Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The picture at top of the page

I thought that I should briefly explain the banner at the top of the page. The picture at the left is the one that appeared on the cover of Walk Toward Oregon, Alvin Josephy's memoir. It must be Alvin in his early forties, after he had found the Nez Perce story and country of Idaho and northeast Oregon.

The one in the middle was taken at Wallowa Lake Lodge in October of 1965 at the publication party for The Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest. Alvin is standing at the left. His wife, Betty, and elder Gilbert Conner from the Umatilla Confederate Tribes (Tamastslikt Cultural Institute Director Bobbie Conner's grandfather!) are seated. Standing behind them is Chester Kerr, President of Yale University Press, publisher of the Nez Perce book.

Alvin had worked on the Nez Perce book for ten years, taking time out to write the book, Patriot Chiefs, and several articles about Indians, including an early one on the "Naming of the Nez Perce" in the autumn 1955 edition of Montana magazine, and a 60 plus page entry on "American Indians" in the 1963 Colliers Encyclopedia. The latter eventually grew into the award winning Indian Heritage of America, published in 1968.

Oh -- on the right is an architect's rendering of a remodeled Coffin House--Fishtrap's headquarters in Enterprise--with a new Josephy Library wing at its left.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Alvin Josephy in Mexico--1937

Alvin Josephy Taluca, Mexico, 1937

Doug Erickson, Special Collections Librarian at Lewis and Clark College, just sent me a PDF file of Alvin Josephy’s 1937 Ken Magazine interview with Leon Trotsky in Mexico City.

Which brought a rush of memories and sent me back to the pages of Alvin’s memoir, A Walk Toward Oregon. I first heard the story the second year of Summer Fishtrap, when Alvin was on a panel with Herb Mitgang of the New York Times and Jonathan Nicholas, then at the Oregonian. The panel was about fact and fiction, and, after listening to the two journalists talk, Alvin rose to recall the long ago trip to Mexico.

"When I interviewed Trotsky in Mexico in 1937," he began, and we in the audience looked at him and each other with small gasps and big smiles. Here we were in a meeting room at a Methodist church camp at Wallowa Lake, Oregon in 1989, being thrust back to major events in Twentieth Century history—to the Russian Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, and a man who was a prime player in the first and a sideline jockey maybe looking for a role in the second.

His interviewer, Alvin Josephy, was a 22 year old Harvard dropout with a stint as a junior screenwriter in Hollywood and a few months coordinating high school essays and WOR radio interviews with newspaper employees for the New York Herald Tribune. At the end of the school year, Alvin had talked his way into a Herald Tribune press card and arranged a trip to Mexico with the intention of interviewing the new President of the country, Caesar Cardenas, and Trotsky. Using political skills he’d picked up in student politics with a national bent at Harvard, and writing skills he’d begun honing as a high school student at Horace Mann, Josephy scheduled an interview—sending several written questions ahead—with Trotsky and began making the connections that would allow him to meet the new President.

Josephy wanted to know whether Trotsky would support a “liberal front” alongside Stalin in Spain, what Trotsky thought of the eventual outcome of events there and in Germany and Italy, where Hitler and Mussolini were on the rise, and whether he was engaged still—or his partisans were engaged still—in battle with Stalin. He came away thinking that Trotsky was “muddled” in his thinking, but that he was also sincere, and saw himself as the true practitioner of Marxism waiting for the proletariat to rise and throw out all despots and capitalist masters.

Ken Magazine later printed Trotsky’s contentious reply to Josephy—he had not included all of his (Trotsky’s) written answers to questions, and he incorrectly asserted that there was a rift between Trotsky and his host, the great muralist Diego Rivera—and noted that they had already heard from the “communists,” who thought the article was biased toward Trotsky. “Ken gets it both ways,” they announced alongside Trotsky’s reply.

A train trip with one of Cardenas’ cabinet members and a brief interview with the President followed. In his memoir, Alvin remarks that he was unable to get an interview with dissident General Cedillo, who had resigned and retreated, and was reportedly conspiring with American oil interests to overthrow the populist and anti-clerical Cardenas. The great novelist Graham Greene, ascribing his success to his Catholicism, managed the interview with Cedillo a few months later—before Cedillo was assassinated.

The mind boggling thing about all of this is that Alvin was 22 years old, and smack in the middle of his century’s history! The portents of things to come are the incredible amount of research and preparation he did before the trip—about the Russian Revolution, current events in Europe and the U.S., and the history and culture of Mexico, his firm belief in democracy, and his interest in fair play and justice for all citizens, and especially for the indigenous peoples who had been swept aside by European conquerors.


picture of Alvin in Mexico courtesy Al Josephy; photo of Trotsky from Ken Magazine article.

and, check out Barbara Kingsolver's new book, Lacuna, a historical novel which follows events in Mexico City in the Rivera-Kahlo household in the time of Trotsky!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Loeffler, Abbey, and Josephy

Dear Friends of the Josephy Library,

Welcome to the first Library Blog! Actually, I am sending the text in a regular email, as I have been doing for the past year or so, but it will now be posted on the the Josephy Library blog, where you are now!

This is all new ground for me, so patience please—and I will appreciate your suggestions.


Jack Loeffler comes to Fishtrap

Jack Loeffler celebrated his 74th birthday in a hotel room in Baker City on his way to Fishtrap this July. He’d been as far as Joseph before, sat on Alvin Josephy’s deck and interviewed him, but he had never made it as far as Wallowa Lake. He was thrilled with the first sight of it..

On Monday morning we began a conversation that seemed like it had started ages ago, and the time between the phantom conversations of the past and today melted away. From time to time Jack would say that he needed to interview himself about Josephy, and I would think that I should have a damned recorder going while we talked.

Neither happened, but I’m hoping they will.

Jack brought us a disc with a couple of hours of interview time with Alvin, and he brought stories: the time he read Alvin’s testimony defending the Hopis in a fight with Peabody Coal; the camping trip with Alvin sleeping under the pickup until a thunderstorm woke him thumping into the bottom of the pickup bed and scrambling inside. And on and on…

At Fishtrap, in a brief afternoon session, Loeffler played short snippets of interviews—most done for radio programs in New Mexico—on environmental issues with Stewart Udall, author John Nichols, Earth Firster Dave Forman, Sierra and Friends of the Earth’s David Brower, Ed Abbey, Alvin Josephy, and a host of others. There was no name dropping—just 20 second blurbs from here and there to make a point..

Later, I asked him about the Abbey and Josephy exchange about grazing on public lands.. Abbey was of course dead set against grazing; Alvin, informed by friendships and hours on horseback with Wallowa County ranchers like Jack McClaran and Biden Tippett, took a different point of view. Developers were the real problem; ranchers and environmental thinkers should be in league.

It was a friendly dialog, according to Jack. His eyes sparkled with the thought of his old friends, Ed Abbey and Alvin Josephy, in a long-ago conversation that could still stir emotions today. I’ll have to send you that picture of Ed and Alvin on the rim of the Grand Canyon.” But he didn’t need to—it’s in his memoir about Abbey, Adventures with Ed. Clean shaven Alvin between bearded Ed and long-haired Jack, with a small group of anthropologists and photographers all looking very much 1971. I’m sure Alvin had to catch a plane soon to an editorial board meeting at American Heritage or a session with some Indian tribe or government committee redesigning the BIA.

But he looks happy and not completely out of place with this band of 1970s renegade thinkers in the thin Southwest air.

p.s. I found another picture of Ed and Alvin—In Alvin’s memoir! And I am posting it here.