.

La-terre-demeure

Earth Abides, abides.