03 January 2011

Literary Detection

Back in April 2009, I published a report called “A Tennessee Williams Treasure Hunt” on ROT. It was the saga of my search in 1996-97 for an erroneously described letter from Williams to a newspaper columnist which, as the writer who quoted it depicted it, seemed to be pertinent to some research I was conducting. The quotation, which was itself extremely intriguing, was unsourced in the text and I went about chasing down every lead I could devise, imagine, or conjure to locate the published letter. By the time I found it, I’d learned that the letter wasn’t about the topic on which I was writing, it hadn’t been sent to the columnist or newspaper the first writer had said it had been, and it was almost half a decade more recent than that writer had suggested. It took me the better part of nine months to find the letter, however, and I was rather proud of myself for having finally identified and located it despite the lack of source documentation in the published quotation. Since that effort, I have gone in search of many quotations, with more or less success, using my dubious skills as a literary detective to track them down. It’s a kind of documentary skip-trace, I guess.

Most of my literary detection has been just plain doggedness. I’ve kept looking for things, often by just searching through books or articles that seem to be on topic or published at the right times. Sometimes it pays off and even rather quickly. While I was writing a rather complex paper on a theater artist and activist named Leonardo Shapiro, I came across a reference to statements made by several artists, writers, and philosophers that sounded like they’d be useful somewhere. The book I was reading, the one in which the quotations or paraphrases were made, had no footnotes or any other form of source documentation. (This is one of my pet peeves: authors who don’t identify their quotations so the rest of us can find them. It’s akin to another major annoyance: writers who give the wrong citation for quotations—especially those who just accept someone else’s error and perpetuate it.) One interesting quotation was:

I feel that the only thing that really matters in art and life is to go against the tidal wave of literalism and literal-mindedness to insist on and live the life of the imagination. A painting has to be the experience instead of pointing to it. I want to have and give access to feeling. That is the riskiest and only important way to connect art to the world—to make it alive. The rest is just current events.

The writer, a prominent theater director and frequent teacher at major universities in the U.S., simply said that the painter David Salle had said this in an interview. It was presented as a quotation, so I had to assume that it was essentially accurate and since I had no other information on which to proceed, I also had to assume that the source was some published interview with the painter. The Internet, my usual first step, revealed nothing. The statement wasn’t listed in any dictionary of quotations I could find (and I looked at them all, just about). My next step was to go to a database of published articles and see if there were any interviews with Salle I could examine. Armed with my list—David Salle was only born in 1952, and he’s not all that prominent outside the art world, so he doesn’t have the record of published articles and interviews of, say, Diego Rivera (about whom I’ll have something to say shortly), but I still ended up with nearly 75 articles and 10 books published before the date of my source book—I began poring over published interviews in art magazines and other periodicals. This is more time-consuming that you might think because, at least here in New York City, the pertinent publications are scattered all over the city in different libraries from NYU and Parsons downtown to several facilities of the New York Public Library in midtown to Columbia University uptown. Since one lead sometimes connects to another, that means not only spending long hours finding all the periodicals and issues in each library, but sometimes going back to a library I’ve already searched for something I learned about later.

In the end, this search failed to turn up the quotation. I now had to start to assume that the quoting author had gotten something wrong in her attribution. Perhaps the statement hadn’t been published in an actual interview but quoted in some other kind of article about Salle. I decided to take a long shot in the hope of saving some effort—if I got lucky. The NYPL circulating art division at the Mid-Manhattan Library has a collection of clipping files on many artists. If the fates were good to me, they’d have a folder on Salle and there might be a clipping of the appropriate article. So off I went to 40th Street and 5th Avenue, up to the third floor art desk. Sure enough, there was a “vertical file” of clippings on Salle, so I sat down and began to comb through it, clipping by clipping. Midway or so through my search I came upon an article by Janet Malcolm from a 1994 issue of The New Yorker. Malcolm, a journalist on the staff of the magazine, had spent two years conducting a series of interviews with Salle, though the article wasn’t an interview, but a profile, and the quotation appeared on the last page when the writer cited a letter Salle had sent her later. The author who wrote the book in which I found the statement had gotten some of the important details about the source wrong, but she had gotten the words essentially correct—except for some punctuation. The passage had also begun as part of a longer sentence, so:

After many hours of trying to step outside of myself in order to talk about who or what I am, I feel that the only thing that really matters in art and life is to go against the tidal wave of literalism and literal-mindedness—to insist on and live the life of the imagination. A painting has to be the experience, instead of pointing to it. I want to have and give access to feeling. That is the riskiest and only important way to connect art to the world—to make it alive. The rest is just current events.
—Janet Malcolm, “Profile: Forty-one False Starts,” New Yorker 11 July 1994: 68

I had managed to find the quotation’s source relatively easily in the end and was able to use it myself with proper attribution (because I try very hard not to do to other readers what some writers have done to me!). A similar instance, also involving a quotation from a figure in the art world, though it eventually had a happy ending, took far longer—years instead of weeks. In fact, I’d pretty much given up finding an original source for this quotation altogether.

For that same long paper, Shapiro, a stage director (about whom I’ve published on ROT several times), had told me that one of his inspirations and influences had been the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. I had decided to select some of the figures and artworks he’d named for me when I asked him about this aspect of his work and use them as illustrations and support for some of my analysis and interpretation of Shapiro’s own art and thoughts. Rivera was one of these artists because of both his art and his artistic politics. I began collecting material on the painter, including publications from a 1999 exhibit of Rivera’s work at the Cleveland Museum of Art. In one of the pamphlets was a very intriguing and relevant statement:

To be an artist, one must first be a man vitally concerned with all problems of social struggle . . . never withdrawing from life. His work must contain the whole substance of morality, not in content, but rather by the sheer force of its aesthetic facts.

This was so applicable to Shapiro that I knew I had to use it somewhere in the book-length paper I was writing. But I needed to find the actual source—or, at least, a citable one—before I could comfortably (and, really, legitimately) quote the statement myself. Once again, the ‘Net didn’t help at all: the statement appeared numerous times on many websites, but not one gave any kind of origin for it. Again, also, it wasn’t listed in any collection of quotations that I could find. (By this time, I was getting pretty familiar with the available quotation dictionaries in the New York City libraries!) So, off I went to search biographies of Rivera and articles by and about him that included statements he made. (I had to restrict myself to English-language sources, of course, because I don’t read Spanish. I was hoping that the statement, wherever it appeared, had been made in English or translated from Spanish.) Little did I know at the start what I was getting myself into. Unlike Salle, Rivera is an artist much written about—and he goes back much further than Salle did so his footprint is huge.

Once again, I made a list of likely articles and books and started making the rounds again of the art collections in New York City libraries. To make a long story short, I searched every damn book and article about or by Rivera I could locate and never found the statement or anything remotely resembling it. I even tried contacting the Rivera museum in Mexico—twice—but no one ever responded to my inquiry. I also wrote the Cleveland museum to see if anyone there knew the source of the quotation they’d used—they didn’t—and a reviewer of another exhibit who’d quoted the lines in her article, but she didn’t know where the statement came from, either. I was ready to write the statement off as the "Play it again, Sam" and 'Beam me up, Scotty" of the art world—lines often “quoted” but which no one ever actually said. I didn’t want it to be, and I was resigned to the fact that I’d have to equivocate about the attribution of the statement and give as my source—but not the source—the museum brochure, something I was really loath to do except as a last resort. (In other cases, where the statement wasn’t so useful and on-point, rather than cite a pamphlet, brochure, or news release, I’d dropped the quotation entirely.)

I don’t remember when I started looking for the Rivera quotation—I have letters pertaining to the search dating back to 2002, but I think that I started looking before that, perhaps shortly after the Cleveland exhibit had closed, maybe around 2000 or 2001. In any case, I kept looking from time to time, doing what I often do in cases like that when I’m searching for something without success: I do a ‘Net search every six or eight months or a year in the hope that something new will have been posted since my last try. Well, sometime in 2007 I hit on an essay that quoted the Rivera statement. It was a journal article so I hoped it would be documented, but I couldn’t access it from my home computer because it was on a site to which I had to subscribe. I could download the essay at a NYPL research library, but I had no immediate plans to go to one. I made a note about the site and the article for my next trip to Lincoln Center or 42nd Street so that I could skim the essay and see if there was a footnote giving the origin of that statement. Finally, I got the article on a terminal at the performing arts library and, lo and behold, it was footnoted. I copied down the citation for the quotation, a book about Rivera, and put in a request for it. (The book’s at Mid-Manhattan—and also in the art section at 42nd Street—so I couldn't look up the reference on the spot.) Well, the book, the only circulating copy in the system, turned out to have been “on trace” for months and my request was cancelled when the book was officially declared missing.

Since I didn't know how easy it would be to find the quotation, I really wanted to take the book home to search, but if I had to, I'd search it at 42nd Street, to which I was on my way one subsequent afternoon. En route, I passed by Mid-Manhattan and, on a whim, I decided to go up and just have a look on the shelf. The book was sitting there, in all its glory—not out of order, not on a shelving cart, not mistakenly on the reference shelf—just where it was supposed to be shelved. I had a quick look at it right there, and there was the quotation, very clearly indented near the beginning of the text. It was even footnoted: the source—and the book is apparently the original citation—was a collection of random comments, oral and written, Rivera made to the author, a friend of his and his wife, Frida Kahlo’s. So I found the book and my source and could state that Rivera did actually say what's attributed to him (or as surely as a sourced publication of the words can make it). After years of on-and-off searching. After having looked through every book and article on or by Rivera I could locate; why I missed this one, which dated from 1971 so it wasn’t newly released or a new acquisition by NYPL, I don't know. Nonetheless, mission (finally) accomplished. The full statement, which the author called the painter’s “creed” and which Rivera had made to the writer, herself a painter as well as an author, is:

To be an artist, one must first be a man, vitally concerned with all problems of social struggle, unflinching in portraying them without concealment or evasion, never shirking the truth as he understands it, never withdrawing from life. As a painter, his problems are those of his craft. He is a workman and an artisan. As an artist, he must be a dreamer; he must interpret the unexpressed hopes, fears, and desires of his people and of his time; he must be the conscience of his culture. His work must contain the whole substance of morality, not in content, but rather by the sheer force of its aesthetic facts.
—Florence Arquin, Diego Rivera: The Shaping of an Artist, 1889-1921
(Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971), 3-4

Another putative quotation by a famous figure led me on a less successful chase. In that same book where the David Salle quotation appeared, the author stated that writer James Baldwin had written this statement:

The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions which have been hidden by the answers.

Like the Salle observation, this looked like an apt statement of something Leo Shapiro believed and practiced in the theater he made. Even though Baldwin wasn’t someone whom Shapiro had ever invoked, I felt the writer was the kind of man and artist he would have admired and I thought quoting him on this point would be forceful. I set out once again to find the actual source of the line and started the same way, with the Internet.

There were over a hundred hits for the statement, all attributed to James Baldwin and none providing a source for the sentence. As usual, I created a list of references for Baldwin, but because he was a famous and prolific writer, the list was immense, greater than the Rivera reference list because it had to include all of Baldwin’s own essay collections and even fiction because he could conceivably have written the remark in a story as well—or in the introduction to a story collection. I began my search and failed to find the statement in book after book, article after article. As I was wading through the Baldwin sources, moving from library to library on occasional visits as time and my other work permitted, I also tried to contact anyone who might know Baldwin’s work. (I had already e-mailed the book’s author and someone in her company wrote back to say that the author didn’t know where she got the quotation. The associate explained that the author often keeps a notebook of interesting things she sees or hears but that she doesn’t always make a note of the source or circumstances surrounding an observation.) I reached out through some theater organizations to which I belong in the hope that some academic at some college somewhere might know the quotation. I also joined a bulletin board connected to a quotation site on line (on which a long discussion about misinformation, misquoted texts, and misattributed quotations ensued over several years!) and got the one clue that came closest to solving the mystery.

Along with several dead-end suggestions for the source of the line attributed to Baldwin, one or two contributors wrote that they thought the original comment had been in Baldwin’s 1962 essay “The Creative Process.” They had found a citation in an essay by an academic which named that source, though the pagination in the documentation was slightly off. When I checked “The Creative Process,” however, I found that the sentence wasn’t there, though a slightly similar one was. I contacted the author of the essay which quoted the Baldwin and asked him about the citation. He admitted that he’d found the line in another essay and that he’d lifted it along with the other author’s source notation without checking it himself. I wondered, though, if perhaps Baldwin hadn’t reused the line in another essay somewhere, changing the wording slightly—but I never found any other statement remotely like the one quoted in the book where I first found it or the passage from “The Creative Process,” which Baldwin had republished several times but always with the identical text as the original edition.

I finally gave up looking for the Baldwin line that the book writer had used even though it appeared in hundreds of websites with the same wording. (That there was never any variation on the ‘Net makes me wonder about a misquotation. Usually when something’s misquoted, it’s misquoted slightly differently each time—unless, like “Play it again, Sam,” it gains a life of its own.) I ended up adopting the remark Baldwin did write in “The Creative Process” as having nearly the same meaning:

The artist cannot and must not take anything for granted, but must drive to the heart of every answer and expose the question that answer hides.
—James Baldwin, “The Creative Process,” Creative America, ed. Jerry Mason
(New York: Ridge Press [for the National Cultural Center], 1962), 19

In the same book that contained the Salle statement and Baldwin misquotation, the author also included a provocative paraphrase attributed to Werner Heisenberg, the German scientist and philosopher. She wrote, “According to physicist Werner Heisenberg, artists and scientists share a common approach. They enter into their work with one hand firmly grasping the specific and the other hand on the unknown,” but she didn’t quote Heisenberg anymore than she gave a source for the thought. This time I not only had no source citation to follow, but I didn’t even have the thinker’s words to track down. I followed my usual routine to no avail, skimming all of the Heisenberg books in English I could find. In one respect, this was a little easier than either the Rivera or Baldwin quotations because almost all Heisenberg’s books are located in one NYPL branch, the Science, Industry and Business Library on lower Madison Avenue. I had to run down a few stray volumes at NYU, but for the most part, I could stay in one place. But not having the writer’s words to look for did make this an especially difficult task since I couldn’t just skim for a pertinent phrase, something that might stand out on a page. I had to read a little more carefully to catch the sense of Heisenberg’s essays and speeches. I started, of course, with anything whose title indicated that he would discuss art or the humanities rather than pure science, but eventually I had to broaden my search because a man like Heisenberg, whose mind ranged across disciplines and subjects with great agility, might touch on art even in a lecture to physics students. (He was not only a brilliant physicist but an accomplished concert pianist. In his youth, it was a toss-up whether he would pursue science or music as a career.) I came up empty nonetheless. I even reached out again to academics and anyone else I thought might know about this elusive statement attributed to Heisenberg. Though I occasionally give the search another try, hoping maybe I missed something that now I’ll spot, I’ve never found any statement the scientist made that approximates what the book’s author asserts the Nobel laureate believed.

Sometimes, asking the right person can make the detection a whole lot easier and faster. Shapiro liked to quote the playwright George Bernard Shaw, who was one of the artists on that list of influences and inspirations he gave me. In 1978, the theater director participated in the New York celebration of the sesquicentennial of Henrik Ibsen’s birth. (The Norwegian playwright was another of Shapiro’s important influences.) He was on a panel on “Acting and Directing Ibsen for the Contemporary Stage” and gave a talk about staging classic plays, drawing on his work with Ibsen’s Ghosts two years earlier. In that address, he quoted Shaw:

The plain working truth is that it is not only good for people to be shocked occasionally, but it is absolutely necessary to the progress of society that they should be shocked pretty often.

I wanted to use this statement in the paper, but I couldn’t without source documentation. (I also had to be sure Shapiro had quoted GBS correctly. He’s not alone of course, but I’d found that in non-academic writing—and sometimes even in scholarship—quotations are fudged.) After starting on my habitual route without success, I e-mailed the Ibsen Society, figuring someone there would recognize the remark. I was right. One of the society members wrote back that the line was in Shaw’s Quintessence of Ibsenism, so I went to look at that book, a collection Shavian essays and speeches on the subject of the Irishman’s admiration for his Norwegian colleague. Quintessence was first published in 1891, but I couldn’t find the line I was looking for in any published version of that edition. Just as I was beginning to believe that I’d been given yet another bum steer, I noticed that there was another version of Quintessence. GBS had revised the collection after Ibsen’s death in 1906 and republished it with additional and expanded essays in 1913. There was only one edition of that version in the NYPL collection that I could identify; it was at Mid-Manhattan. So I toodled up there to examine the book and after leafing through most of it, skimming the texts for the line I wanted, I found it in an essay called “The Lesson of the Plays” (which doesn’t exist in the older edition of the book). The quoted line, which Shapiro had rendered accurately, was near the end of the essay:

The plain working truth is that it is not only good for people to be shocked occasionally, but it is absolutely necessary to the progress of society that they should be shocked pretty often. But it is not good for people to be garotted occasionally, or at all. That is why it is a mistake to treat an atheist as you treat a garotter, or to put “bad taste” on the footing of theft and murder.
—Bernard Shaw, “The Lesson of the Plays,” The Quintessence of Ibsenism,
Now Completed to the Death of Ibsen (New York: Hill and Wang, [1913]1956), 153-54

Another quotation that the director used was attributed to a former U.S. Attorney General. In a published essay, Shapiro’d written:

In 1970, John Mitchell said, “We’re going to push this country so far to the right you won’t even recognize it.” It’s 1991, is this America?

I wanted to cite this passage in a discussion of Shapiro’s regard for this country’s establishment. It wasn’t so important here that either he or I get the line correct, or even if then-Attorney General Mitchell had ever said it at all, since it was what the director thought that was under consideration here. I wanted to ascertain the facts of the statement, however, not only to be sure Mitchell said it, but in case it was worth saying anything about the attribution or the circumstances when it was uttered, or any other aspect of the statement. So I went in search of the line’s source, assuming it had been published somewhere, sometime. This time, the Internet was useful because the statement was not only controversial on its face, but there was a story attached to it which raised its profile even more.

There were a couple of sources cited for the line, but by following up all the leads, I pieced together the provenance. The attribution to President Nixon’s AG appears in variations but seems to have been uttered on 16 September 1970 at a Women’s National Press Club party in Washington, D.C., while Mitchell (who may have been a little in his cups) was in conversation with reporter Kandy Stroud of Women’s Wear Daily. Mitchell, however, not only later disputed the accuracy of the report, but denied having had an on-the-record conversation with Stroud at all. Stroud, though, stood by her account, which included the following quotation, which Shapiro had phrased slightly wrong, from the AG.

This country is going so far right you are not even going to recognize it
—Kandy Stroud, “Mr. Mitchell Goes to a Cocktail Party: Atty. Gen’s Mouth:
Bigger than Martha’s?” Women’s Wear Daily 18 September 1970: 1, 32

(The line was also reported in UPI, “Mitchell Assails ‘Stupid’ Students,” New York Times 19 September 1970: 10; and “The Nation: The Capital: Being Candid With Kandy,” Time 28 September 1970: 9. The statement is also repeated in Bruce J. Schulman, The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society, and Politics [New York: Free Press, 2001], 41.)

Along somewhat different lines, I went in search of a newspaper article I’d read many years ago. I had wanted the article to add to my file of clippings to use if I ever teach a writing class again because it was just an intriguing enough tale to make an interesting reading assignment. The story had been fascinating at the time, which is why I remembered it, but I hadn’t kept the report and I didn’t recall the details very clearly, but for over a dozen years the story kept popping into my mind. All I could recall was that a decade ago or more, I read an article in the New York Times about a statue in a house on Fifth Avenue in the upper-70’s that a passerby had thought might be a “lost” Michelangelo sculpture. An art professor at NYU noticed the statue in the lobby of the townhouse that was now part of some embassy. She'd walked past that house many times over the years, but this time, she thought she recognized it as a famous "lost" sculpture. I couldn't scrape together enough other specifics to do a 'Net or New York Times search, but the little story of a found masterpiece stayed with me for all that time.

Sometimes, however, plain dumb luck comes to my rescue. One day a year ago last fall, I opened the paper and somewhere in the middle of the Times art section was a small article about the statue. The story was back in the news because the sculpture was going on loan to the Met for display! I couldn't believe it: after all that time, it just fell back into my lap, so to speak. The 2009 article included all the details of the original story, so now I had plenty to find the first article I’d read, as it turned out, almost 14 years ago. Here's the outline of the story:

The art professor, who's with NYU's Institute of the Arts, located around the corner from the townhouse, regularly walked past the entrance to the building, but it was always too dimly lit for her to take much notice of the sculpture in the lobby. It was part of what looked like a fountain arrangement in a house designed and built by Stanford White at the turn of the 20th century. But one evening she walked by when the place was all lit up because the French Embassy, who now owned the house, was having an event. The sculpture, a life-sized nude boy in white marble, missing its arms and the lower part of its legs, looked like an early Michelangelo, an artist in whose early works the professor was something of an expert. After researching the building and the sculpture as much as she could and discovering that the statue had been attributed to Michelangelo before in its history, she concluded that it was one the artist had carved when he was around 15. (White, who was known for decorating the houses he built, had bought the piece when it failed to sell at auction and assembled it with the fountain and a base he had made to create the centerpiece for the lobby. It had stood there for over 90 years by the time the professor noticed it.) Obviously, some experts agree with her conclusion and others don't, but there's enough interest for the Met to accept it as a loan from the French government and put it on display for 10 years.

After I read the 2009 report, I was pretty sure it was the story I’d remembered for all those years and couldn't find, but I wasn't certain until I went on line and looked up the first New York Times report from 1996. I remembered enough of the way the article unfolded to recognize it as the one I'd been looking for for more than a dozen years. That first article is:

John Russell, “A Michelangelo on 5th Ave.? It Seems So,” New York Times 23 January 1996, sec. A: 1, sec. C (“Science Times”): 16.

(The follow-up article that put me onto the first one 13 years later is: Ken Johnson, “Art Review: Met Asks if Statue Is Work of Genius,” New York Times 6 November 2009, sec. C [“Weekend Arts”]: 28.)

In constant pursuit of information and material pertaining to Leo Shapiro, I’m always looking for sources of particulars about his younger years. Shapiro died in 1997, a young man only a few months older than I was, so I could no longer refer questions to him and get clues about where to find things. He’d spent two years after graduating from NYU staging guerrilla theater in New Mexico and the Four Corners and though he and I’d talked about those years some, after he died I realized how much I never asked him about. (My original aim was to write only about the theater company Shapiro had started and run in New York City for 25 years. Only when I began to expand that profile, published in 1993 in TDR, did I need more background details than I had gotten from him before his death.) Because Shapiro had associated himself with the Taos communes and the hippie community there, one of the sources I wanted to consult was a monthly newspaper published by The Family called Fountain of Light. Shapiro had been closely connected with The Family, even living at their commune when he first arrived in Taos, and he organized his first performance projects out of the community center the commune ran. I’d been frustrated at every turn, however, because no one here had FoL and no library in New Mexico who did have it would lend it. I figured I was SOL, but I kept looking on the ‘Net every now and then in the hope that something would turn up somewhere.

One time in September 2004, on one of my periodic Google searches, I came across a website named fountainoflight.com. I had done this a year or so earlier, too, and I found the same website but it had seemed dormant and I couldn't reach anyone. But things change on the 'Net, so I had looked again. This time the site came up as obviously active. It seems that some of the original FoL people, now living in Denver, had revived the periodical as an on-line newsletter devoted to the commune days in New Mexico. The site had an e-mail contact, but when I tried to write to it, the message came back as undeliverable. I poked around on the site and found that FoL was connected to a foundation that had its own web page, so I went there and it, too, had an e-mail link. I tried that, but that message came back, too. However, the foundation also had one of those "Contact Us" pages that had a message form for sending in questions and comments, so I tried that and reached the man who ran the foundation. He explained that my messages wouldn't go through because my domain name wasn't part of their list (I don't really understand this beyond the basic concept) and after fiddling a few times, he turned off the filter and my message went through. I sent an inquiry about Shapiro and his guerrilla troupe and heard back from the current FoL editor. Several people remembered Shapiro’s work back then, and they did have a few copies of the old paper so the editor said he'd check it to see if there was anything on my topic. There wasn't, but they only had about nine issues on hand. The editor was going to New Mexico soon, he said, and would try to get to the Albuquerque library and see if they have more old issues—that's one of the places that lists FoL in its collection—and make copies of anything he found.

In the meantime, I’d started an e-mail conversation with the FoL editor and the man at the foundation, both of whom had been hippies in Taos back in the day and remembered Shapiro and his work there. The fellow at the foundation sent me some brief recollections, but a third veteran of the commune days, a woman who’d participated in the director’s first performance in Taos, a show based on Yeats’s “The Second Coming” on Halloween night, 1969 (see “Cheerleaders of the Revolution” on ROT, 31 October 2009) sent me a pretty detailed memoir of her work with Shapiro. What a windfall! A first-person, first-hand account of an ephemeral, one-night-only presentation!

But that wasn’t the only coup generated by my fortuitous contact with the folks at fountainoflight.com. The editor did go to Albuquerque a few weeks later and plowed through the back copies of the original magazine. He wrote me that he hadn’t found a lot relevant to my research, but that he had found one thing that he’d copied and was sending to me. He wasn’t sure it was connected to Shapiro, but it was an unsigned theater column which referred to the Yeats poem, a production for Washington's birthday, and the formation of a Medicine Show called A Magick Theatre. He was sending a photocopy to me and essentially wanted me to authenticate it for him if I could. Well, when it arrived and I opened the envelope and examined the copies, I knew immediately that Shapiro had written it. Not only was the text of the column all his ideas and references, but instead of a signature or a byline, he’d signed the column with a symbol that I knew well—a device Shapiro’d come up with based on ancient Indian petroglyphs and which he’d continued to use the rest of his life as part of his signature in lieu of a middle initial. I’d known in my gut that this man had published something in that hippie paper, but until this serendipitous contact, I hadn’t been able to prove it or locate what I was sure was there. Now I had it in my hands! Once again, after years of searching and trying to get access to a source, I’d won a small but invaluable prize. I plan to republish Shapiro’s column on ROT sometime soon. Look for:

“Two Thousand Years of Stony Sleep,” Fountain of Light [The Family commune, Taos (Arroyo Seco), NM] no. 10 (January [?] [1970]: n.p.

As I said, Leo Shapiro died unexpectedly and my original focus hadn’t included much of his life before the founding of his New York theater company. As a result of this and my own ignorance about doing this kind of research, I never asked Shapiro many questions that have turned out to be important. I still kick myself for not having covered some ground with him before his death. One of those areas was the publication of some poetry he’d written as a teenager. He’d told me about this in interviews we’d done when I was writing the TDR profile, but I didn’t ask him where the poems had been published because I wasn’t writing about his childhood or his early decision to become a poet, before he turned to theater in college. Shapiro had died before I realized that I wanted to see those poems; I’m sure they are revealing—other similar material I’d found (or his survivors had sent to me) have proved to be extremely valuable. Once again, I set out to find obscure documents. I consulted every poetry index I could find, I asked as many people who knew the man before I met him and might know about the poems. His former wife wouldn’t answer my letters; neither would his brother, from whom he was estranged. His son grew up with his mother and only got to know his father around the same time I did, so he also didn’t know where the poems were published. I eventually started just looking through odd periodicals which ran poetry and were published in the right years. Because these, too, were mostly hippie periodicals and alternative press, library holdings are spotty—and it’s an arduous task anyway. As you might guess, I came up empty time and time again. This is one search that may well never come to fruition—I have no more ideas and no leads. Doggedness and a smidgen of clever deduction have paid off well for me over time, but this is likely to remain one of my failures. It’s a big one, too. With respect to this particular project, one of my friends has often said that Shapiro’s looking over my shoulder because I keep finding, often just by serendipity, really obscure and immensely useful documents—some even Leo Shapiro himself probably wouldn’t have remembered. If he’s back there guiding me, he’s been cruelly remiss on the matter of his poems.

2 comments:

  1. My new book, People of Windsor Mountain, is now available for purchase at

    Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&fiel
    d-keywords=rick+goeld).

    There is an entire chapter on Leonardo Shapiro.

    For more about the book, go to www.Windsorbook.com

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    1. RickG--

      Thanks for the heads-up. (I don't usually let commenters use the blog for advertising, but I'll make an exception in this case, considering the pertinence of the book.)

      For those interested in the Windsor Mountain School, let me forewarn you all that I'm working on an article for ROT about Black Mountain College, which I see as Windsor Mountain's big brother. (Leo Shapiro saw a connection, too, since he took inspiration for his own teaching ideas from both his experience at WMS and the principles of BMC.) The article should be posted sometime in late June 2014.

      ~Rick

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