Sunday, December 28, 2008

Kevin Starr and Westways

We have a new entry in the McWilliams sweepstakes: Kevin Starr, who contributed a piece on C-Mac to the current issue of Westways, the AAA magazine of Southern California, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Kevin describes McWilliams's monthly column, "Tides West," which ran in Westways during the 1930s.

All nicely done, of course, though Kevin tactfully omits the fact that Westways fired McWilliams after Ruth Comfort Mitchell, the wife of a Republican state senator, objected to his politics. McWilliams applauded John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath in the pages of Westways, while Mitchell responded to it by writing Of Human Kindness, a novel that depicted virtuous family farmers and depraved labor union organizers.

I drew heavily from Kevin's books to produce my McWilliams bio. He, in turn, wrote a short (and humorous) foreword for my pamphlet, based on my Bonnie Cashin lecture at UCLA, on Carey McWilliams and the politics of cool.



At 1:04 PM , Blogger Frank P. Barajas said...

Hey Peter,

C-Mac. This has a nice ring.

William David Estrada also references and quotes C-Mac serveral times throughout his new book _The Los Angeles Plaza: Sacred and Contested Space_ (U. of Texas Press, 2008).

Feliz año nuevo,


At 8:04 AM , Blogger Peter Richardson said...

Thanks, Frank. I will look for this.

At 7:47 AM , Blogger Matt Bokovoy said...

Hi Peter,

I'm certain the Westways editor likely asked Starr to omit this unpleasant fact, a staple of commercial magazine journalism. Nonetheless, the piece is decent and it would be nice if McWilliams' work made a significant resurgence.

In one sense, McWilliams and others are kind of a lost generation of Cold War intellectuals who experienced barriers to their success during that period, and other intellectuals were able to prosper in their wake, like Arthur Schleisinger, Jr. and other "liberal" New York intellectuals. Frances Stonor Saunders, The Cultural Cold War (New Press, 1999) chillingly tells how all this happened.

So it's interesting that our younger American intellectual historians are retreading Cold War liberalism looking for heroes. They are looking in the wrong place, and people like Paul Goodman, William Whyte, and Dwight MacDonald and their "ideas" don't really seem worth resuscitating, except as the basis for a neoliberal tradition.

So the territory is wide open for that writer or graduate student to write a revisionist history of 20th Century intellectual life.

Happy New Year,


At 11:55 AM , Blogger Peter Richardson said...

Thanks, Matt. As you know, Schlesinger was uniquely capable of irritating C-Mac.


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