Raskin, Jonah 1942–
Raskin, Jonah 1942–
(Pepe Delicado, Jomo, Jonah Seth Raskin)
PERSONAL: Born January 3, 1942, in New York, NY; son of Sam (a lawyer) and Mildred (a teacher; maiden name, Quitkin) Raskin; married Angela Massimo (a legal worker), July 26, 1977; children: Timothy Patrick. Education: Columbia University, A.B., 1963, M.A., 1964; University of Manchester, Ph.D., 1967. Hobbies and other interests: Fishing, cooking.
ADDRESSES: Home—P.O. Box 22, Graton, CA 95444. Office—Department of Communications, Sonoma University, 1801 E. Cotati Ave., Nichols 328, Rohnert Park, CA 94928. Agent—Sterling Lord, 65 Bleecker St., New York, NY 10012. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: State University of New York at Stony Brook, assistant professor of English, 1967–72; University Review, New York, NY, editor, 1972–74; Hoffman Institute, Mexico City, Mexico, assistant director, 1975–76; Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, CA, professor and chair of communications; writer, 1976–; book critic, Santa Rosa Press Democrat, California, 1985–2000. Fulbright scholar, University of Ghent and University of Antwerp. Teacher of writing workshops. Host of radio program, Walks of Life, KRCB Radio.
AWARDS, HONORS: Grant from Rabinowitz Foundation, 1974–76.
The Mythology of Imperialism, Random House (New York, NY), 1971.
(Editor) The Weather Eye (political-cultural analysis), University Square Press, 1974.
Out of the Whale (autobiography), Links Books (New York, NY), 1974.
My Search for B. Traven, Methuen (New York, NY), 1979.
James D. Houston (pamphlet), Boise State University (Boise, ID), 1993.
Natives, Newcomers, Exiles, Fugitives: Northern California Writers and Their Work, Running Wolf Press (Healdsburg, CA), 2003.
Underground (fiction), Bobbs-Merrill (New York, NY), 1978.
Also author of poetry chapbooks, including Jonah Raskin's Greatest Hits, 1992, More Poems, Better Poems, Running Wolf Press, 2001, and Bone Love, Alexander Book Company, 2004. Also author of works under pseudonyms Jomo and Pepe Delicado. Author of story for film, Homegrown, 1998. Contributor to periodicals, including the Nation, San Francisco Examiner, International Herald Tribune, and Village Voice.
SIDELIGHTS: Jonah Raskin set out to chronicle the life of the mysterious left-wing author B. Traven, but in My Search for B. Traven, he relates instead why he was unable to accomplish his original intent. Traven was the author of more than a dozen novels and short story collections. Several films had been made from his stories, including the highly-successful Treasure of the Sierra Madre. His works were translated into twenty languages, and sold more than twenty-five million copies. Yet no one knew the real identity of B. Traven, not even his family or publisher. There was much wild speculation during the author's heyday on the real identity of B. Traven—including rumors that he was American writer Jack London, the son of Kaiser Wilhelm II, a woman, a group of leftist writers, and even the president of Mexico. All that was known for certain was that B. Traven lived in Mexico. According to Washington Post Book World writer Patrick Breslin: "From 1926 to 1940 he produced a series of tough, best-selling novels about injustice and exploitation and about the struggle of the Mexican Indians against the encroachments of national and international capitalism."
Despite extensive research, Raskin was unable to solve the mystery of Traven's identity. Still, his anecdotes describing his travels in Mexico, his conversations with Traven's widow, and his review of correspondence, diaries, and manuscripts make up a story in themselves. Raskin also peppers My Search for B. Travers with some of his own literary criticism. It is "a frank, earnest, even witty probe into the origins of the phantom novelist," approved a Kirkus Reviews writer. "Very engaging, a mystery alive and itching."
An easier task was that of completing the biography of counterculture figure Abbie Hoffman. Raskin moved in the same circles as Hoffman, and personally knew his subject for twenty years. He brought his unique insight to For the Hell of It: The Life and Times of Abbie Hoffman. Mike Tribby, a Booklist contributor, termed Raskin's biography "virtually a primer for understanding the 1960s New Left…. Raskin's warts-and-all look at a once influential, now barely recalled figure is well worth the reader's time." Vivian Gornick also reviewed the book positively, stating in the Nation: "Raskin's book is arranged like a series of filmed calendar pages; behind the pages stand descriptions as vivid as movies of the formative influences moving with lightning speed across those few amazing years." According to Kent Worcester in the Library Journal, the book is "a first-rate introduction to the topsy-turvy career of one of the wildest rebels of the 1960s…. A compelling portrait of the rise and fall of 1960s radicalism."
Raskin considered another famous counterculture figure in his book American Scream: Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" and the Making of the Beat Generation. Allen Ginsberg was a poet and a leader of the artistic and social movement known as the Beats, which came to life in post-World War II America. The Beats opposed conformity and violence and espoused freedom of expression, working outside the rigid literary norms of their day. Raskin's book focuses on Ginsberg's 1957 trial on charges of obscenity, following a public performance of his poem "Howl," which contained graphic homosexual references that shocked the common sensibilities of the day. According to Vivian Gornick in the Nation, Raskin's book illustrates how the trial was "an opening shot at the start of a culture war destined to throw long shadows across American life." Library Journal contributor William Gargan recommended American Scream as an "excellent study" of the poem and it's significance.
Raskin told CA: "I write because I must. It's an addiction, an affliction, and a love affair. By surrendering to it I lose myself, forget the past, and move into a new identity. Thus, writing is self-creation and re-creation. My life in England awakened me to the past, to empire and ruins, to feudal lords and the working man who hated the blacks almost as much as he hated the boss. In Mexico, on the other hand, I awakened to the primitive, to conquest and decay, to Indian women who loved their land almost as much as they loved their own children."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Raskin, Jonah, My Search for B. Traven, Methuen (New York, NY), 1979. Raskin, Jonah, Out of the Whale, Links Books (New
York, NY), 1974.
Booklist, November 15, 1996, Mike Tribby, review of For the Hell of It: The Life and Times of Abbie Hoffman, p. 555; March 15, 2004, Janet St. John, review of American Scream: Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" and the Making of the Beat Generation, p. 1257.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1980, review of My Search for B. Traven, p. 1063.
Library Journal, October 1, 1980, William White, review of My Search for B. Traven, p. 2086; December, 1996, Kent Worcester, review of For the Hell of It, p. 108; April 15, 2004, William Gargan, review of American Scream, p. 86.
Nation, November 1, 1980, Richard Elman, review of My Search for B. Traven, p. 450; January 6, 1997, Vivian Gornick, review of For the Hell of It, pp. 25-27; June 14, 2004, Vivian Gornick, review of American Scream, p. 34.
New York Times Book Review, February 2, 1997, Jonathan Rieder, review of For the Hell of It, p. 14.
Publishers Weekly, November 25, 1996, review of For the Hell of It, p. 63.
Quill & Quire, February, 1981, review of My Search for B. Traven, p. 49.
Washington Post Book World, September 7, 1980, Patrick Breslin, review of My Search for B. Traven, p. 7.