Thursday, August 17, 2017

In search of shock value, trendy Manhattan #AltRight boys unwittingly apt 50-year-old gay performance art prank.

From Electric Lit:

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Bluestockings is a feminist bookstore, cafe, and activist center in New York City—basically, a gathering place for progressive ideals. So it’s probably no surprise that it would be targeted by alt-right types. Fortunately, the vandalism was more ideological than physical: attempting to sneak copies of a white supremacist memoir onto the shelves.
As usual for a group whose main tenet is “everyone’s fucking me over but me,” the intentions of this…protest?…are a little muddy. Were they trying to impugn Bluestockings? To help Yiannopoulos’ real book sales match his fantasy ones? Eh, who literally ever knows. But in any event, Bluestockings’ response, both in the moment and on Facebook, is a model for how businesses and organizations can commit to dealing with people who espouse white supremacy in the name of (their understanding of) free speech.



It could even work for individuals. “Uncle George, Thanksgiving is open to people who ascribe to a range of ideologies; however, there is no room for alt-right propaganda or the endorsement of white supremacists’ views in our space.” It has a nice ring, don’t you think?
Somehow, we doubt the #AltRighters- famous for their lack of a sense of history, even less of literature, would have been so keen on this idea had they known it had been done.
Before.
Like, 55 years.
By queers.
Police came to the door of Joe Orton, the man who would one day be one of the most famous playwrights in the United Kingdom, and his partner Kenneth Halliwell’s one-bedroom apartment at 9 a.m. on 28 April, 1962. It was a Saturday, the cooling end of the first warm week of the year, and the men had been up for hours, customarily getting up with the sunrise.
“We are police officers,” one said, “and I have a warrant to search your flat as I have reason to believe you have a number of stolen library books.” Orton replied: “Oh dear.”
A search warrant might seem excessive for library book hoarding—but Halliwell and Orton were no ordinary library pilferers. For over two years, Orton and Halliwell had been smuggling books out of their local libraries, the magnificent Art Nouveau Islington Central Library on London’s Holloway Road and nearby red-brick Essex Road Library—and then returning them.
Orton hid books in a satchel; Halliwell, six-and-a-half years older, used a gas mask case. They would take them home, redo their covers and dust-jackets, and then slip them back onto the shelves.
Sometimes, these alterations were obscene: a reader scanning a relatively tame Dorothy Sayers whodunit would find themselves confronted with a mystery even before they opened the book. The blurb now described some missing knickers and a seven-inch phallus, and concluded: “READ THIS BEHIND CLOSED DOORS! And have a good s*** while you are reading!” Meanwhile, the collected plays of Emlyn Williams, a Welsh dramatist, suddenly included “Knickers Must Fall,” “Olivia Prude,” “Up The Front,” and “Up The Back.”
The collages on the covers were no less subdued, and often overtly queer. On the cover of a book of John Betjeman poetry, a middle-aged man glowers in scanty black briefs. His body is covered entirely in tattoos. A now mostly forgotten romance novel, Queen’s Favourite, was redone with two men wrestling, naked to their navels.
Years later, once he’d become a famous playwright, Orton recalled: “I used to stand in corners after I’d smuggled the doctored books back into the library and then watch people read them. It was very funny, very interesting.”

Orton and Halliwell got six months each in prison and a fine worth $12,000 today.

Civil War book of the day: 102 years after his widow's death, Stonewall Jackson is back on the front pages.

As her great-great-grandsons call for removal of his monuments to museums, we recall the work of a great Civil War biographer, in his life of Charlotte's Mrs Stonewall Jackson:


The author of more than thirty books of Southern history- many about prominent Southern women of the Civil War era- Harnett Kane (1910-84) was stricken by Alzheimer’s Disease fifty years ago and entered a seventeen-year twighlight that ended with his death at the age of 73.


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His slow fade from public awareness contributed to his becoming, and remaining, one of the most unjustly-forgotten historians of his generation, particularly in Louisiana studies.


He is perhaps best remembered for his New Orleans books, and for a trilogy of biographies: of Mrs Robert E. Lee, Mrs Jefferson Davis, and this one:


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Kane, Harnett T., The Gallant Mrs. Stonewall (Doubleday & Co., 1st ed. 1957). LOC 57-11426. A biography of the wife and widow of Civil War General Stonewall Jackson, whose long and eventful life ended in Charlotte, NC in 1915. Hardcover, unclipped dust jacket, mylar cover, very good condition. Inscribed by the author to Charlotte NC arts maven Gladys Lavitan, May 14, 1957.  HBB price: $50 obo.


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Born on her family’s plantation near Lincolnton in 1831, Mary Anna Jackson was the daughter of Davidson College’s first president, a striking young woman who first met Stonewall Jackson on a visit to Lexington, Virginia circa 1850. Jackson-then on the faculty of Virginia Military Institute- married another woman, who died in 1854; he called on Miss Morrison at Christmas 1856 and they were married the following July.


The Jacksons had two children in their Lexington years; one survived to adulthood. When General Jackson went to war in 1861, Mrs Jackson moved South to Charlotte and lived with relatives. Visiting Jackson in the field a few times, she was at his bedside when he died there May 10, 1863.


She outlived him by fifty-two years and never remarried; Mrs Jackson became known as The Widow of the Confederacy. Charlotte was her base; while away caring for her father on the plantation, then living with her daughter’s family in Richmond and- briefly- San Diego, she always came back to Charlotte, where she kept the General’s saddle on the newel post of the stairway. She remained a fixture of the past glory of the South even as the city grew up around her home, where she died in 1915.


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Mrs Jackson was herself an author of two books about her husband, a memoir, and edited a collection her letters.


_________________

Henry Bemis Books is one man’s attempt to bring more diversity and quality to a Charlotte-Mecklenburg market of devoted readers starved for choices. Our website is at www.henrybemisbookseller.blogspot.com. Henry Bemis Books is also happy to entertain reasonable offers on items in inventory; for pricing on this or others items, kindly private message us. Shipping is always free to US locations; local buyers are welcome to drop by and pick up their purchases at our location off Peachtree Road in Northwest Charlotte if they like.

We accept electronic payments via Facebook Messenger, powered by Stripe.

We regret that until California Assembly Bill 1570 (2016) is struck down by court order or amended to relieve out of state booksellers from its recordkeeping and liability burdens, we are unable to do business with California residents.

We offer 25% off to fellow dealers.

What’s your favorite social media outlet? We’re blogging at www.henrybemisbookseller.blogspot. com. We tweet as Henry Bemis Books. Have you liked us on Facebook yet? Henry Bemis Books is there, too. And Google+!

You can also see Henry’s alter ego, Lindsay Thompson, on a three weekly Facebook Live programs: Rare Book Cafe, a 2:30-3:30 pm EDT Saturday panel show about books; Book Week- Rare Book Cafe’s weekly Thursday noon news program (both on Rare Book Cafe’s Facebook page); and Gallimaufry, an occasional program about literary history on Henry Bemis Books’ Facebook page.


#HarnettKane #TheGallantMrsStonewall #FirstEditions #Autographs #HenryBemisBooks #Charlotte

Birthday: "I never worry about diets. The only carrots that interest me are the number you get in a diamond."



Mary Jane "Mae" West
(1893-1980)
Author, Playwright, Actor

“I believe in censorship,” Mae West famously remarked. “I made a fortune out of it.”

The five-foot-tall actress turned a handful of movie roles, quick wit, some physical assets, and a smart marketing sense into a seven-decade career that made her an international symbol of the sex goddess. She always favored tightly contoured, floor-length gowns in her roles, both to accentuate her figure and to enable her to stand on boxes to seem taller.

She caught her first break as a child star in vaudeville; in 1926 she produced her first play, Sex, in New York. The title alone scandalized the morals police so badly she was prosecuted for indecency and sentenced to ten days in jail. In a first- and probably last- she only served eight, winning two days off the sentence for good behavior.

Her 1927 play, The Drag, was about homosexuality, but after another furor, was never staged. Undeterred, she wrote and starred in 1928’s Diamond Lil, about a Gay ‘90s entertainer. The show was a Broadway hit and a revival vehicle for her career a number of times in the decades to come.

Nearing 40, she was offered a contract by Paramount and began a truly meteoric, five-year rise and fall in pictures. Her first outing, a 1932 George Raft vehicle, featured her famous (improvised) response to “Goodness, what beautiful diamonds!” “Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie.” Raft later said of the film that West stole everything but the cameras.

In 1933 she co starred with Cary Grant in She Done Him Wrong and I’m No Angel; by 1935 she was the second-highest paid individual in America, behind William Randolph Hearst (who, in response to her racy lines, called on Congress to “do something about Mae West!”)

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West’s career took a header after the introduction of the new motion picture film code in 1934 and its rigorous enforcement by former Postmaster General Will Hayes. Her persona lost its edge, and by 1937 low box office numbers and her stratospheric salary landed her on the “box office poison” list. She tried broader comedic roles and enjoyed some success in the 1940 My Little Chickadee (opposite W.C. Fields and despite their mutual loathing and desire to constantly rewrite scenes), but after a 1943 flop, The Heat’s On, she turned her back on the movies for 25 years.

By then she was a cultural institution: a life preserver was named for part of her; Cole Porter wrote her into songs, and Salvador Dali modeled a 1937 couch after her lips.

Her love affairs were numerous: she said that while marriage was a wonderful institution, she wasn’t ready for an institution yet. When her boyfriend du jour, a black boxer, was denied an apartment in a segregated building, West met the problem head-on. She bought the bought the building and changed the rules.

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West tried radio in the 1940s but was dogged by the censors; there was just too much she could do with the inflection of a word. Undeterred, she returned to the stage and presided over a long running Vegas act in the Fifties. She turned down the lead in Sunset Boulevard, denying that she was in any way washed up, and published a best-selling autobiography in 1958.

In the 1960s West turned to TV- a memorable appearance on Mr. Ed was just one of her turns- and recording albums of popular hits (though a Telegraph article considered her 1972 record, Great Balls of Fire, to contain an “ill-advised cover of “Light My Fire”).

At 75 she appeared on a foldout cover of Life, sparking a renewed interest in her career; it led to her appearance in the 1970 camp classic film, Myra Breckinridge. Rarely seen today, the adaptation of Gore Vidal’s novel about a man who underwent a sex change showed West could still carry a role. It also marked the film debut of 24-year-old Tom Selleck, an aspiring actor West’s character plucked from her office waiting room, worked over, and discarded before lunch.

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In 1978, West reworked her play, Sex, as the movie Sextet, and cajoled an improbable array of stars to join her: Timothy Dalton, Dom DeLuise, Tony Curtis, Ringo Starr, George Hamilton, Keith Moon, Walter Pidgeon, Rona Barrett, Regis Philbin, and- 46 years after their first appearance together- George Raft.

Filming was a disaster; the script was rewritten so often the 85-year-old West couldn’t learn her lines and had them fed to her through a mic in her wig. For years Tony Curtis dined out on claims her mic also picked up police radio, causing West to purr, “Hey, there’s a 608 on La Cienega!” in one scene.

Sextet was a critical and box office bomb. West’s health began to fail, and she died at 87, leaving behind her companion of 26 years- a cast member of her Vegas act thirty years her junior- and a vast fortune derived from smart LA real estate investments.

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For more literary birthday celebrations, please join us at www.henrybemisbookseller.blogspotcom.

#RareBooks #HenryBemisBooks #MaeWest #LiteraryBirthdays

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Birthday: "Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead."

Charles Bukowski's 97th birthday is today.


Here's how The Writer's Almanac remembered him:

Today is the birthday of the writer that The Washington Post called "the poet laureate of sour alleys and dark bars, of racetracks and long shots": Charles Bukowski, born in Andernach, Germany (1920). He wrote more than 45 books of poetry and prose, including It Catches My Heart in Its Hands (1963), Notes of a Dirty Old Man (1969), Post Office (1971), Love Is a Dog from Hell (1977), Ham on Rye (1982), and The Last Night of the Earth Poems (1992).

His American father had been stationed in Germany during World War I, and Bukowski was the product of the man's affair with a German girl, whom he later married. The family moved to Los Angeles when Charles was a toddler, and that's where he grew up. He was picked on for his small size and his German accent, and when he was a teenager, he had such bad acne that it left permanent scars. His father had a violent temper and used to beat him. Bukowski was 13 when a friend gave him his first drink, and he, Bukowski, said, "This is going to help me for a very long time." He studied journalism in college for a couple of years, but then dropped out when World War II started, and he moved to New York to become a writer.

He published his first story when he was 24; the story was called "Aftermath of a Lengthy Rejection Slip." The rejection slip in the story reads, "Dear Mr. Bukowski: Again, this is a conglomeration of extremely good stuff and other stuff so full of idolized prostitutes, morning-after vomiting scenes, misanthropy, praise for suicide etc. that it is not quite for a magazine of any circulation at all. This is, however, pretty much a saga of a certain type of person and in it I think you've done an honest job. Possibly we will print you sometime, but I don't know exactly when. That depends on you." Bukowski would later estimate that his work was 93 percent autobiographical.



He published one more story after that but then received rejection after rejection, and he gave up writing for 10 years. He drank his way from New York to L.A., and wound up in a hospital, half dead from a bleeding ulcer. The doctor told him, "If you have another drink, it will kill you." Bukowski kept drinking, and he worked a series of odd jobs — at a pickle factory, a dog biscuit factory, a slaughterhouse, and at the post office — and then, when he was 35, he started writing poetry. His first collection was called Flower, Fist, and Bestial Wail (1959). Ten years later, when he was 49, Bukowski accepted a job offer from John Martin, the publisher of Black Sparrow Press. Martin idolized Bukowski, and had started Black Sparrow with the sole aim of publishing his work. Martin was sure he was the next Walt Whitman, and he offered him $100 a month to quit his job and write. "I have one of two choices — stay in the post office and go crazy ... or stay out here and play at writer and starve," Bukowski wrote in a letter. "I have decided to starve." In return for Martin's faith and support, Bukowski published almost all of his major work through Black Sparrow from then on.

Bukowski summed up his philosophy in a letter he wrote in 1963: "Somebody [...] asked me: 'What do you do? How do you write, create?' You don't, I told them. You don't try. That's very important: 'not' to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more. It's like a bug high on the wall. You wait for it to come to you. When it gets close enough you reach out, slap out and kill it. Or if you like its looks you make a pet out of it."

Bukowski died in 1994. Here are some things he said:

"Barbet Schroeder [who directed a loose biopic of Bukowski, called Barfly] wants a plot and an evolvement of character. Sh-t, my characters seldom evolve, they are too f-cked up. They can't even type."

"Critics: They smell life and they cannot stand it."

"DH Lawrence was solid all the way through but Henry Miller was more modern, less artsy, until he got into his Star-Trek babbling . . . with William Faulkner, the public has swallowed him with one big gulp - but a lot of Faulkner's pure sh-t, but it's clever sh-t, cleverly dressed."

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Ecliptical Lit: a series for a week of coming darkness, Part 1


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Birthday: "All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible."

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Thomas Edward Lawrence, CB, DSO (1888-1935)
Author, Archaeologist, Diplomat, Soldier

He seems a perfectly modern man today, 129 years after his birth and nine decades after he died. It’s because he was, even in life, a man out of time. He occupied past, present and future in an uneasy collaboration.

Born out of wedlock to an Anglo-Irish baronet and the family governess, Lawrence read history at Jesus College, Oxford, 1907-10, graduating with a first class degree.

In 1909 he walked 1000 miles in Syria, surveying castles of the Crusader era. He accepted, then, declined a graduate fellowship to Magdalen College, preferring to spend several seasons on archaeological digs in the Middle East and Egypt.

In early 1914 he was borrowed by the British government to survey the Negev Desert in anticipation of conflict with the Ottomans; he joined the Army in October and was posted to the General Staff in Cairo.

Fluent in Arabic, French and Ancient Greek, and with broad knowledge of the geography of the region, Lawrence was assigned to the Arab Bureau’s campaign to fund an asymmetric insurgency against the Turks to tie up their troops defending their turf. He gained the confidence of the Northern Arabs under Faisal, and the attention  of American newspaperman Lowell Thomas, as he launched a dazzling series of raids against the Turks in 1917-18.

The war ended; Lawrence was a colonel and, at thirty, had peaked.

He spent 1918-19 with Faisal at the Versailles Conference, trying in vain to create a Middle Eastern map that made sense. In 1919-20 he was the start of a stage show/film/lecture tour put on by Thomas, and was elected a Fellow of All Souls, Oxford.

In 1921 Lawrence served as an advisor to Winston Churchill in the Foreign Office. He then, abruptly, enlisted in the RAF under an assumed name; left the service in 1923 to join the Royal Tank Corps;  and returned to the RAF in 1925. His nom de guerre, T.W. Shaw, fooled almost no one; Noel Coward, addressing him by his serial number, asked in a letter, “Dear 338171, or may I call you 338?”

He spent two years in India, until rumors he was a spy resulted in his reassignment home. He worked for a number of years on power boats for the military, and pursued a fascination with motorcycles. He died, six days after a motorcycle accident, in 1935.

Lawrence’s literary fame rests on his memoir of the Arab Revolt, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and a slimmed-down recasting of the tale, Revolt in the Desert. He used the time and leisure of his All Souls Fellowship to write the book three times- once, from scratch after he lost the manuscript changing trains- to get it right. The book became the basis for the 1962 David Lean film, Lawrence of Arabia, which launched the career of Irish actor Peter O’Toole. Of the actor’s dazzlingly good Technicolor looks, Noel Coward quipped, if O’Toole’d been any prettier, the movie would have had to be renamed Florence of Arabia.

Lawrence is memorialized by a bust in St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Book of the Day: the man all the fuss is about.

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In light of current events and current debates of the subject’s views and record, Henry Bemis is pleased to offer this classic American biography:

Douglas Southall Freeman, R.E. Lee: A Biography (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1934-35; reissued, 1962). ISBN 684-10180-7. Pulitzer Prize Winner; still an outstanding work in an age when nobody writes on this scale anymore. Even less appreciated is the gargantuan output and influence of Douglas Southall Freeman, of which the Lee biography is but a part.

Four volumes, hardcover, price clipped dust jackets, very good condition. Octavo, 646 pp (I); 621 pp (II); 569 pp (III); 619 pp (IV). HBB price $100 obo.


A Ph.D. in history at Johns Hopkins, Lee joined the Richmond Times-Dispatch at 20 and became editor of the Richmond News-Leader at 29. He held the post for the next 34 years. During that run he produced an estimated 600,000 words a year of newspaper copy; did two radio commentary programs a day; taught at the Army War College for seven years; commuted- by air, weekly- to New York to teach at the Columbia School of Journalism; made a national reputation as a military analyst in World Wars I and II; and wrote fifteen books.

Among his books were his four volume R.E. Lee: A Biography (1934-35), which won the Pulitzer Prize and still stands as the authoritative life. He took up the biography of George Washington, publishing the first of seven volumes in 1942. The last, published in 1957 from his notes, won him his second Pulitzer.
__________________

Henry Bemis Books is one man’s attempt to bring more diversity and quality to a Charlotte-Mecklenburg market of devoted readers starved for choices. Our website is at www.henrybemisbookseller.blogspot.com. Henry Bemis Books is also happy to entertain reasonable offers on items in inventory; for pricing on this or others items, kindly private message us. Shipping is always free to US locations; local buyers are welcome to drop by and pick up their purchases at our location off Peachtree Road in Northwest Charlotte if they like.

We accept electronic payments via Facebook Messenger, powered by Stripe.

We regret that until California Assembly Bill 1570 (2016) is struck down by court order or amended to relieve out of state booksellers from its recordkeeping and liability burdens, we are unable to do business with California residents.

We offer 25% off to fellow dealers.

What’s your favorite social media outlet? We’re blogging at www.henrybemisbookseller.blogspot. com. We tweet as Henry Bemis Books. Have you liked us on Facebook yet? Henry Bemis Books is there, too. And Google+!

You can also see Henry’s alter ego, Lindsay Thompson, on a three weekly Facebook Live programs: Rare Book Cafe, a 2:30-3:30 pm EDT Saturday panel show about books; Book Week- Rare Book Cafe’s weekly Thursday noon news program (both on Rare Book Cafe’s Facebook page); and Gallimaufry, an occasional program about literary history on Henry Bemis Books’ Facebook page.

#RareBooks #HenryBemisBooks #LiteraryBirthdays #DouglasSouthallFreeman #RobertELee #Charlotte

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Book of the Day: 19th century Carolinas minister E.A. Wingard was also a well-regarded poet.


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From our Carolinas collections, a rare example of the works of a South Carolina minister and poet:


Wingard, E.A., Echoes and Other Poems (Newberry, SC: Lutheran Publication Board, 1899). Wingard (1849-1900) was ordained in the Lutheran Church in 1875 and called to St. Paul’s in Columbia, SC in 1887. He served in that pulpit until his death; this book was published the year before he passed away. 170 pp of poetry covering a variety of subjects, ranging from war to memoria, religious poems and hymns and a miscellany that includes his Ode on Laying the Corner-Stone Y.M.C.A. Building, Columbia, S.C.  Hardcover, red boards, no dust jacket. Very good condition. HBB price: $25.


Henry Bemis Books is one man’s attempt to bring more diversity and quality to a Charlotte-Mecklenburg market of devoted readers starved for choices. Our website is at www.henrybemisbookseller.blogspot.com. Hours are by appointment. We are happy to chat via phone or video at Facebook Messenger.


Henry Bemis Books is also happy to entertain reasonable offers on items in inventory; for pricing on this or others items, kindly private message us. Shipping is always free to US locations; local buyers are welcome to drop by and pick up their purchases at our location off Peachtree Road in Northwest Charlotte if they like.


We accept electronic payments via Facebook Messenger, powered by Stripe.


We regret that until California Assembly Bill 1570 (2016) is struck down by court order or amended to relieve out of state booksellers from its recordkeeping and liability burdens, we are unable to do business with California residents.


We offer 25% off to fellow dealers.


What’s your favorite social media outlet? We’re blogging at www.henrybemisbookseller.blogspot. com. We tweet as Henry Bemis Books. Have you liked us on Facebook yet? Henry Bemis Books is there, too. And Google+!


You can also see Henry’s alter ego, Lindsay Thompson, on a three weekly Facebook Live programs: Rare Book Cafe, a 2:30-3:30 pm EDT Saturday panel show about books; Book Week- Rare Book Cafe’s weekly Thursday noon news program (both on Rare Book Cafe’s Facebook page); and Gallimaufry, an occasional program about literary history on Henry Bemis Books’ Facebook page.


#Carolinas #Poetry #Faith #FirstEditions #HenryBemisBooks #Charlotte

Friday, August 11, 2017

Birthday: "Anytime you see a turtle up on top of a fence post, you know he had some help."


Alexander Murray Palmer Haley (1921-1992)
Writer and journalist

If Alex Haley had never written Roots, he would still have been remembered for an extraordinary career when he died of a heart attack in Seattle 25 years ago.

He was born in New York but lived as a child with his mother’s family in Henning, Tennessee, soaking up stories of their past as slaves. He tried college, but dropped out after two years and joined the Coast Guard in 1939.

Haley served with distinction in World War II, and after the war successfully petitioned to transfer from the dead-end CPO-3 steward’s job all African-Americans landed at, into journalism. He flourished as a Coast Guard writer, rising to chief petty officer first class: the first in Coast Guard journalism, the position created for him in respect for his work.

He retired after twenty years, in 1959. After a stint as an editor at Reader’s Digest, Haley launched his next great career: he invented the Playboy interview.

Playboy founder Hugh Hefner’s conceit was that his magazine could appear to the carnal and the cerebral in the same reader, so he threw considerable resources at leading journalists to interview leading public figures in long, detailed discussions (and led to a decades-long joke about men caught ogling the centerfold: "I just read it for the interviews").

Haley proved the master who set the template for those who followed. His 1962 interview with the notoriously spiky Miles Davis was a revelation; he got Dr Martin Luther King Jr to give the longest interview of his life. He interviewed the louche and the lurid alike: American Nazi Party leader George Lincoln Rockwell sat down for a chat, albeit with a revolver on the side table. Muhammad Ali, Melvin Belli, Sammy Davis Jr, Johnny Carson: Haley ran the table of the rich and famous.

A series of interviews with Malcolm X led to Haley’s first book after the activist’s murder. The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965) sold six million copies in its first decade, and is still considered one of the most important political books of the 20th century.

Then, in 1976, Haley hit another home run. He stitched together his family’s oral history with research in archives and on the road to produce Roots: The Saga of An American Family.

The book was a sensation, tracing an African family from their transportation as slaves in the 18th century through the American civil war and into Haley’s time. It kicked off an astonishing growth of interest in African-American history and genealogy. In 1977 a miniseries from the book drew an audience of 130 million. American slowed down the nights it aired; it was talked about everywhere. The books spent months on the New York Times bestseller list, and 22 weeks at #1. The miniseries won an Emmy and a Peabody Award; the book, a special Pulitzer Prize.

The book also generated two promptly-filed lawsuits by authors claiming Haley had lifted their work. One was dismissed as without merit; Haley settle the other with a cash settlement and admission that some of that author's work had, in fact, made its way into Roots. Haley called his work “faction”, which turned out an unwieldy attempt to meld literary skill with copious research that Haley inserted as the book's last chapter. Had he just called it an historical novel, he would fared better: the suits damaged his reputation as a scholarly writer beyond repair.

To the public, however, it was all a blip in a transformative experience the like of which America has not seen since. Haley worked, slowly, on another book, a sequel to the first, from a farm he bought in Tennessee, outside the small town of his mother’s family. He was working on it when he died. Finished by others, Queen: The Story of An African-American Family, was published in 1993 and- like all his work- was made into a miniseries and a movie.

Alex Haley thought his work touched a universal chord. “When you start about family, about lineage and ancestry, you are talking about every person on earth,” he said. “In my writing, as much as I could, I tried to find the good, and praise it. My fondest hope is that 'Roots' may start black, white, brown, red, yellow people digging back for their own roots. Man, that would make me feel 90 feet tall.”