Sigal, Clancy 1926–

views updated

Sigal, Clancy 1926–


Born September 6, 1926, in Chicago, IL; son of Leo Sigali and Jennie Persily; married. Education: University of California, Los Angeles, B.A., 1950.


Home—Los Angeles, CA. Agent—Frances Goldin, 57 E. 11 St., New York, NY 10003. E-mail—[email protected]


United Auto Workers, Detroit, MI, 1946-47; worked for Columbia Pictures, Hollywood, CA; Jaffe Agency, Los Angeles, CA, agent, 1953-56; University of Southern California, professor emeritus. Military service: U.S. Army, 1944-46; became staff sergeant.


Citizens Committee to Preserve American Freedoms (1953-56), Americans in Britain against the Indo-China War, PEN, UK Labour Party.


Houghton Mifflin literary fellowship, National Book Award nominee, for Going Away; Lifetime Achievement Award, PEN USA, 2007.


Weekend in Dinlock, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1960.

Going Away, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1962.

Zone of the Interior, Crowell (New York, NY), 1976.

The Secret Defector, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.

(With Janice Tidwell) In Love and War (screenplay), Warner Brothers, 1997.

(With Janice Tidwell) Frida (screenplay; also see below), 2002.

(Editor) Frida: Bringing Frida Kahlo's Life and Art to Film, Newmarket Press (New York, NY), 2002.

Weekend in Dinlock, Figueroa Press (Los Angeles, CA), 2004.

A Woman of Uncertain Character: The Amorous and Radical Adventures of My Mother Jennie (Who Always Wanted to Be a Respectable Jewish Mom) by Her Bastard Son, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 2006.

Also author of radio play A Visit with Rose, 1983, and a broadcaster for BBC. Regular contributor to New Statesman, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Partisan Review, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, New York Review of Books, Spectator, Time and Tide Encounter, and the Nation.


In Weekend in Dinlock and Going Away, Clancy Sigal blends elements of autobiography, social history, and fiction to create a strong sense of time and place. Written in the first person, Going Away tells the story of a man's drive from Los Angeles to New York. As he drives he relives his past (which includes experience as a union organizer, a Hollywood agent, and a soldier) and suffers a nervous breakdown. In the end, the narrator realizes he must leave America to see where his road will take him. William J. Schafer, writing in Contemporary Novelists, called Going Away "an ‘on the road’ novel, a pursuit of lost time, a gathering of the narrator's experiences and a diagnosis of America's spiritual and political malaise." Nelson Algren, writing in the New York Times Book Review, called Going Away "a first-hand novel by a first-rate writer driven by the discovery that he is a man fully equipped to live his life, but with no place to live it."

Although Going Away was written first, it was revised and published after Weekend in Dinlock. The central figure in Weekend in Dinlock is Davie, a miner and gifted painter who is torn between the need to pursue his art and the need to prove his manhood by staying and working in the mines. The novel concludes with Davie still struggling to resolve his dilemma. Schafer noted that Weekend in Dinlock "is a logical extension of Going Away. … The wide-open feeling of crossing America (the loneliness of the land itself) is replaced by the paranoid claustrophobia of the mine shaft and the paranoid closed society of the provincial village." In Nation, Ted Hughes explained that his reservations about the book "stem chiefly from Sigal's attitude to his task…. We know what his project is: Life in Dinlock, he says at the outset, is an ‘atrocity.’ … He sees the atrocity clearly, but misses the spirit which enables these people to live much of it joyfully."

Sigal's The Secret Defector is the story of Gus Black, who leaves his job as an agent in Hollywood and moves to England. When he arrives, Gus joins the Marxist Left and its world of picketing and demonstrating. His love interest is Rose O'Malley, a pro-communist writer. Gus eventually parts ways with Rose and marries a woman he meets at a feminist conference. One day, Gus's wife realizes that they have become "secret defectors" who no longer stand by the Marxist beliefs for which they once fought. Critics universally recognized the heavily autobiographical content of this novel. In a review for New York Times Book Review, Daniel Stern wrote: "A novel worth its salt will weave its themes and characters together to make a texture of revelation that is more than the sum of its parts. Not true here. The Secret Defector is an autobiography with the names changed, which is quite another thing. But for most of the journey it does not matter a bit, so entertaining and charming is Mr. Sigal as an autobiographical companion."

In A Woman of Uncertain Character: The Amorous and Radical Adventures of My Mother Jennie (Who Always Wanted to Be a Respectable Jewish Mom) by Her Bastard Son, Sigal tells a more overtly autobiographical tale by relating the story of his mother's adventurous life. Sigal's mother, a bohemian and political activist, was unwed and had a series of lovers throughout Sigal's childhood, all of which was uncommon in the 1930s, when much of the story takes place. Sigal's memoir relates how his mother, a Jewish Russian immigrant who settled in Manhattan, attended radical political lectures and shaped her politics based on this. When Sigal was a small boy, his mother brought him along as she traversed the country by train, working as a union organizer. Sigal even relates some of his mother's encounters with the mafia, who were not pleased with the union's successes. Reviewers applauded the book. For instance, a Publishers Weekly critic stated that the "gritty prose worthy of any classic noir film propels this engaging, often tender memoir of a larger-than-life woman." Commenting on Sigal's narrative, Booklist reviewer Donna Seaman found that the "rough-and-tumble coming-of-age stories are rife with pain, humor, and a gritty beauty."



Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 7, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1977.

Contemporary Novelists, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.

Sigal, Clancy, A Woman of Uncertain Character: The Amorous and Radical Adventures of My Mother Jennie (Who Always Wanted to Be a Respectable Jewish Mom) by Her Bastard Son, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 2006.


Booklist, April 15, 2006, Donna Seaman, review of A Woman of Uncertain Character: The Amorous and Radical Adventures of My Mother Jennie (Who Always Wanted to Be a Respectable Jewish Mom) by Her Bastard Son, p. 25.

Mental Health Practice, December 1, 2006, Liam Clarke, review of Zone of the Interior, p. 28.

Nation, July 2, 1960, Ted Hughes, review of Weekend in Dinlock, p. 14.

New Republic, September 18, 1976, review of Zone of the Interior, p. 31.

Newsweek, August 2, 1976, review of Zone of the Interior, p. 75.

New York Times, August 6, 1976, review of Zone of the Interior, p. C17.

New York Times Book Review, February 18, 1962, Nelson Algren, review of Going Away, p. 4; June 27, 1976, review of Zone of the Interior, p. 6; October 21, 1984, review of Going Away, p. 60; June 28, 1992, Daniel Stern, review of The Secret Defector, p. 22.

Publishers Weekly, March 27, 2006, review of A Woman of Uncertain Character, p. 72.

San Francisco Chronicle, May 28, 2006, Jonah Raskin, review of A Woman of Uncertain Character.