Turner, Frederick 1937- (Frederick William III Turner)
Turner, Frederick 1937- (Frederick William III Turner)
Born June 8, 1937, in Chicago, IL; son of Frederick William, Jr. (an attorney), and Frances Turner; married Faythe Duffy (a teacher), November 21, 1959 (divorced, 1972); married Elise R. Preston, 1975; children: (first marriage) Alexandra, Jessica, Charles; (second marriage) Aaron. Education: Denison University, B.A., 1959; Ohio State University, M.A., 1961; University of Pennsylvania, Ph.D., 1965.
Home—Santa Fe, NM.
High school teacher of English and social studies in Newark, OH, 1959-60; Haverford College, Haverford, PA, instructor in English, 1962-63; University of Rhode Island, Kingston, instructor, 1963-65, assistant professor of English, 1965-67; University of Massachusetts—Amherst, assistant professor, 1967-70, associate professor, 1970-76, professor of English, 1976-81; freelance writer, 1981—. Dartmouth College, visiting lecturer in English and native American studies, spring, 1975; University of New Mexico, visiting lecturer in American studies, 1981; University of California, San Diego, Regents Lecturer, spring, 1985.
National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, 1976; Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, 1981.
(Editor and author of introduction and notes) Geronimo and S.M. Barrett, Geronimo: His Own Story, Dutton (New York, NY), 1970, revised edition, Cooper (London, England), 1975.
(Editor and author of introduction) The Portable North American Indian Reader, Viking (New York, NY), 1974, 3rd edition, 1977.
Beyond Geography: The Western Spirit against the Wilderness, Viking/Penguin (New York, NY), 1980.
Remembering Song: Encounters with the New Orleans Jazz Tradition, Viking (New York, NY), 1982.
Rediscovering America: John Muir in His Time and Ours, Viking (New York, NY), 1984.
Spirit of Place: The Making of an American Literary Landscape, Sierra Books, 1990.
Of Chiles, Cacti, and Fighting Cocks: Notes on the American West, North Point Press, 1990.
(Editor) Into the Heart of Life: Henry Miller At One Hundred, New Directions (New York, NY), 1991.
A Border of Blue: Along the Gulf of Mexico From the Keys to the Yucatan, Holt (New York, NY), 1993.
When the Boys Came Back: Baseball and 1946, Holt (New York, NY), 1996.
John Muir: From Scotland to the Sierra, Canongate, 1997.
1929, Counterpoint (New York, NY), 2003.
In the Land of the Temple Caves: From St. Emilion to Paris's St. Sulpice: Notes on Art and the Human Spirit, Counterpoint (New York, NY), 2004.
Redemption (novel), Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2006.
Contributor to books, including The Rocking Horse Winner, C.E. Merrill, 1969, and Malamud and the Critics, New York University Press (New York, NY), 1971. Author of introduction, Virginia Irving Armstrong, IHave Spoken: American History through the Voices of the Indians, Swallow Press, 1971. Contributor of articles, essays, and reviews to periodicals, including International Herald Tribune, American Heritage, Nation, Saturday Review, New York Times, Harper's, and Massachusetts Review.
Frederick Turner is admired for his versatility in many literary forms, including travel writing, poetry, cultural criticism, and fiction. Many of his titles have environmental themes. In Beyond Geography: The Western Spirit against the Wilderness, which Smithsonian contributor T.H. Watkins described as a "beautifully written and carefully argued" book, Turner looks at the interrelationships between human cultures and their natural environments. Wide in scope, the book ranges from prehistoric times to the modern world, showing how expanding civilizations depleted natural resources and caused ecological stress, and how European attitudes affected the way that colonists treated the natural world on the American continent.
Rediscovering America: John Muir in His Time and Ours, a biography of the mid-19th-century environmental pioneer and first Sierra Club president, received mixed reviews. Richard Eder, writing in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, stated that the book "gives a detailed account of Muir's life and vision," yet he comments that "the biography is badly marred, however, by the author's effort to go beyond his material…. There is a deluge, particularly early on, of ‘would have felts’ and ‘must have felts.’" While commending "Turner's enthusiasm," Eder believed that "too much of the time he impersonates Muir instead of conveying him." John Tallmadge noted in New York Times Book Review that "this book, written in masterly and loving style, still leaves a good many questions unanswered and many good stories untold." In a Washington Post review of the book, Dennis Drabelle approved of Turner's "projections" into Muir's life, observing: "In the wrong hands, such must-have-felts can produce unfounded figments, but Turner's projections seem solid. Much of his authority to make them derives from the profound rapport between himself and Muir that is evident on almost every page." Drabelle concluded that Rediscovering America "is a biography as shapely as its subject's life and death."
A Border of Blue: Along the Gulf of Mexico from the Keys to the Yucatan recounts Turner's 3,600-mile road trip along the Gulf Coast from Key West, Florida, to Merida, Mexico. Reviewers enjoyed Turner's observations on the natural and human cultures he encountered along the way. In Wilderness, T.H. Watkins praised the book's rich detail and "lovely intricacies of language," while also commending Turner's habit of writing "with an environmentalist's eye"—all the more important because the wetlands through which Turner traveled, including bayous, coral reefs, and coastal areas, are rapidly succumbing to damage and pollution. A Border of Blue, concluded Watkins, reminds us "that the very world he chronicles with such wit and erudition is sliding closer to ecological ruin every day." Finding much humor and "special charm" in the book, a writer for Publishers Weekly deemed it "the stuff of fine companionship for travelers."
Turner turns to cultural criticism in When the Boys Came Back: Baseball and 1946, his account of a seminal year in the history of America's national pastime. With World War II over, prewar stars like Ted Williams were returning from military duty, and this event posed several questions: what was the status of returning players? Would teams be legally prohibited from refusing to hire black veterans? What would happen to talented junior players who had filled in for star athletes during the war? Turner uses first-person interviews and archival research to describe the personal stories of the players and to illuminate the larger developments in the sport. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly enjoyed Turner's "lively" prose, while Booklist contributor Wes Lukowsky considered the book a "richly detailed [and] very entertaining account" of a fascinating year in baseball history.
After publishing several successful nonfiction works, Turner wrote two well-received novels. 1929 is a fictional treatment of the life and times of jazz musician Bix Beiderbecke. The white cornet player's life, according to many critics, typified all the excesses of the Jazz Age of the late 1920s: speakeasies and bootleg liquor, drugs, organized crime, and the musical culture that thrived in this thrilling—and often dangerous—environment. Turner creates some "terrific set pieces" in the novel, according to a Kirkus Reviews writer, including descriptions of Al Capone's Chicago and of Hollywood. He also creates small parts for such Jazz Age icons as Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, and Clara Bow. Suggesting that the novel was worthy of a Pulitzer Prize, the Kirkus Reviews writer deemed the book a "riproaring, entertaining image of a bygone era." Sean McCann, writing in Book, hailed 1929 as an "engrossing" novel, while Booklist contributor Brad Hooper stated that the book deserves "first-rate status within the genre" of historical fiction.
Similar praise was accorded Turner's second novel, Redemption. Set in New Orleans in the early 1900s, the book tells the story of Tom Anderson, overlord of the city's red-light district of Storyville, and his lieutenant, ex-cop Francis Muldoon. When a rival bordello threatens business, things get dangerous and complicated. New Orleans has "seldom been stickier," or its sexual undercurrents and violence more potently suggested than in this "dark, potent" novel, commented Jennifer Reese in Entertainment Weekly. A contributor to Publishers Weekly hailed the novel for its "intoxicating period detail" and enjoyably dark plot.
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Turner felt compelled to question his belief in the expressive and transcendent role of art in human culture. He traveled to France, visiting the caves where prehistoric hunters painted haunting images thousands of years ago. He also visited other historic sites, including places where Nazi occupying forces inflicted atrocities. His account of these travels, In the Land of the Temple Caves: From St. Emilion to Paris's St. Sulpice: Notes on Art and the Human Spirit, is a book that, according to a Kirkus Reviews contributor, "forcefully underscores" the enduring power of art in human life. Booklist reviewer Donna Seaman admired its "beautifully sculpted prose and carefully reasoned musings" that argue for art's ability to connect peoples across time and place and thus illuminate "the essence and continuity of existence."
Frederick Turner told CA that he is "currently increasingly interested in the literature of travel, with continuing interests in biography and cultural history. When I was a kid in high school and college and dared to imagine a literary career for myself, I wanted to write about baseball, jazz, Paris, and Hemingway, my first literary hero. I have written about the first three subjects, so maybe I no longer need to write about that fourth one."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Atlantic, June 1, 1980, review of Beyond Geography: The Western Spirit against the Wilderness, p. 93.
Book, July 1, 2003, Sean McCann, review of 1929, p. 83.
Booklist, February 15, 1993, Donna Seaman, review of A Border of Blue: Along the Gulf of Mexico from the Keys to the Yucatan, p. 1032; June 1, 1996, Wes Lukowsky, review of When the Boys Came Back: Baseball and 1946, p. 1664; May 15, 2003, Brad Hooper, review of 1929, p. 1641; January 1, 2004, review of 1929, p. 777; April 1, 2004, Donna Seaman, review of In the Lands of Temple Caves: Notes on Art and the Human Spirit, p. 1340; October 1, 2006, Brad Hooper, review of Redemption, p. 39.
Entertainment Weekly, March 5, 1993, Nisid Hajari, review of A Border of Blue, p. 55; June 20, 2003, Larry Blumenfeld, review of 1929, p. 78; November 3, 2006, Jennifer Reese, review of Redemption, p. 81.
Environmental Politics, winter, 1994, Lisa Lebduska, review of Spirit of Place: The Making of an American Literary Landscape.
History: Review of New Books, January 1, 1997, Wes Singletary, review of When the Boys Came Back, p. 54.
Hollywood Reporter, April 12, 2004, Bruce Allen, "Finding Historical Relevance in Journalism, Jazz, Slavery," p. 12.
Journal of the West, October 1, 1993, Elizabeth Davis, review of Spirit of Place, p. 104.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2003, review of 1929, p. 568; March 1, 2004, review of In the Land of the Temple Caves, p. 215; August 15, 2006, review of Redemption, p. 808.
Library Journal, March 15, 1980, Carol M. Klein, review of Beyond Geography, p. 721; February 15, 1990, John Budd, review of Spirit of Place, p. 186; June 1, 1990, Katharine Galloway Garstka, review of Of Chiles, Cacti, and Fighting Cocks: Notes on the American West, p. 158; January 1, 1993, Jo-Anne Mary Benson, review of A Border of Blue: Along the Gulf of Mexico from the Keys to the Yucatan, p. 153; April 15, 1996, Morey Berger, review of When the Boys Came Back, p. 92; May 15, 2003, Judith Kicinski, review of 1929, p. 128; July 1, 2004, Jo-Anne Mary Benson, review of In the Land of Temple Caves, p. 108.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 17, 1985, Richard Eder, review of Rediscovering America: John Muir in His Time and Ours, p. 32.
Nation, March 22, 1980, Richard Drinnon, review of Beyond Geography, p. 343.
New York, November 20, 2006, "Is This Book Worth Getting? A No-frills Guide to the Just-published Fiction Shelf," p. 80.
New York Review of Books, August 14, 2003, Whitney Balliett, "In a Mist," p. 11.
New York Times, April 20, 1980, Raymond Sokolov, review of Beyond Geography, p. 16.
New York Times Book Review, April 20, 1980, Raymond Sokolov, review of Beyond Geography, p. 16; November 3, 1985, John Tallmadge, review of Rediscovering America, p. 27; April 26, 1987, "Rediscovering America: John Muir in His Time and Ours," p. 42; April 25, 1993, Thomas Swick, review of A Border of Blue, p. 9.
Publishers Weekly, January 25, 1980, review of Beyond Geography, p. 330; August 10, 1992, review of Spirit of Place, p. 68; January 4, 1993, review of A Border of Blue, p. 68; April 8, 1996, review of When the Boys Came Back, p. 46; May 12, 2003, review of 1929, p. 41; September 11, 2006, review of Redemption, p. 35.
School Library Journal, February 1, 1997, Judy Sokoll, review of When the Boys Came Back, p. 138.
Smithsonian, April 1, 1990, T.H. Watkins, review of Beyond Geography, p. 206.
Washington Post Book World, November 1, 1985, Dennis Drabelle, review of Rediscovering America; June 22, 2003, Chris Lehmann, "In a Mist," p. 7; December 17, 2006, Kevin Allman, "Storied Storyville," p. 13.
Wilderness, winter, 1990, Charles E. Little, review of Spirit of Place; summer, 1993, T.H. Watkins, review of A Border of Blue.
Wilson Library Bulletin, December 1, 1980, review of Beyond Geography, p. 304.