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Saturday Art: Influential Authors: John R. Tunis

4:05 am in Art, Culture, Influential Authors by dakine01

Brooklyn Dodgers: Cap Logo

Brooklyn Dodgers: Cap Logo

I was probably eleven years old when I was pointed towards John R. Tunis’s works. By this time, I had read all the Black Stallion books from Walter Farley and I had progressed beyond the simple, sanitized sports biographies and was looking for something a little more advanced. I can still picture the location of his books in the then public library in my hometown.

Here’s the intro from Tunis’s wiki:

John Roberts Tunis (December 7, 1889 – February 4, 1975), “the ‘inventor’ of the modern sports story”,[1]:11 was an American writer and broadcaster. Known for his juvenile sports novels, Tunis also wrote short stories and non-fiction, including a weekly sports column for the The New Yorker magazine. As a commentator Tunis was part of the first trans-Atlantic sports cast and the first broadcast of the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament to the United States.

I know the first Tunis book I read was The Kid From Tompkinsville which is the first of a series he wrote about a fictional Brooklyn Dodgers. Again from his wiki intro:

Tunis’ eight-book baseball series about the Brooklyn Dodgers began with The Kid from Tomkinsville, a book often cited by sports writers and commentators as inspiring childhood reading. Phillip Roth used The Kid from Tomkinsville and its main character Roy Tucker in his book American Pastoral. It is also considered an influence for Bernard Malamud’s The Natural and Mark Harris’ Bang the Drum Slowly.

Tunis did not just write about baseball. One of his books I remember reading was Silence Over Dunkerque. From the Goodreads.com synopsis:

John Tunis vividly imagines the drama of Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of Allied forces from Dunkerque. Sergeant Edward Williams of the Second Battalion was among the first British troops to land in France, just across the English Channel from his family in Dover, after the declaration of war in September of 1939. Battles have been few and far between since then, in what the Germans have been calling der Sitzkrieg—the sitting war. In May 1940, under the leadership of their new prime minister, Winston Churchill, the British are hoping to stem the tide of Nazi invasion along their southern border. But now, flanked to the east and west by German troops and cut off from the Allies further south, Sergeant Williams and his battalion must retreat to Dunkerque in the north, and escape by sea is their only hope.

As a person who reviewed this book at Goodreads says, historical fiction is a way to make history come alive and I remember having a bit more appreciation of the evacuation at Dunkerque after reading this book.

As with so many other influential authors in this series, Tunis had many accomplishments. A tennis player, he was involved in the first broadcast of Wimbledon to air in the US. A graduate of Harvard, he was not overly impressed with Harvard itself. Once again from wiki:

In 1936, on the 25th anniversary of his graduation from Harvard, Tunis wrote Was College Worthwhile?, a condemnation of the Ivy League school and of his classmates that became a best seller. Jerome Holtzman, in No Cheering in the Press Box, calls it “a searing assault on Harvard traditions”.[5]:261 Throughout his career he continued to write about education, including the chapter “New Leaven on the Campus” for Democracy’s Challenge to Education,[15] and “Education and Ethics” for the Journal of Higher Education.[16]

Tunis only shows one credit at IMDB as the author of a book that was used as the basis of the movie Hard, Fast, and Beautiful. Wiki says this movie was:

…a 1951 American drama film directed by Ida Lupino and starring Claire Trevor, loosely based on the 1930 novel American Girl by sports fiction author John R. Tunis, which itself was an unflattering and thinly-veiled fictionalization of tennis star Helen Wills Moody

And finally from wiki yet again on Tunis’s legacy:

By the 1970s Tunis felt his message had been ignored or misunderstood by most Americans, saying “Nobody has paid attention… There was a time when I expected to do some good. But that was a long while ago.”[5]:272 This may seem surprising considering that his New York Times obituary referred to him as a man who “helped educate a whole generation of Americans”.[12]:155 Perhaps seen in light of Tunis’ distrust of professional athletics, it can be understood. Though he may have felt his message against the commercialization of sports was ignored, there are those who cite Tunis as having made a lasting impact in publishing and to them personally and professionally.

…snip…

In his tribute to the writer, Bernard Hayes said “Tunis has probably made good readers of millions of young people.”[63]:7 His success with the juvenile audience helped change the publishing industry. Along with writers like Howard Pease, his books demonstrated to publishers that there was money to be made in targeting books for teenagers. His influence went beyond simply creating a market for young adult books. “In his attempt to link sports with the communities in which they are played, he broached some highly significant issues in the literature written for and about America’s youth”,[62] according to John S. Simmons in John R. Tunis and the Sports Novels for Adolescents: A Little Ahead of His Time. Tunis never considered himself a writer of boys’ books, insisting his stories could be read and enjoyed by adults. He felt that the word “juvenile” was an “odious… product of a merchandising age”.[1]:11 Despite his dislike of the term, Tunis’ novels helped create and shape the juvenile fiction book market.[

I am just one of the book lovers who benefited from his introduction to Tunis. I have to say that I am (pleasantly) surprised that Tunis’s catalog appears to have been mostly re-published within the last ten years, introducing new generations to his writing, even if it is from and about times no longer alive.
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Saturday Art: Influential Authors: Frank Yerby

5:30 am in Art, Culture, Influential Authors by dakine01

Benton's Row by Frank Yerby

Benton's Row by Frank Yerby

I love to read. As far back as I can remember, books were always a part of my life. It probably started with my grandmother and parents reading me various stories by Rudyard Kipling from The Jungle Book to Riki Tiki Tavi to the Just-So Stories. When I was seven and eight, I read a children’s set of encyclopedia. Then at ten, I discovered The Black Stallion and sequels by Walter Farley then at eleven or twelve it was John R. Tunis and all of his juvenile sports fiction. But as much as I loved all these authors (and still love and re-read the Kipling today,) I have to say that probably the most influential author I read growing up was Frank Yerby.

The first book of Yerby’s I read was titled Benton’s Row. This synopsis from the link give a basic overview:

This history of a pioneering Southern family unfolds in this story of triumph and tragedy. In 1842, Tom Benton arrives in the Red River Valley, one jump ahead of a Texas posse bent on hanging him. In 1920 his wife Sarah, aged ninety-seven, dies peacefully in her rocker on the veranda of Tom Benton’s sprawling plantation known as Broad Acres, nestled in the exotic and mysterious Louisiana river country. This is a spellbinding story of four brawling generations of Bentons, a family that comes to a violent end caused by its own illicit Negro branch.

Soon enough, I was reading everything by Yerby that I could get my hands on. The Goat Song, set in ancient Greece; Judas, My Brother, set in the time of Jesus; The Golden Hawk set on the Spanish Main; and a bunch of books set in the antebellum South.

I soon was able to recognize, almost stereotype, Yerby’s heroes and protagonists. In just about every instance, the hero was a rake; womanizer, gambler, ne’er-do-well. Depending on the era the book was set in, he would be proficient with a sword or gun; he would be a leader and able to be a ship’s captain, army commander, business leader or what have you (though rarely an elected official,) purely on the strength of his will. All could be described as “products of their times” in whatever time period it was (and Yerby did significant research and tried to note where he was deviating from the historical record.) But besides being products of their times, Yerby’s heroes always would eventually question the world as they knew it and all of their notions and grow more enlightened (for lack of a better word.) Novels set in the South would have the hero come to recognize the inhumanity of slavery. Judas, My Brother wound up as a questioning of the Christian myth.

It wasn’t until Yerby published the book Speak Now that I became aware that he was a black man. It was not something that I had ever thought about previously and had no bearing on the quality of his writing.

At least three of Yerby’s books were made into movies; The Foxes of Harrow starred Rex Harrison and Maureen O’Hara; The Golden Hawk starred Sterling Hayden and Rhona Fleming; and The Saracen Blade starred Ricardo Montalban and Betta St. John.

This is a link to an overview of Yerby’s books with a short synopsis of each.
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