Jessamyn West 1907–
American novelist, short story writer, playwright, poet, and screenwriter.
Many of Jessamyn West's characters are teenagers who are facing the difficult years between childhood and adulthood. When writing about young adults, West does not patronize her characters or treat their problems lightly, rather she writes with sympathy and understanding. Some of her best sketches in this category were brought together under the title Cress Delahanty. The stories here follow Cress's development from a girl of twelve to a young woman of sixteen. Although there are some gaps between the stories, which were written over a number of years, they are a successful rendering of the problems and fears faced by most young people today.
Several of West's works are sketches collected in one book. Friendly Persuasion, and later the sequel Except for Me and Thee, are such works. The main characters of these sketches are the Quaker family, the Birdwells. The anachronisms and localisms used by her characters are drawn from the author's own Quaker heritage. West portrays the Godfearing, righteous Birdwells as subject to the every day complexities of being human. Friendly Persuasion was adapted into a successful movie, with West collaborating closely on the script. To See the Dream is her journal chronicling the making of the movie and her stay in Hollywood.
As a setting, West uses one of two regions, either her native Indiana, or California, where she has lived since she was six. Her novels and sketches often have historical backgrounds. South of the Angels concerns a group of people responsible for developing the area which is now Los Angeles. The book, however, comes close to being just a catalog of transient figures. The Massacre at Fall Creek is the fictionalized account of a true incident where four white men were tried for the murders of several Indian men, women, and children. An unusual occurrence in itself, West enlivens it with vivid portrayals of the characters and the times.
John T. Flanagan has commented that West "has the gift of making the past contemporary." Her characters are average people with problems and joys that exist in any day and age. She is not concerned with the violence and poverty of big city life, but with the people who have built this country into what it is today. Although some critics feel she is less successful when writing a full-scale novel than with her sketches, most see her characters as real and believable. West does not simply recount the events of her life, she reveals to the reader many of the innermost thoughts, fears, and desires that shaped the writer she is today. (See also CLC, Vol. 7, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)