Vol. 11, No. 2 -- Spring, 2002
In this issue:Norman Mailer to Speak at James Jones Conference in Paris
May 10, 2002 - Paris, France -
The American University of Paris (AUP) and the James Jones Literary Society announced today that world-renowned author Norman Mailer will speak on June 22 at the 12th Annual James Jones Literary Society Conference hosted by The American University of Paris. Mailer, a friend of the late James Jones beginning in the early 1950s, will receive the first James Jones Lifetime Achievement Award, presented on behalf of the Society by Jones’s daughter, the novelist Kaylie Jones.
Speaking of his participation, Mr. Mailer said, "It’s always a particular pleasure to come back one more time to Paris where I spent many of the most interesting months of my life (from October to June, 1947-1948), but the thought that on this trip I can speak of one of America’s major post-war novelists and my sometime friend, James Jones, on the morning of one day, and then on the evening of the next be able to read with George Plimpton and my wife, Norris Church, in George’s play, 'Zelda, Scott and Ernest' increases my anticipation by an order of magnitude."
Mailer, prolific author of over 40 books, including The Naked and the Dead (1948), Advertisements for Myself (1959), The Executioner’s Song (1979) and Portrait of Picasso as a Young Man (1995), will speak and take questions about Jones at 11:00 a.m. as part of a day-long celebration of James Jones, who lived in Paris with his wife Gloria, and their two children, Kaylie and Jamie from 1958-74, most of this period in a house on the Ile St. Louis. Other speakers include George Plimpton, co-founder and editor of The Paris Review, long-time friend of the Jones family, and author of many works including Paper Lion (1966), Truman Capote (1997), and several other friends and relatives of James Jones and scholars of his work.
The conference, which is free and open to the public, will be held in the Grand Salon of the American University of Paris beginning at 9:00, with a welcome by Kaylie Jones, Jerry Bayne, current Society President, and Kevin Heisler, Vice President, and Michael Vincent, Dean of The AUP
It will conclude with a book signing at 4:30 p.m. Seating is limited and preference will be given to Society members. A total of six sessions are devoted to the life and work of Jones, author of many memorable narrative works, including From Here to Eternity (1951), Some Came Running (1957), The Thin Red Line (1962), Go to the Widow-Maker (1967), Viet Journal (1974), WWII (1975) and Whistle, which was published posthumously in 1978. Jones died in the United States in 1977.
On June 23, a dramatic reading of "Zelda, Scott and Ernest," to benefit the Jones Society, will be held at the American Church of Paris at 7:30 p.m.
Norris Church Mailer, Mailer’s wife and Artistic Director of the Provincetown Repertory Theatre and author of the recent novel, Windchill Summer (2000), plays the role of Zelda Fitzgerald; Mr. Mailer plays Ernest Hemingway; and George Plimpton plays F. Scott Fitzgerald in the production, which is the creation of Terry Quinn and Mr. Plimpton, and is based on the correspondence and published works of the Fitzgeralds and Hemingway, including Hemingway’s classic memoir of Paris, A Moveable Feast (1964). The three have presented readings of the play in New York, Washington, Provincetown, Massachusetts, and several other places.
Contacted at her home in Provincetown, Mrs. Mailer said, "It has been eighty years and more since Zelda and Scott came to Paris and lived those tempestuous, alcohol-flavored years of wild parties, love, fury, great literature, and madness. Giving life to Zelda, through her words, here in Paris, where she lived and wrote them, is a most memorable experience."
To sign up for the conference at AUP on June 22 and/or to reserve tickets for the performance on June 23 at the American Church, please call Nils Schott in the AUP Office of Academic Affairs: tel: (33/1) 40 62 06 02; email: email@example.com. (For security reasons, only persons whose names are on the list will be admitted) Regular seating tickets are $25. A limited number of $100 reserved seating tickets, which include a post-performance reception, may be obtained by sending payment to the Society’s Treasurer, Warren Mason, 32 Winton Road, Meredith New Hampshire 03253. Payment must be received by June 10.
The Jones Society is planning other events in conjunction with the conference and the dramatic reading, including literary Paris, a walking tour led by Noel Riley Fitch and a book signing at the Abbey Bookshop in the Latin Quarter in the late afternoon of June 21st.
The Illinois State Historical Society has recognized the book James Jones and the Handy Writers Colony, written by JJLS board members George Hendrick, Helen Howe, and Don Sackrider, with a special award for scholarly publications on Illinois history.
The 103rd annual meeting of the Illinois State Historical Society was held on April 26-27 in Quincy, Illinois. At a luncheon held at Quincy's Stoney Creek Inn on April 27, George Hendrick accepted the award on behalf of himself and his co-authors.
Hendricks, Howe and Sackrider also received a Distinguished Achievement Award at the JJLS Symposium last November for this book and its companion volume, Writings from the Handy Colony, both published in 2001.
Hendrick is a professor emeritus of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, former department head and was the first president of the James Jones Literary Society. He previously published To Reach Eternity: The Letters of James Jones.
Howe is a retired English instructor of Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Illinois. Howe was a personal friend of Jones and Lowney Handy, and Howe's husband was a close childhood friend of Jones.
Sackrider, a retired Eastern Airlines pilot, was also a friend of Jones and the second student (after Jones) of the Handy Writers' Colony. Sackrider is the immediate past president of the literary society.
On April 25, 2002 the film A
Never Cries was screened as part of Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film
held at the historic Virginia Theater in Champaign, Illinois. The film,
based on Kaylie Jones's novel, starred singer and actor Kris
as "Bill Willis," a character based up on Kaylie's father, James Jones.
Kaylie Jones and Kristofferson were in attendance to discuss the movie
with Ebert, and former JJLS President Ray Elliott interviewed
regarding his role in the film.
Because of that image, playing the James Jones character in the movie version of his daughter Kaylie’s novel, A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries, wasn’t a role I’d ever thought about Kristofferson getting. But when Nick Nolte decided to go to Australia to play Col. Tall in Terrence Malick’s film adaptation of Jones’ World War II Guadalcanal novel, The Thin Red Line, before taking the father role in Kaylie's novel, Kristofferson was offered the part instead.
"I’d never have had the chance, otherwise," Kristofferson said when he was in Champaign-Urbana for the screening of A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries during the Roger Ebert Overlooked Film Festival.
Getting that chance, however, gave Kristofferson the opportunity to play one of the best roles of his career. It was a role he said he’d been preparing for all of his life.
"I could identify with (Jones) sometimes because of his military background and the fact that I wanted to be a writer more than anything else," said Kristofferson, who spent nearly five years in the Army before stopping off in Nashville on his way to an English teaching assignment at West Point after three years in Germany and deciding to stay and work as a janitor and write songs instead of pursuing a military career.
"I didn’t know it was going to be songs," he said of his own writing success. "I hope that someday I will be writing fiction again."
James Jones’s relationship to his work and to his family was how Kristofferson said he could most identify with the noted author of the World War II trilogy From Here To Eternity, The Thin Red Line and Whistle who grew up in the southern Illinois town of Robinson.
And it was the family relationship that Kristofferson said was very appealing to him about the Jones he played and came to know through the role. The 65-year-old songwriter, singer and actor Kristofferson has eight children of his own, five at home in Hawaii.
"I imagine when [Jones] was younger," Kristofferson said, "he might have been the way I was more when I was younger. I think there’s a point in your life, if you’re a creative person, where you’ve got to be pretty selfish, and where your work is pretty much the most important thing in your life.
"But at least at the age when I was playing Jones, he had gotten to the point where what he really valued, I think, was family; work as well. He was always dedicated to his writing, but not to the point of excluding the people he loved."
The younger Jones was who Kristofferson said he had in mind when he accepted the role of expatriate author Bill Willis in "A Soldier’s Daughter."
"It’s so funny," Kristofferson said, "because when I started to do this project, my memory, my impression of James Jones was all these pictures that they used to put out back when he was selling Eternity. He’d be throwing a knife or doing something real manly and macho. I expected him to be more like Hemingway. I was glad to see that (Jones) grew into the person that he got to be."
Like Jones, the character in the movie had heath problems and moved his family back to the United States after years of living in Paris to spend his last years at home, finish the final novel of his war trilogy and have his daughter and son grow up in America. The children had a difficult time adjusting to the culture and the fact that their father was dying.
"What was ironic for me was that life followed art," Kristofferson said. "Right after I did the movie (where the ambulance backs up to the house to take Willis off to the hospital), I had to have a triple bypass. And my kids, who had all been in North Carolina (on location for the filming of A Soldier’s Daughter) with me were there when the ambulance came to the house, just like when it came in the movie and rolled James Jones off to the hospital.
"At my house, you know. And Jody, one of my boys (who was 15) — I got quite a kick out of it — he went up to his mother and asked, ‘It’s not going to be like the movie, is it, Mom?’"
It was the wheezy-like breathing Kaylie perceived in Kristofferson’s performance of the Jones character that really touched her.
"The breathing caused me to fall apart," she said. "My father had congestive heart failure and he breathed in a way that everybody who knew him recognized when they heard Kris in the movie. It was so effective."
Kristofferson said he wasn’t aware of doing anything special.
"That’s weird," he said, "because I didn’t have a clue what it was really like. My father died of heart failure, but I think maybe I was close enough to needing the operation myself.
"And by the time I ran into Kaylie down there (in North Carolina) I felt like I was James Jones. But, of course, I had no idea that I’d look like it to his daughter, especially one that loved him so much."
Unlike Jones and the character in the movie, Kristofferson recovered and is able to work. But he said it is "hard to get me out of the house. I wouldn’t have come here now, if it hadn’t been for how much I loved the project."
But like Jones and the character in the movie, his own life as a father is what Kristofferson values now.
"When you’re younger," he said, "you’re still trying to find out who you are. And if you’re in love with your work, it’s probably going to take most of your attention. I know I wasn’t the father for my first two kids as I am for the ones now."
Eliott's interview of Kristofferson will conclude in the next issue.
--by Judith Barnes,
First, I want to thank the members of the James Jones Literary Society for giving me their First Novel Fellowship in 1998. Winning that year gave me the courage to finish Salthill and see it published. Like Ray Cristina, I admire Mr. Jones's work very much. James Jones made a significant contribution to the American literary tradition and I am happy and proud to be a member of the Society.
I guess every writer has to find his own way of successfully turning out work on a regular basis. Penelope Fitzgerald remarked that women learn to write "at their kitchen tables," with interruptions, because that is so often the way they have to work. Being easily distracted, I’m a flop at the kitchen table. Once nothing was so wonderful as charming the Muse for a few hours (in my pajamas, with many mugs of coffee). Now I’m working on a second novel, and it’s hard going. When I do set a block of time aside to write, I frequently end up wandering the house tweaking at things instead, washing glasses or making that phone call "before I forget." Scrubbing the bathroom tile with an old toothbrush becomes more important than hitting the keys! The only time I can stick to the writing job is either late at night, when all the world is asleep, or at dawn when ditto. So far I’m not sure which one works best, because although I am more inspired in the morning, I’m really a night owl! My most successful writing comes when I rise in the morning and work all day and into the evening in complete solitude, stopping only to eat meals or take a walk.
However during the day, while working at non-writing tasks, I also dream and play around with ideas. I read a lot. The material I dig into for story ideas really has to grab me or I can’t put my heart into it. Mythology fascinates me, for instance. Salthill was based roughly on the King Arthur legends. I have built a collection of books on different subjects, mostly from library sales, or I may be found rummaging in the non-fiction bin of your local dust-mote-laden used bookatorium. Sometimes every book I own seems to be open on the floor or my desk, for inspiration. Once the "serene and pitiless" Muse has appeared, I can work on my draft. This is a loathsome process which I would do anything to squirm out of, including bathroom tile. When the draft is more or less in place, I set to work doing what I feel most confident of: refining the language and making it vivid. Here is where all that research comes in, because the devil -- and the fun -- is in the details! (It isn’t a tree, it’s a Linden tree!) I always have an imaginary reader in my mind whom I want to become completely lost in this world I have built.
I don’t Delete anything I have written. Instead, I Cut the offending passage and Paste it into a "Stuff" file. Anything not working, or too purple (I tend to slide into this, and have to be severe and cunning with my weakness) can be cast into the "Stuff" file. It feels less horrible than deleting it. Besides, who knows? It might come in handy later on. A writer I know calls it "killing your darlings"-- bumping off those cherished bits of prose that just don’t work. I’m a magpie; I preserve words like pieces of string or glass.
Oddly, I wrote my first novel while working full time and raising a son. Now by a fluke I am not working and the son is away in college, and do I write? Probably not more than I did in the old days. Life is strange.
I keep one area of my bedroom for writing and that’s all I do there. I work on a banquet table. I need isolation and silence. My computer faces the window and the trees. It is always very comforting when my old marmalade cat comes and sits quietly on my manuscript.
Kaylie Jones, the daughter of James Jones, made the following remarks at the JJLS Symposium in Robinson, Illinois, on November 10, 2001. Jones would have been 80 years old on November 6.This is continued from the previous issue of the newsletter.
Drinking did exacerbate my father's heart condition, there's no doubt about it. But he had congestive heart failure before that, and it came from a combination of malaria from the war and a congenital condition his brother, Jeff Jones, also died from.
But drinking and illness never killed his work, or his drive to work. The Paris years in my opinion were extremely fruitful. He partied a lot and there were open houses, but he was up at 6 o'clock every morning, working. He got up, he went to work. We watched him, as we got ready to go to school, pulling himself together to go up to his office. In Paris he wrote three of his four great war novels, The Pistol, The Thin Red Line, and a great chunk of Whistle (the Ice-Cream Headache has stories about the war but isn't strictly a war novel).
From '75 to '77, after we moved back to the States, he was working around the clock on Whistle, and he installed two elevator chairs in our house so he could be lifted up to the third floor to write. And he would go up about seven in the morning and wouldn't come down until seven at night. And this was a dying man -- dying, and he knew it. He was afraid to leave his work undone. That's what I saw, and that's what I emulated and wanted to be: someone who had the courage to do something like that. And I don't know. I don't know whether I've earned a place to go sit at that table with those great writers someday.
One of the best things that ever happened to me in my life is finding Don Sackrider. My father's family split at some point, there was a battle, a war, some feud. I have three first cousins I've never met. I never met my Uncle Jeff, and I never met my grandparents. I never knew any of these people. I knew Don because he came to Paris, and then we saw him again in Florida, but we didn't see him much. Our lives diverged. This was all due to this complicated relationship my father had with Lowney Handy, which he lied about to my mother. So you can imagine my mother's feelings were quite complex. It's amazing that a man who could write From Here to Eternity wouldn't have the good sense to know that a women could tell that Lowney Handy had been more than his foster mother, but had been his lover for fifteen years. I think he made a little bit of a mistake there.
In any case they never discussed the past or anybody from the past. So I didn't know anything about Don, or about Illinois, or about where he came from. So when I went to the symposium for the first time, and Don picked me up at the airport, and we talked all the way here, I felt like I'd found a relative. I'd found family. And that's one of the best things that has happened to me that I think my father would be very happy about. I have guidance in this man, who tells me things in a very quiet voice: maybe you should think about doing it this way, or maybe that's not a great idea, or maybe that is a good idea. I hear the voice of wisdom, I hear the voice of solidity and loyalty. I hear my father in that. And he would have been very happy about that.
Over twenty years ago, when I was in college, my life was literally saved by another writer, Tolstoy. I read War and Peace and I read the death of Prince Andrew in that novel, and from a hundred years in the past, that writer spoke to me and said: you're not alone, your pain is not singular to you, it's universal. And that saved my life, and that's why I became a writer. I know that my father's writing and his voice has done that for a lot of young writers and Vietnam vets, people who came out of other wars who needed to know they weren't alone.
I hope in time that I'll be allowed to sit at that table with them, wherever they are, and ask them this huge number of questions (the list just gets longer and longer). One thing I can tell you for sure though: those terrorists who blew up the World Trade Center on September 11 who believe they're going to heaven are in serious trouble, if they're going to the same place as where those writers are sitting around talking. Because in the minds of those writers the killing of another human being for any reason is unacceptable. That was my father's first and last tenet in life, I believe.
Saturday, June 22, 2002
The American University of Paris,8:45-9:10 a.m.
American Church in Paris7:30 p.m.
Regular seating tickets for "Zelda, Scott and Ernest" are $25. A limited number of $100 reserved seating tickets, which include a post-performance reception, may be obtained by sending payment to the Society’s Treasurer: Warren Mason, 32 Winton Road, Meredith New Hampshire 03253. Payment must be received by June 10, 2002.
Both items from the Handy Colony Collection, Archives/Special Collections, University of Illinois at Springfield.