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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Hustling to Upload John O'Hara

I've been a Busy Bee the past few weeks, trying to prepare for uploading the manuscript of "Do You Like It Here": Inside the Worlds of John O'Hara, a publication I'm calling "a brief biographical memoir."

Several years ago, as regular visitors to this site know, I began a journey through the works of John O'Hara (1905-1970), a popular writer whose writing generated both praise and disgust from literary critics of the time. Few remember him today.

The author of novels (Ten North Frederick, which won the National Book Award; A Rage to Live; BUtterfield 8; and numerous others), short stories (many collections; he is still the writer who has published the most short stories in the New Yorker), plays (among them Pal Joey, a collaboration with Rodgers and Hart, was a Broadway his), journalism (he had regular gigs with Newsweek, Collier's, and Holiday among others), screenplays (his only sole credit was for Moontide, 1942, but he received co-writing credit on a few others), O'Hara sank rapidly after his death in 1970. His work is not included in many standard anthologies; his name, no longer widely known.

I got interested in him because of a memory. Back at Hiram College--the summer of 1965 (I was about to commence my senior year)--I had taken a course called "Imaginative Forms of Prose, II," the second of a two-course sequence, the only creative writing courses at the college at the time. (Things have changed in recent decades--lots of writing courses at Hiram now, much of it due to the efforts of my wife, Joyce Dyer, who adorned the faculty there for a couple of decades.)

Anyway, in that course with Prof. Abe C. Ravitz, the most influential of all of my college professors (by far), we read--while we were working on how to use dialogue in fiction--the John O'Hara story "Do You Like It Here?"--originally published in the New Yorker on February 18,1939, a brief story about a confrontation between a new boarding school student and a dorm master, who accuses the boy of stealing a watch.

Over the years of my own teaching career, I would sometimes use that story with my own students for various reasons (though in the public middle school where I taught for many years I had to "alter" the final line uttered by the angry boy back in his room: "The bastard, the dirty bastard."). But I didn't really know much about O'Hara--except that my parents wouldn't have his books in our house.

In June 2011, I read Geoffrey Wolff's biography of O'Hara--The Art of Burning Bridges--and, deeply intrigued, decided to read all of O'Hara's work--which I did. And then visited key sites in his life, including his home town of Pottsville, PA (which he called "Gibbsville" in his work), his final home in Princeton, NJ, the wonderful O'Hara archive at Penn State (where stands a recreation of O'Hara's study--the way it was the day he died), his grave in Princeton ... and on and on. Oh, and I watched all the films he was involved with.

Anyway, I've delivered an O'Hara talk at local libraries a couple of times (with PowerPoint, of course!), but now I'm ready to put it up online so that others can read about him. And I'll be posting on this site a collection of photographs to accompany the piece.

And next week, Joyce and I will make a quick trip to the Schuylkill County Historical Society in Pottsville to donate to them my entire O'Hara collection.

I will let you know when the ePublication is available. It's about fifty pages of text with a bibliography and numerous notes appended. I'll price it as cheaply as Amazon allows for this category of ePub.

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