Howard Fast 1914-
(Full name Howard Melville Fast; also wrote under the pseudonym E. V. Cunningham) American novelist, short story writer, biographer, nonfiction writer, memoirist, playwright, and screenplay writer.
The following entry presents an overview of Fast's career through 1996. See also Howard Fast Criticism (Volume 23).
A prolific and politically controversial author, Howard Fast has written numerous works of popular fiction, biographies, plays, and film scripts, though is best known for his historical fiction and the novel upon which the 1960 movie Spartacus was based. In a career that extends over the greater part of the twentieth century, Fast has demonstrated a talent for writing fast-paced, engaging narratives and an ability to provide realistic historical backdrops to his stories. Often violent and sometimes sentimental, his novels display a respect for personal courage and a desire for social justice. At one time a devoted Communist—and then a repentant one—Fast is almost as well known for his political life as he is for his novels, which have introduced millions of readers to his liberal vision and interpretation of America's historical legacy.
Fast was born in New York City to immigrant parents; his father was from the Ukraine and his mother from Lithuania. Fast grew up in poverty and his mother died when he was eight. His older sister soon moved out to get married, leaving his father to take care of Fast and his two brothers. His father held a series of low-paying jobs, forcing Fast and his older brother to earn money from a newspaper route and sometimes to steal food from their neighbors. Fast worked various odd jobs while in high school, from which he graduated in 1931. He won a scholarship to the National Academy of Design, but after selling a story to a science fiction magazine, he dropped out the next year. He ran away from home and traveled through the South with a friend, but had to return home after failing to secure a job. Fast managed to have his novel Two Valleys (1933) published at the age of eighteen. The book was well received but its successor, Strange Yesterday (1934), was not similarly welcomed. While his next novel, Place in the City (1937), failed to sell, Fast's career was strengthened when in 1937, Story magazine published his short story, “The Children.” Several New England cities, including Boston, banned the story, which centers on a Halloween lynching, no doubt aiding sales. The rapid publication of several successful novels followed: Conceived in Liberty (1939), The Last Frontier (1941), The Unvanquished (1942), and Citizen Tom Paine (1944). Fast wrote Voice of America broadcasts to occupied Europe from 1942-44. The following year, he served as a war correspondent in the China-Burma-India theater. He joined the Communist party in 1944. Fast appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and in 1950 was briefly imprisoned on contempt charges leveled against him by HUAC. Inspired by his time in prison, Fast wrote Spartacus (1951). Unable to find a publisher due to interference from J. Edgar Hoover's FBI headquarters, Fast finally published the novel himself, producing a great popular success. Politically active, he worked for the Progressive party in 1948 and in 1952 attempted to run for Congress. The subsequent year, Fast was awarded the Stalin International Peace Prize. In 1954 he joined the permanent staff of the Communist party newspaper the Daily Worker. However, he finally resigned from the party in 1956 after Khrushchev's speech on the horrors of Stalin's regime was released. Fast was once again welcomed by mainstream publishing and released such novels as April Morning (1961) and The Hessian (1972), as well as numerous science fiction and detective novels under the pseudonym E. V. Cunningham. At the end of the 1970s, Fast's popularity enjoyed a renaissance with the publication of the series that began with the novel The Immigrants (1977). Since then, Fast has continued his pattern of publishing frequently, including the memoir Being Red (1990).
Fast's career can be roughly divided into three periods, during which his writing was affected by his political leanings. His first novels, published during an initial period of devoted liberalism, often focus on early American history, specifically the fight for freedom. His first novel, Two Valleys, is a frontier adventure set during the American Revolution. The Last Frontier looks at a group of Cheyenne Indians who attempt to leave their reservation in Oklahoma for their homeland in North Dakota while being pursued by cavalry. The Unvanquished provides a human portrait of George Washington during the American Revolution's darker days. Citizen Tom Paine offers an interesting portrayal of one of the revolution's most important political leaders.
The next period in Fast's literary development revolves around his membership in the Communist party, a time in which his novels reflected not only his political beliefs but the influence of party leaders as well. Freedom Road (1944) presents a vision of Reconstruction as a period in which southern blacks and whites worked together to construct a new society. The American (1946) features a profile of John Peter Altgeld, the governor of Illinois who pardoned three anarchists in the 1886 Haymarket bombings, while Spartacus details the mainly fictitious revolt conducted by Roman slaves. During this time, Fast also wrote partisan works of nonfiction that demonstrated his political concerns, including Peekskill, U.S.A. (1951), Spain and Peace (1952), and The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti (1953). In The Naked God (1957), Fast's refutation of Communism, the author described his growing disenchantment with the Communist party and his renunciation of Communist affiliations. Fast would return to this subject in Being Red, in which he attempted to explain his experience as a member of the Communist party.
In the period following his disavowal of Communism, Fast's writings demonstrate a more compassionate philosophy than what his Communist-influenced writings provided. April Morning describes a teenage boy's coming of age during the Battle of Lexington, while The Hessian depicts the struggles of a Quaker family and a doctor during the American Revolution when a young Hessian soldier faces hanging. This period also features the novels Fast wrote under the pseudonym E. V. Cunningham, in many of which he explores his attraction to Zen Buddhism. Fast's most recent popular success has been The Immigrants, the title referring both to the 1977 novel and to the series which now comprises several novels—Second Generation (1978), The Establishment (1979), The Legacy (1981), The Immigrant's Daughter (1985), and An Independent Woman (1997). Beginning in turn-of-the-century San Francisco, the first installment focuses on an Italian fisherman named Dan Lavette who marries a Nob Hill heiress and builds a shipping empire, yet finds happiness only with his Chinese mistress. Second Generation centers upon Lavette's daughter, who endeavors to come to terms with her double heritage of immigrant and upper-class backgrounds. Along with the publication of these novels, Fast continued to release many additional works of fiction, notably Max (1982), The Dinner Party (1987), The Pledge (1988), and Seven Days in June (1994).
Fast's reputation with critics has not, unfortunately, kept pace with his prolific output. His earlier novels, in fact, have tended to receive the most praise among his works. Two Valleys was welcomed as an exciting start for a promising beginner. Within the following decade, Fast's compelling novels of the early American frontier established him as a talented writer of historical fiction; many of these books became standard reading for high school students. Highly praised among Fast's early novels was Citizen Tom Paine, which reviewers commended for providing a convincing portrait of Thomas Paine set against an expressive wartime background. The popularity of these historical novels among both critics and the reading public was fostered by the atmosphere of patriotism that the United States experienced as the nation entered World War II. The critical esteem that Fast received during his career peaked with this group of historical novels, which also includes The Last Frontier and The Unvanquished. While many reviewers and public figures such as W. E. B DuBois and Eleanor Roosevelt lauded Freedom Road as a significant novel on race relations, it was also criticized for showing little resemblance to reality.
The writing that Fast released during his most active years as a Communist tended to receive negative comments, not surprising during the Cold War. In these works, Fast was accused of being a party hack, allowing his Marxist themes to intrude on his storytelling and proving himself unable to maintain an adequate distance from his subject. While Spartacus returned Fast to mass popularity, reviewers were left unimpressed by the novel. Today, the fame of Spartacus rests perhaps less with the novel than with the 1960 movie starring Kirk Douglas. Though The Naked God, Fast's contemporaneous look at his rejection of Communism, was dismissed as badly written and lacking in analysis, Being Red was received as a more balanced account of American Communism, though criticized for its lack of introspection and historical accuracy. With the novels April Morning and The Hessian, Fast was credited as having demonstrated a more mature vision. While Fast's fame was renewed with the popular series The Immigrants, his critical standing was not rejuvenated. Critics applauded Fast for demonstrating that he could still tell a good story, but otherwise were not much impressed by the work, citing a lack of subtlety as well as pointing to Fast's tendency toward didacticism. While Fast has continued to publish much since the 1970s, none of his more recent works have had the critical or popular appeal of Citizen Tom Paine, Spartacus, or The Immigrants. Fast, however, has consistently shown himself capable of producing engrossing works of fiction, causing some critics to call for serious reevaluation of his massive oeuvre and literary significance.
Two Valleys (novel) 1933
Strange Yesterday (novel) 1934
Place in the City (novel) 1937
Conceived in Liberty: A Novel of Valley Forge (novel) 1939
Haym Salomon (novel) 1941
The Last Frontier (novel) 1941
Lord Baden-Powell of the Boy Scouts (novel) 1941
The Romance of a People (novel) 1941
The Unvanquished (novel) 1942
The Tall Hunter (novel) 1942
The Picture-Book History of the Jews [with Bette Fast] (nonfiction) 1942
Goethals and the Panama Canal (nonfiction) 1942
Citizen Tom Paine (novel) 1944
Freedom Road (novel) 1944
The Incredible Tito (nonfiction) 1944
Patrick Henry and the Frigate's Keel and Other Stories of a Young Nation (short stories) 1945
The American: A Middle Western Legend (novel) 1946
The Children (novel) 1947
Clarkton (novel) 1947
My Glorious Brothers (novel) 1948
Departure and Other Stories (short stories) 1949
Intellectuals in the Fight for Peace (nonfiction) 1949
The Hammer (drama) 1950...
(The entire section is 611 words.)
SOURCE: “Journeyman of Revolution,” in The New Republic, May 10, 1943, p. 646.
[In the following review, Mayberry offers positive assessment of Citizen Tom Paine, though notes the work's limitations.]
To his growing portrait gallery of the American Revolution Howard Fast now adds a full-length, unvarnished picture of the man whom Theodore Roosevelt in arrogance and ignorance once called a “a filthy little atheist.” With adequate recognition of the warts upon Paine's character, Fast presents sympathetically this sometime staymaker, resident of Gin Alley, editor, soldier, inventor, politico and always pamphleteer and journeyman of revolution. Particularly good are those passages in which the disheveled and frequently drunken Englishman arouses the American colonists to transform their uprising into revolution and then sustains them by his writing and example to carry through to victory. Less successful are the episodes of Paine's last years when a bewildering succession of scenes and characters flit through the book. Fast, however, has blocked in the background of a turbulent era with an understanding of its historical complexity, and the figure of Paine is never lost in the carpet of social and intellectual forces which embraces it. It is a masterful drawing done in a prose as sharp and clean and as loving of its medium as the pen of a Daumier or an Ingres.
But it remains...
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SOURCE: “A Captive Not Quite Freed,” in The New Republic, December 16, 1957, pp. 18-9.
[In the following review, Howe objects to Fast's Communist loyalties and offers unfavorable analysis of The Naked God.]
The first though not least important thing to be said about The Naked God is that simply as a piece of writing it is extremely shabby: incoherent in structure, florid in diction, inflated and hysterical in tone. Since books of this kind are generally treated as “documents,” they seldom meet with such criticism; but I am enough of a literary man to believe that Fast's ineptitude is a significant fact in estimating the political meaning and value of his book.
It is true of course that other people, including many who were never Communists, also write badly; but the particular kind of badness found in Fast's book is not that of an amateur or novice: it is a learned badness, the heritage of that corrupt Popular Front rhetoric which makes precise thought impossible and emotional candor unlikely. Even when Fast was most deeply involved with Stalinist politics, his literary inclinations were toward those middle-brow values which, being pervasive to our time, are not the monopoly of any political movement. And the middle-brow in Fast may yet survive the Old Stalinist, bringing him success of a kind parallel to that which he enjoyed during the past two decades. Popular tales...
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SOURCE: “A Meeting at Concord,” in New York Times Book Review, April 23, 1961, p. 38.
[In the following review, Fearing offers positive assessment of April Morning.]
Two meanings are attached to the title April Morning. The first is a literal reference to the action that took place throughout the Middlesex countryside in 1775 when the British forces marched out to capture certain stores in Lexington and Concord. The second is a symbolic dramatization of the turning point in the life of a 15-year-old boy, forcibly becoming a man in the course of a single day.
Neither point is labored and events move swiftly along in a nimbus of historic color and detail. The reader always knows which turnpike he has reached without being too heavily forewarned, at the same time, of precisely what action is coming up next. When the curtain rises for the juvenile Adam Cooper, who can't understand why his disputatious father is always picking on him, a lone horseman has ridden out of the night with the alarm that the redcoats are coming. The message may be a little crude, but it can't be misunderstood. No matter what happens, it can't be all bad, and for the Cooper family, it needn't be all good. Or at least, not too good.
A veteran at this sort of historical re-creation, Howard Fast has admirably recaptured the sights and sounds, the religious and political idioms, the simple...
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SOURCE: “Reds to Riches,” in Time, November 7, 1977, pp. 120-2.
[In the following review, Sheppard offers unenthusiastic assessment of The Immigrants. “Unfortunately,” writes Sheppard, “Fast's life contains more dramatic and moral conflict than his new novel.”]
There is something basically unpatriotic about F. Scott Fitzgerald's contention that American lives have no second acts. The tainted blessing of early success (“the victor belongs to the spoils”) and a guilty sense that character is fate may have accounted for his bitter judgment. But the fact remains that the world's best-advertised nation of immigrants was built on second—even third and fourth—acts.
Howard Fast's novel The Immigrants is yet another pop epic to underscore this fact. The life and writing career of the author follow a familiar script as well. Fast, 62, was once the U.S.'s best-known literary Communist. In the '40s he wrote throbbingly about American history: the Revolutionary War in The Unvanquished and Citizen Tom Paine, Reconstruction in Freedom Road. As a political activist of the far left, he spent three months in jail during 1950 for failing to comply with a House Un-American Activities Committee subpoena. He was a columnist for the Daily Worker, a 1952 American Labor Party candidate for Congress, a 1953 winner of a Stalin Peace Prize and the most...
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SOURCE: “A Rabbi Ponders Social Justice,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 30, 1983, p. 4.
[In the following review, Rubin offers a qualified endorsement of The Outsider.]
In 1946, gentle, conscientious young David Hartman, formerly a U.S. Army chaplain, comes to a small Connecticut town to serve as rabbi to an even smaller Jewish congregation. He is accompanied by his bride, Lucy, who is also Jewish, but who does not share his religious beliefs or his idealism.
Howard Fast's latest novel follows the rabbi's story from his arrival up to 1977. Hartman suffers through the Rosenberg trial and execution, the ugliness of McCarthyism, repeated bouts of local anti-Semitism. He participates in freedom marches in the early days of the civil rights movement and later takes part in demonstrations against the war in Vietnam. But while he always seems to do the right thing, he spends much of his time feeling guilty and worried, which, alas, may well be the fate of many decent people in the world today.
He is sustained by his friendship with a Congregational minister and by the support of some good people in his own congregation, but he is undermined by his wife, whom he considers refreshingly frank and clever, but who, in fact, is basically unsupportive of his goals.
In the same years that find the rabbi pondering questions about social...
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SOURCE: “Books of the Times,” in The New York Times, February 9, 1987, p. C16.
[In the following review, Lehmann-Haupt offers positive evaluation of The Dinner Party, though he finds fault in Fast's lack of literary sophistication.]
An old-fashioned Ibsenesque moral drama is what Howard Fast has undertaken in his latest novel, The Dinner Party, about a wealthy liberal United States Senator who is forced to confront his own limitations.
Honoring Aristotle's prescription that a tragedy should occur “within a single circuit of the sun,” The Dinner Party begins with Senator Richard Cromwell waking up on his estate in the suburbs of Washington early in the morning, and ends with his retiring to bed late the same night. Between these moments, a great deal happens.
Cromwell gets up, goes for a run and makes an appointment with his secretary—who is also his mistress—to do some work on a Senate bill he is preparing. His wife, Dolly, sets the household in motion to prepare for an important dinner party to be held that evening, at which the Secretary of State and his assistant are to be the guests of honor. Later in the day, the Senator and his wife reconcile certain differences and make passionate love together for the first time in several years.
The Cromwells' son, Leonard, comes home from Harvard Law School with a black...
(The entire section is 947 words.)
SOURCE: “Washington's Power Eaters,” in The Wall Street Journal, February 17, 1987, p. 32.
[In the following review, McLellan offers unfavorable assessment of The Dinner Party.]
Recently, an attractive woman told me of attending a Washington dinner party with a lobbyist beau. During the evening, she met a bigwig she had once expressed a fleeting desire to know.
Next morning, her lover mailed her a bill: “For Introduction: $600.”
Romantic, no? No. Romance is never invited to Washington dinner parties; the lingering glance and secret touch are out of place. Introduction is the main course: “Persuasion, meet Power.”
Over snowy napery and gleaming silver, their faces magically softened by candlelight and their wits sharpened by wine. Washington's great, near-great, and Oh-God-if-I-pull-this-one-off-I'll-be-great gather for their kind of dinner party.
It is the kind where you hustle clients, push causes, and, after careful premeditation, pass, share and relish the tastiest dish of the night, inside Washington gossip. Austin Kiplinger, renowned newsletter mogul and guest, remarked that in Washington. “At any given party it's hard to know who's paying the bill, and for what motive you happen to be invited.”
These days, fun comes to an end sooner rather than later. Washington's curfew has become earlier and...
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SOURCE: A review of The Dinner Party, in Los Angeles Times Book Review, February 22, 1987, p. 6.
[In the following review, Savage offers negative assessment of The Dinner Party.]
A Washington dinner party could make for a good novel. Politicians are calculators, and the best of them know how the figures will come out before all the numbers are punched in. An ostensibly social occasion—a dinner or a reception—is among the best places to watch a politician at work. He seeks information, asks what others think about an issue, tries out an argument on one side—analyzing, calculating. Put another politician there too, and you might want to listen in.
But not at a dinner party created by Howard Fast. Rather than ideas, issues, names and witticisms, you get a couple of college kids sounding off about Buddhism and meditation—reverberations of the worst of the 1960s. “I mean, to me,” the senator's son tells the secretary of state, “taking a human life is an act of murder.” His daughter, equally given to profundity, tells the secretary about “mushroomlike clouds” that will “blow us all away.”
Her father, Sen. Richard Cromwell, is silent at dinner, and silent through most of the novel. He is shown to be vaguely liberal. He is angry about the arrest of the Tucson activists who gave sanctuary to Salvadorans. And he's against nuclear war....
(The entire section is 442 words.)
SOURCE: “Fast and Furious,” in The Washington Post, March 3, 1987, pp. D1, D4.
[In the following essay, Trescott provides an overview of Fast's life, literary career, and critical reception, including Fast's own comments on these subjects.]
Howard Fast, one of the world's most prolific writers and four decades ago one of the country's best-known Communists, is cordially mad. His anger over politicians and other people who he feels have little respect for history keeps his flame of intolerance going.
“The actual fact of the matter is that the United States is like no other country,” he says. He sits in a leather armchair, this man of memory, his thin body seeming about to propel itself forward but held back by the dignity of his 72 years. From the president to the expression “page-turner,” Fast can move from impatience to indignation.
“When you get a group of thugs like you have in the White House today with a semi-senile actor playing the part of the president, then it is possible to wipe the entire consciousness of the country into a state of knowing nothing about their country. In particular, I guess the most outrageous example of that is when [President] Reagan compared the men around George Washington to the contras. This is like comparing them to the Mafia.”
The author of 44 books, many of them historical novels such as Citizen...
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SOURCE: “Howard Fast in a New Mode with Latest Novel,” in The New York Times, March 10, 1987, p. C16.
[In the following interview, Fast discusses his life, political concerns, and The Dinner Party.]
“It's been said,” Howard Fast remarked, “that I am the most widely read writer of the 20th century. The number of books I've sold runs into untold millions. Freedom Road alone we calculated at one point years ago had sold over 20 million copies. The only complete bibliography of my work was done by a Russian scholar who came up with 82 languages and something in the neighborhood of 30 million books, but that was in 1952, so it's more than 30 years ago. I always tell myself that someday I'm going to try and add this up, but there's really no way I can do it.”
Mr. Fast, 72 years old, the author of Spartacus, Citizen Tom Paine, April Morning, Freedom Road, The Immigrants and more than 60 other novels, was sitting in his Fifth Avenue apartment getting ready to discuss his latest book, The Dinner Party, a work that is a departure from his best-selling immigrant saga of recent years. The cast of characters includes a United States Senator and his wife; the Secretary of State; the Senator's billionaire father-in-law; the Senator's homosexual son, and the son's black lover. The topics include Zen meditation, AIDS, quantum mechanics, and...
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SOURCE: “Tom Paine Returns to Life—Briefly—on Stage,” in The Chicago Tribune, April 21, 1987, p. 3.
[In the following review, Kilian discusses Fast's stage version of Citizen Tom Paine and actor Richard Thomas's lead performance as Paine.]
Tom Paine lives.
He has been brought back to life by Richard Thomas, an actor of intellect and range who gained fame playing John-Boy in “The Waltons,” and playwright Howard Fast, the iconoclastic and prolific left-wing author of Freedom Road, Spartacus, The Immigrants and more than 40 other books, who was jailed and blacklisted in the 1950s for membership in the Communist Party (from which he subsequently resigned).
Their collaborative efforts have produced Citizen Tom Paine, a two-act patriotic play adapted from Fast's novel of the same title. It is a tour de force for Thomas, who nearly exhausts himself in an energetic 2 1/2-hour re-creation of the life of the brilliant and unkempt firebrand and pamphleteer whose words helped inspire America's independence from Britain and the survival of George Washington's beleaguered Continental Army.
Paine, who died in poverty and disgrace in New York in 1809, is brought back to life twice in the play. The drama had originally ended with a deathbed scene, but a clever addendum by Thomas and Fast has Paine talking, lambasting and...
(The entire section is 1009 words.)
SOURCE: “Crimes Against Conscience: The McCarthy Era in Fiction,” in Washington Post Book World, October 23, 1988, p. 10.
[In the following excerpted review, Cook praises the authenticity of The Pledge, though finds fault in Fast's literary ability.]
To their everlasting discredit, American novelists, most of them, have conscientiously avoided the big subjects since the war. All exceptions granted, those whom we hold in highest esteem today seem to work small.
Take, for example, the red witchhunt period of the '40s and '50s, otherwise known as the McCarthy era. (Actually, it was well under way before Tail-Gunner Joe made his appearance.) Although relevant histories and biographies appear every season, few works of fiction by established writers have dealt with this period. It was a theme, one of a few, in Lionel Trilling's The Middle of the Journey. It formed the plot of Frederick Buechner's The Return of Ansel Gibbs, which not many remember now. But of the important novelists of the postwar period, only Norman Mailer has given it serious attention—in two novels, The Barbary Shore and The Deer Park.
But now, practically simultaneously, two novels about this shameful period have been published. One, The Pledge, by Howard Fast, was predictable, perhaps even inevitable. The other, The Big Nowhere [by James Ellroy],...
(The entire section is 878 words.)
SOURCE: “Party Time,” in New York, November 5, 1990, pp. 124-5.
[In the following review of Being Red, Koenig provides an overview of Fast's life and literary career.]
Novelist, playwright, biographer, detective-story writer—Howard Fast has been all these, but we know the author of more than 70 books best as a former Communist.
As the title of his autobiography indicates, he knows we do, too Being Red stops in 1957, several years after Fast ended a prison sentence for refusing to name names to the House Un-American Activities Committee and a few months after he left the party, when Khrushchev revealed the crimes of Stalin. The story he has to tells is a lively and gripping one, and better written than Fast's preachy excursions into other people's histories, though there are lapses: “A writer is a strange creature. He is a delicate sheet of foil on which the world prints its impressions. …” Like the imprisoned Oscar Wilde remarking that the writer who should have been locked up was Marie Corelli, a character in a Mordecai Richler novel set in the fifties says that Howard Fast should stay in jail for “violence to the English language.”
Left-wing activism was part of the Fast family tradition. In 1898, his father, a Ukrainian immigrant, “and a few other Jewish boys working at the tin factory organized regiment to fight in Cuba and thereby...
(The entire section is 1084 words.)
SOURCE: “Citizen Howard Fast,” in Washington Post Book World, November 25, 1990, p. 5.
[In the following review of Being Red, Hitchens praises Fast's engaging recollections, though he finds fault in his writing.]
Murray Kempton once told me what he called the only really funny story about American Communism, adding that unlike many such stories it had the merit of being true. In the early 1950s, Howard Fast was walking along a New York street when he encountered the cultural attache of an Eastern European mission. Bidding good day to Comrade Fast, the attache asked if he would be attending next week's special caviar-and-culture soiree, to be held at the mission in the interests of peace and brotherhood. Stiffening slightly, Fast replied that if the comrade read the newspapers he would know that fascism was coming to the United States and that, as a direct consequence he, Fast, would be in prison by the following week. He therefore had no choice but to decline the kind invitation. “All right then,” returned the Pole or Czech or Hungarian envoy, “Come when you get out.”
This memoir brought that tale back to mind. Like the tale, the memoir is modern history as it affected Fast. But like the tale, the memoir is also true. Fast did go to jail for his convictions (one of the few Stalinists who did) and he has led a life rich in incident. Moreover, his...
(The entire section is 894 words.)
SOURCE: “Rolling Up the Red Carpet,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 9, 1990, pp. 2, 13.
[In the following review of Being Red, Braudy commends Fast's insight into political history, though he finds fault in his reticence concerning his personal life and motivations.]
Howard Fast published his first novel in 1933 at age 18. He was part of a generation of up-from-poverty writers who came of age in the 1930s, working a multitude of odd jobs while they read their way through the library stacks. It seemed almost inevitable that he would also join the Communist Party.
Fast's first great successes were in historical novels that looked at American values from the vantage point of the rebel, the outsider and the slave. They reflected the revisionary view of what was truly “American” that animated both Popular Front politics and the then-embryonic academic interest in American history and literature. Conceived in Liberty (1939), The Unvanquished (1942), and Citizen Tom Paine (1943) recounted in Fast's plain-spoken passionate prose his story of the American Revolution.
The story of The Last Frontier (1941) was the desperate Cheyenne march from Oklahoma to their native lands on the Yellowstone. The hero of Freedom Road (1944) was a freed slave and of Spartacus a Roman gladiator. And when Fast wrote a novel called...
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SOURCE: “Fast Backward,” in The New Leader, December 10-24, 1990, pp. 21-3.
[In the following negative review of Being Red, Kanfer condemns Fast's “disingenuous” account of his life and the Communist Party.]
Thanks to such works as Lillian Hellman's memoirs, Vivian Gornick's The Romance of American Communism and now Howard Fast's Being Red, an elaborate new myth is flourishing on college campuses and in salons afflicted with political amnesia. It goes like this:
Once upon a century there were two ogres, one with a small moustache and one with a big moustache.
There was never a doubt about Small Moustache. He was evil incarnate. He was an absolute ruler who believed in terror as a political means. He was psychotic. He was responsible for the deaths of millions. Hate underlay his actions, especially toward the Jews.
Big Moustache was different. He was evil incarnate. He was an absolute ruler who believed in terror as a political means. He was psychotic. He was responsible for the deaths of millions. Hate underlay his actions, especially toward the Jews.
But everyone knew the sins of Small Moustache, and no one knew the flaws of Big Moustache. After all, he had helped defeat Small Moustache, and his followers were forever trumpeting the benefits of freedom and equality. How could he stand for anything bad?...
(The entire section is 2248 words.)
SOURCE: “Comrade Novelist Howard Fast Sentimentally Evokes Himself as an American Communist,” in Chicago Tribune Books, January 20, 1991.
[In the following review of Being Red, Sigal commends Fast's accounts of his persecution, though finds fault in his sentimentality and lack of insight.]
We American ex-Communists sometimes find it hard to tell the truth about our Party experiences, partly because being hunted like animals isn't always nice to recall. The United States is the only western democracy that has not been able to live with its native Reds. In Britain, France and Italy, even Canada and Mexico, indigenous Communists are accepted as part of a political scene. People pass in and out of the Party in those countries as Democrats and Republicans do here. Although a million or more Americans have been Communists since the 1920s, the memoirist's tone has tended to be either celebratory, defensive or disillusioned: Howard Fast is all three, but he's also illuminated by a serious attempt to be straightforward.
Fast's look back at his Party days—from his bitterly poor New York childhood to his fame as the Communists' best-selling writer and internationally acclaimed “cultural” figure—is, by turns, warm, cozy, angry and informative (if not always informed). He is not one of the world's great political thinkers. Except, sometimes, as a byproduct of his research on...
(The entire section is 1129 words.)
SOURCE: “About-Face,” in Commentary, Vol. 91, No. 3, March, 1991, pp. 62-4.
[In the following negative review of Being Red, Radosh criticizes Fast's involvement in the Communist Party and discrepancies in his recollection of such activities.]
Howard Fast is best known as the author of a score of historical novels which epitomized what the Old Left liked to call the true spirit of “progressive” America—Citizen Tom Paine, Freedom Road, The American, and Spartacus. He was also one of the last writers in America to give his allegiance to the American Communist party, of which he was a member from 1944 through 1957.
Now, in a memoir of that period, Fast offers us a very strange book indeed. It is a book which Rhoda Koenig in New York magazine called a wonderful remembrance of “the anti-Communist mania of the postwar period,” and which inspired Christopher Hitchens, in the Washington Post Book World, to describe Fast as one who “left the Communist party for the same reason that he joined it … because he was interested in social justice and historical truth.” Yet, as is clear from a comparison of Being Red with the book Fast wrote in 1957, The Naked God: The Writer and the Communist Party, the one thing he is not devoted to is historical truth, not even about his own experiences in the Communist movement....
(The entire section is 2192 words.)
SOURCE: “Howard Fast: An American Leftist Reinterprets His Life,” in Science & Society, Vol. 57, No. 1, Spring, 1993, pp. 86-91.
[In the following review, Meyer discusses Fast's political involvements and offers tempered assessment of Being Red, which he describes as “readable and useful” though “inaccurate” and evasive.]
The publication of Being Red, Howard Fast's account of his association with the Communist Party, should be a valuable addition to the growing list of memoirs and historical studies about the CPUSA. Unfortunately, Fast is unable to separate his primary role as a novelist from his less familiar role as memoirist.
Fast is an unusually prolific writer: his corpus includes more than 80 books, including 50 novels, ten plays, and 20 books of nonfiction. Worldwide sales of his novels have exceeded 80 million. His writings have been translated into 82 languages and many observes—including Fast—insist that he may be the most widely read writer of the 20th century.
From 1943, until 1956, while Fast was a Party member, the Party and indeed the world movement lionized him. It was during this period that the vast circulation of his books occurred. In his popular historical novels—Citizen Tom Paine, Freedom Road, The American, (about John Peter Altgeld), The Last Frontier, and...
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SOURCE: “A Conversation with Howard Fast, March 23, 1994,” edited by Thomas J. Sugrue, in Prospects: An Annual of American Cultural Studies, edited by Jack Salzman, Vol. 20, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp. 511-23.
[In the following interview, Fast discusses his life, literary activities, the Communist Party and his involvement in that organization, and his memoirs The Naked God and Being Red.]
[Alan Wald]: When we read your memoir that came out in 1990, Being Red, many of us had also read an earlier book called The Naked God in 1957—and our impression of your experience was represented by The Naked God until we read Being Red. There seems to many of us to be a big difference between the two books and it is also noticed by some of us that in your long list of books in front of Being Red you don't mention The Naked God, and in Being Redyou don't talk about The Naked God. So we are wondering whether or not Being Red is sort of a new version of the past that is appropriate for some reason. Is there something inadequate, perhaps, about the earlier version or some political need now to rethink and reform your ideas? What are the differences between the two books? Why did you write the second?
[Howard Fast]: The chief difference is thirty-five years—which is a big difference. When I wrote...
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SOURCE: “Noticing Howard Fast,” in Prospects: An Annual of American Cultural Studies, edited by Jack Salzman, Vol. 20, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp. 525-41.
[In the following essay, Traister provides an overview of Fast's life, literary career, political consciousness, and popularity, drawing attention to the need for critical reevaluation of Fast's numerous works and their significance.]
In 1933, Dial Press in New York published Two Valleys, the first novel by a very young man named Howard Melvin Fast. The publisher's blurb noted that “Mr. Fast is not yet nineteen.” (He had been born in 1914.) In 1995, The Bridge Builder's Story, the most recent of Howard Fast's novels, appeared.1 Sixty-two years lie between Two Valleys and The Bridge Builder's Story.
During this interval, Fast has produced an uncommonly large oeuvre for an American writer with claims on serious attention. He has written books in several genres; stories equally varied and numerous; plays; scripts for radio, television, and the screen; and much occasional prose, journalistic and otherwise. Some of this productivity results, no doubt, from sheer longevity. But Fast has also written with a rapidity and a level of energy that were remarked upon even relatively early in his career.2 Many of his works...
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SOURCE: “Howard Fast: An American Life,” in Howard Fast: A Critical Companion, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996, pp. 5-35.
[In the following essay, Macdonald provides an overview of Fast's life, literary career, and numerous published works, drawing attention to the recurring preoccupations and unifying themes that link the author's biography and fiction.]
I've been very fortunate, no question about it, because even during the blacklist years my books were selling by the millions all over the world. There were always enough royalties for us to live decently. I was very lucky, very fortunate. But I was born and grew up in the greatest, the noblest achievement of the human race on this planet—which was called the United States of America.
—Howard Fast, quoted by Mervyn Rothstein in “Howard Fast in a New Mode,” New York Times, March 10, 1987.
All writers create out of their life experiences, and their biographies—biographies in the larger sense of what they read, thought about, and learned, as well as what events happened to them—are vital to our understanding of what shaped their fictional work. The influence of life experience clearly varies from writer to writer, with some using the fictional world as an escape from a grim past or present, some following the events of...
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MacDonald, Andrew. Howard Fast: A Critical Companion. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996.
The only book-length study of Fast's life and literary works, including extended analysis of his major novels and a bibliography of his writings.
Additional coverage of Fast's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 16; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4R; Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Vol. 18; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 1, 33, 54; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 9; DISCovering Authors Modules: Novelists; and Something About the Author, Vol. 7.
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