“We prefer crude vigor to polished banality,” the motto of The Anvil which was one of the most significant literary magazines of the 1930’s. Conroy started publishing The Anvil in 1933 after he returned to his hometown of Moberly and continued it until 1936. It later merged with the Partisan Review. The New Anvil reappeared in 1939 with Conroy and Nelson Algren co-editing it. This was published until 1940. The magazine had a wide circulation throughout the country. Conroy also founded the literary magazine,The Rebel Poet.
Conroy published poetry and stories, introducing many young writers to the literary scene, such as Tennessee Williams, Richard Wright, Frank Yerby, Erskine Caldwell, Langston Hughes, James Farrell and others.
Jack Conroy always said the song, “This Land Is Your Land” should be America’s national anthem. He knew and was a good friend of Woody Guthrie who wrote, sang the song, and loved the land as much as he did.
Conroy knew the land. Riding on a freight train, working at a steel mill and in factories, digging trenches, he continued to write with his writing being drawn from experiences. Conroy had the unique ability to remember and quote thousands of verses and lines and he frequently entertained his visitors and cohorts with a verse or two.
Jack Conroy and Professor Doug Wixson, close friend, biographer and literary executor of Conroy’s, on Jack’s front porch at 701 Fisk Ave. in Moberly, Missouri taken in 1982.
This is the home Jack moved to upon returning from Chicago to spend the rest of his life in his hometown of Moberly and where he continued to write and receive students, friends and scholars until his illness prevented him from doing so.
Doug Wixson is the author of Worker/Writer in America, the biography of Jack Conroy from 1898 – 1990, published in 1994. Receiving excellent reviews this book tells not only of Jack’s life, but of the lives of other midwestern radicals and the cultural history of that era. Wixson resides in Austin, Texas.
The old miners’ cemetery where the Conroy family is buried. Here Jack had engraved on the large monument, “Death Be Not Proud, Though Some Have Called Thee Mighty and Dreadful For Thou Art Not So.” Conroy’s father and two brothers lost their lives in the Monkey Nest coal mine.
Shown is Stephen Wade, the nationally famous “Banjo Dancer” who used some of Conroy’s folk tales in his long running Arena Stage production of “Banjo Dancing” in Washington D.C. as well as throughout the nation and Carolee Hazlet, close friend of Conroy’s.
Conroy’s The Disinherited was first published in 1933 by Covici-Friede Publisher. It was reissued in 1963 by Hill & Wang, then in 1982 by Lawrence Hill & Co. It was again renewed in 1991 by the University of Missouri Press.
The Disinherited gave Conroy public attention in the U.S. and abroad and firmly established him as an authentic worker-writer of the proletarian literary movement tagging him by Richard Wright as the “grandaddy of all rebel writers”. Conroy drew from life experiences creating a vivid and realistic view of the Depression era. This won him an honored place in American literature as well as in other countries. The novel has been published in seven other languages.
Still today The Disinherited is required reading in many college American literature and social history courses.
Gwendolyn Brooks, internationally honored and celebrated poet. She was a good friend of Conroy’s and well acquainted with his work. In 1967 she presented Conroy with the State of Illinois Literary Times Award, and in 1990 she honored him with a poem in his memory. The poem serves as the preface to the 1991 edition of New Letters which is dedicated to Conroy. Brooks, Pulitzer Prize-winner and Poet Laureate of Illinois, appeared as the third presenter in a four part series based on the Jack Conroy American Studies Collection at Moberly Area Community College.
“Do not let words put the message in your heart but let your heart put words on paper,” a strong message he would give to young writers. Jack Conroy was often asked how to be a good writer. He would also tell them to “leave the booze alone and wait until you’re old to get married.”
Conroy wrote thousands of reviews, so many in fact that the editor thought he should have a pseudonym, so his reviews were published not only under the name of Conroy but Tim Brennan and John Norcross as well and many times all three were printed in the same issue. Conroy always said that writing was the hardest job he ever did.
Jack Conroy’s own desk and typewriter, which are housed at Moberly Area Community College in the Conroy American Studies Collection room. The desk has not been refinished but stands worn and stained from Conroy’s use. Conroy would write for many hours and end up with a couple of saved papers and a wastebasket full of paper he didn’t think was worth saving, saying, “another day in the trenches of the mind.”
His library room in his home on Fisk Ave. in Moberly had bookshelves from floor to ceiling, on all four, walls from corner to corner; filled with thousands of books he, either reviewed, edited, were written by friends, or wrote introductions to. When asked, he knew where any specific book was.
This map drawn by Jack Conroy shows his birthplace in the old coal miners’ camp. The Monkey Nest Mine, as it was called by the miners, but legally named the Eagle Mine, was considered one of the most dangerous shaft coal mines in the area.
The Weed King published in 1985 includes “Tales from Monkey Nest”. These stories are taken from real life experiences of his life in the camp. The titles of the stories are on the map. At age eight Conroy published a paper for the coal mine camp. He called it the Monkey Nest Monitor. He wrote each issue out by hand on a piece of butcher paper, carefully dividing the page into departments. He drew comic strips, reported local events and the rough humor of the miners.
Studs Terkel, writer, oral historian and radio legend, was a close friend of Conroy’s since 1930 and remained friends with him until Conroy’s death. Terkel lives in Chicago and continues to write. Winn Stracke, a friend of Conroy’s since those early days as well, was the founder of the “Old Time School of Folk Music” in Chicago and a musical star of early Chicago television. Visiting Conroy in Moberly, October, 1984, the three rehashed old times, sang songs together and recorded old stories. Conroy received visitors from all corners of the world from the time he moved back to Moberly until his death in 1990, in his 100 year old house.
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