As a journalist who has been working for several years now on a biography of James T. Farrell (to be published by Holt), I am naturally pleased to see American Heritage show an interest in him (“American Characters,” April). Unfortunately, however, Gene Smith merely compounds the injustice he did to Farrell thirty-five years ago in a profile published in the New York Post (“Portrait of the Artist as a Middleaged Man,” October 9, 1960).
Mr. Smith, in my view, is as wrong now as he was the first time to regard Studs Lonigan as being Farrell’s only worthwhile work. That point, obviously, is arguable, but there are some readily available facts about Farrell’s life as a writer in his final decades that Mr. Smith ignored.
Smith gives the impression that Farrell was washed up in 1960 and that no publisher would touch him. “No one was interested. Editors sent back his submissions....he repeated the same things over and over in unpublishable books.” (Just as Smith had predicted in his 1960 New York Post profile: “He says he is writing 20 new books, and it seems all too likely they will join the 40 more in his files, unpublished.”)
In actual fact, however, during the 1960s and 1970s, Doubleday published numerous Farrell books, including The Silence of History (1963), What Time Collects (1964), Lonely for the Future (1966), A Brand New Life (1968), Childhood Is Not Forever (1969), Invisible Swords (1971), Judith and Other Stories (1973), The Dunne Family (1976), and The Death of Nora Ryan (1978); several others were published by independent presses. Mr. Smith might consider all these books worthless, but he should at least have acknowledged their existence.