Fast, Howard (Melvin)

views updated May 21 2018

FAST, Howard (Melvin)

Pseudonyms: E.V. Cunningham; Walter Ericson. Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 11 November 1914. Education: George Washington High School, New York, graduated 1931; National Academy of Design, New York. Military Service: Served with the Office of War Information, 1942-43, and the Army Film Project, 1944. Family: Married Bette Cohen in 1937 (died 1994); one daughter and one son, the writer Jonathan Fast. Career: War correspondent in the Far East for Esquire and Coronet magazines, 1945. Taught at Indiana University, Bloomington, Summer 1947; imprisoned for contempt of Congress, 1947; owner, Blue Heron Press, New York, 1952-57. Since 1989 weekly columnist, New York Observer. Founder, World Peace Movement, and member, World Peace Council, 1950-55; currently, member of the Fellowship for Reconciliation. American-Labour Party candidate for Congress for the 23rd District of New York, 1952. Lives in Greenwich, Connecticut. Awards: Bread Loaf Writers Conference award, 1933; Schomburg Race Relations award, 1944; Newspaper Guild award, 1947; Jewish Book Council of America award, 1948; Stalin International Peace prize, 1954; Screenwriters award, 1960; National Association of Independent Schools, award, 1962; Emmy award, for television play, 1976. Agent: Sterling Lord Literistic Inc., 1 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10010, U.S.A.



Two Valleys. New York, Dial Press, 1933; London, Dickson, 1934.

Strange Yesterday. New York, Dodd Mead, 1934.

Place in the City. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1937.

Conceived in Liberty: A Novel of Valley Forge. New York, Simon andSchuster, and London, Joseph, 1939.

The Last Frontier. New York, Duell, 1941; London, Lane, 1948.

The Unvanquished. New York, Duell, 1942; London, Lane, 1947.

The Tall Hunter. New York, Harper, 1942.

Citizen Tom Paine. New York, Duell, 1943; London, Lane, 1946.

Freedom Road. New York, Duell, 1944; London, Lane, 1946.

The American: A Middle Western Legend. New York, Duell, 1946;London, Lane, 1949.

The Children. New York, Duell, 1947.

Clarkton. New York, Duell, 1947.

My Glorious Brothers. Boston, Little Brown, 1948; London, Lane, 1950.

The Proud and the Free. Boston, Little Brown, 1950; London, Lane, 1952.

Spartacus. Privately printed, 1951; London, Lane, 1952.

Fallen Angel (as Walter Ericson). Boston, Little Brown, 1952; as The Darkness Within, New York, Ace, 1953; as Mirage (as Howard Fast), New York, Fawcett, 1965.

Silas Timberman. New York, Blue Heron Press, 1954; London, Lane, 1955.

The Story of Lola Gregg. New York, Blue Heron Press, 1956;London, Lane, 1957.

Moses, Prince of Egypt. New York, Crown, 1958; London, Methuen, 1959.

The Winston Affair. New York, Crown, 1959; London, Methuen, 1960.

The Golden River, in The Howard Fast Reader. New York, Crown, 1960.

April Morning. New York, Crown, and London, Methuen, 1961.

Power. New York, Doubleday, 1962; London, Methuen, 1963.

Agrippa's Daughter. New York, Doubleday, 1964; London, Methuen, 1965.

Torquemada. New York, Doubleday, 1966; London, Methuen, 1967.

The Hunter and the Trap. New York, Dial Press, 1967.

The Crossing. New York, Morrow, 1971; London, Eyre Methuen, 1972.

The Hessian. New York, Morrow, 1972; London, Hodder andStoughton, 1973.

The Call of Fife and Drum: Three Novels of the Revolution. Secaucus, New Jersey, Citadel Press, 1987.

The Bridge Builder's Story. Armonk, New York, M. E. Sharpe, 1995.

An Independent Woman. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1997.

Redemption. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1999.

The Immigrants:

The Immigrants. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1977; London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1978.

Second Generation. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, and London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1978.

The Establishment. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1979; London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1980.

The Legacy. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, and London, Hodder andStoughton, 1981.

Max. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1982; London, Hodder andStoughton, 1983.

The Outsider. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1984; London, Hodder and Stoughton 1985.

The Immigrant's Daughter. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1985;London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1986.

The Dinner Party. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, and London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1987.

The Pledge. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1988; London, Hodder andStoughton, 1989.

The Confession of Joe Cullen. Boston, Houghton Mifflin 1989;London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1990.

The Trial of Abigail Goodman. New York, Crown, 1993.

Seven Days in June. New York, Crown, 1994.

Novels as E.V. Cunningham

Sylvia. New York, Doubleday, 1960; London, Deutsch, 1962.

Phyllis. New York, Doubleday, and London, Deutsch, 1962.

Alice. New York, Doubleday, 1963; London, Deutsch, 1965.

Lydia. New York, Doubleday, 1964; London, Deutsch, 1965.

Shirley. New York, Doubleday, and London, Deutsch, 1964.

Penelope. New York, Doubleday, 1965; London, Deutsch, 1966.

Helen. New York, Doubleday, 1966; London, Deutsch, 1967.

Margie. New York, Morrow, 1966; London, Deutsch, 1968.

Sally. New York, Morrow, and London, Deutsch, 1967.

Samantha. New York, Morrow, 1967; London, Deutsch, 1968; as The Case of the Angry Actress, New York, Dell, 1984.

Cynthia. New York, Morrow, 1968; London, Deutsch, 1969.

The Assassin Who Gave Up His Gun. New York, Morrow, 1969;London, Deutsch, 1970.

Millie. New York, Morrow, 1973; London, Deutsch, 1975.

The Case of the One-Penny Orange. New York, Holt Rinehart, 1977;London, Deutsch, 1978.

The Case of the Russian Diplomat. New York, Holt Rinehart, 1978;London, Deutsch, 1979.

The Case of the Poisoned Eclairs. New York, Holt Rinehart, 1979;London, Deutsch, 1980.

The Case of the Sliding Pool. New York, Delacorte Press, 1981;London, Gollancz, 1982.

The Case of the Kidnapped Angel. New York, Delacorte Press, 1982;London, Gollancz, 1983.

The Case of the Murdered Mackenzie. New York, Delacorte Press, 1984; London, Gollancz, 1985.

The Wabash Factor. New York, Delacorte Press, 1986; London, Gollancz, 1987.


The Hammer (produced New York, 1950).

Thirty Pieces of Silver (produced Melbourne, 1951). New York, BlueHeron Press, and London, Lane, 1954.

General Washington and the Water Witch. London, Lane, 1956.

The Crossing (produced Dallas, 1962).

The Hill (screenplay). New York, Doubleday, 1964.

David and Paula (produced New York, 1982).

Citizen Tom Paine, adaptation of his own novel (producedWilliamstown, Massachusetts, 1985). Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1986.

The Novelist (produced Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1987).

The Second Coming (produced Greenwich, Connecticut, 1991).


The Hessian, 1971.

Television Plays:

What's a Nice Girl Like You ?, 1971; The

Ambassador (Benjamin Franklin series), 1974; 21 Hours at Munich, with Edward Hume, 1976.


Never to Forget the Battle of the Warsaw Ghetto, with WilliamGropper. New York, Jewish Peoples Fraternal Order, 1946.

Korean Lullaby. New York, American Peace Crusade, n.d.


The Romance of a People (for children). New York, Hebrew Publishing Company, 1941.

Lord Baden-Powell of the Boy Scouts. New York, Messner, 1941.

Haym Salomon, Son of Liberty. New York, Messner, 1941.

The Picture-Book History of the Jews, with Bette Fast. New York, Hebrew Publishing Company, 1942.

Goethals and the Panama Canal. New York, Messner, 1942.

The Incredible Tito. New York, Magazine House, 1944.

Intellectuals in the Fight for Peace. New York, Masses and Mainstream, 1949.

Tito and His People. Winnipeg, Contemporary Publishers, 1950.

Literature and Reality. New York, International Publishers, 1950.

Peekskill, U.S.A.: A Personal Experience. New York, Civil RightsCongress, and London, International Publishing Company, 1951.

Tony and the Wonderful Door (for children). New York, Blue HeronPress, 1952; as The Magic Door, Culver City, California, Peace Press, 1979.

Spain and Peace. New York, Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee, 1952.

The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti: A New England Legend. NewYork, Blue Heron Press, 1953; London, Lane, 1954.

The Naked God: The Writer and the Communist Party. New York, Praeger, 1957; London, Bodley Head, 1958.

The Howard Fast Reader. New York, Crown, 1960.

The Jews: Story of a People. New York, Dial Press, 1968; London, Cassell, 1970.

The Art of Zen Meditation. Culver City, California, Peace Press, 1977.

Time and the Riddle: Thirty Zen Stories. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1981.

Being Red: A Memoir. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1990.

War and Peace. Armonk, New York, Sharpe, 1992.

The Sculpture of Bette Fast. Armonk, New York, Sharpe, 1995.

Editor, The Selected Work of Tom Paine. New York, Modern Library, 1946; London, Lane, 1948.

Editor, The Best Short Stories of Theodore Dreiser. Cleveland, World, 1947.


Manuscript Collections:

University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Critical Studies:

History and Conscience: The Case of Howard Fast by Hershel D. Meyer, Princeton, New Jersey, Anvil Atlas, 1958; Counterpoint by Roy Newquist, New York, Rand McNally, 1964; Howard Fast: A Critical Companion by Andrew Macdonald. Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood Press, 1996.

Howard Fast comments:

(1972) From the very beginning of my career as a writer, my outlook has been teleological. Since my first work was published at a very early agemy first novel at the age of eighteenmy philosophical position was naturally uncertain and in formation. Yet the seeds were there, and by the end of my first decade as a writer, I had clearly shaped my point of view. In the light of this, both my historical and modern novels (excepting the entertainments I have written under the name of Cunningham) were conceived as parables and executed as narratives of pace and, hopefully, excitement. I discovered that I had a gift for narrative in the story sense; but I tried never to serve the story, but rather to have it serve my own purposea purpose which I attempted in a transcendental sense.

In other words, I wasand amintrigued by the apparent lunacy of man's experience on earth; but at the same time never accepted a pessimistic conclusion or a mechanical explanation. Thereby, my books were either examinations of moments or parables of my own view of history. As a deeply religious person who has always believed that human life is a meaningful part of a meaningful and incredibly wonderful universe, I found myself at every stage in my career a bit out of step with the current literary movement or fashion. I suppose that this could not have been otherwise, and I think I have been the most astounded of any at the vast audiences my work has reached.

Since I also believe that a person's philosophical point of view has little meaning if it is not matched by being and action, I found myself willingly wed to an endless series of unpopular causes, experiences which I feel enriched my writing as much as they depleted other aspects of my life. I might add that the more I have developed the parable as a form of literature, the more convinced I become that truth is better indicated than specified.

All of the above is of course not a critical evaluation of my work; and I feel that a writer is the last person on earth capable of judging his own work as literature with any objectivity. The moment I cease to feel that I am a good writer, I will have to stop writing. And while this may be no loss to literature, it would be a tragic blow to my income.

As for the books I have written under the name of E.V. Cunningham, they are entertainments, for myself primarily and for all others who care to read them. They are also my own small contribution to that wonderful cause of women's liberation. They are all about wise and brave and gallant women, and while they are suspense and mystery stories, they are also parables in their own way.

* * *

Howard Fast has written in virtually every genrenovels, plays, poems, filmscripts, critical essays and short storiesand in a number of subgenres of fiction, including science fiction, social satire, historical and contemporary novels, spy thrillers, and moral allegories. He began publishing novels at the age of eighteen and has kept up a brisk pace of production.

His strongest fictional gifts are a talent for swift, interesting narrative, the vivid portrayal of scenes of action, especially of violence, and an uncluttered style only occasionally marred by sentimental lapses. Although he became identified in the 1940s as a publicist for the Communist Party line, his novels reveal an intensely emotional and religious nature which eventually clashed with his left-wing allegiances. His ideals reflect a curious compound of slum-culture courage, Jewish concern for social justice, self-taught history, Cold-war Stalinism and, in his later years, Zen Buddhism. His entire literary career embodies his deepest beliefs: that life has moral significance, that the writer must be socially committed, that literature should take sides.

After two youthful blood-and-thunder romances, Fast found his métier in a series of class-conscious historical novels of the American Revolution. Conceived in Liberty heralded the loyalty of the common soldier; The Unvanquished celebrated the dogged persistence of George Washington (despite his aristocracy and wealth, Fast's favorite hero); and Citizen Tom Paine glorified our first professional revolutionary. Fast then championed anonymous heroes of other races: The Last Frontier is a spare but moving account of the heroic flight in 1878 of the Cheyenne Indians to their Powder River home in Wyoming; Freedom Road recounts the amazing social experiments of black Southern legislatures in the Reconstruction era. The best selling of the popular novels of the early 1940s, Freedom Road shows great power in its scenes of violent conflict but it is melodramatic and tendentious. By contrast, the poetically evocative Last Frontier, perhaps his best novel, enlists profound sympathy through great control and objectivity, and evades the pitfalls of "noble redskin" sentimentality.

In 1946 The American detailed the rise and fall of Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld, who was politically defeated after he pardoned three anarchists convicted of bomb-throwing in Haymarket Square in 1886. Although Fast's novels had reflected Marxist thought since his youthful conversion to socialism, his propagandizing became too obtrusive with Clarkton in 1947. This proletarian strike novel of life in the Massachusetts textile mills revealed his inability to maintain the necessary distance to interpret contemporary events soundly. He returned in 1948 to the historical novel with My Glorious Brothers, a stirring account of the Maccabees and the thirty-year Jewish resistance to Greek-Syrian tyranny. This success was duplicated with Spartacus, the largely imagined story of the gladiatorial revolt against Rome in 71 BC. Spartacus was self-published in 1951 after the author was blacklisted for Communist activities and had spent three months in federal prison for contempt of Congress. But, predictably, Fast's other works of the early 1950s were failures in proportion to their nearness to the present day: The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti recounted sentimentally the last hours of the doomed Italian anarchists; Silas Timberman depicted an academic victim of a McCarthyite witchhunt; and The Story of Lola Gregg described the FBI pursuit and capture of an heroic Communist labor leader. These self-published works of imprisoned martyrs, abounding in Christ-figures and symbolic Judases, reflect their author's bitter sense of entrapment and isolation, for he could neither publish with established houses nor leave the country.

In 1957 Fast publicly quit the Communist Party after the Hungarian revolution and then described his tortured apostasy in The Naked God. He soon revisited Jewish history as a favored novelistic subject with Moses, Prince of Egypt; Agrippa's Daughter, and Torquemada. He returned, with a more mature vision, thrice more to the American revolution in April Morning, The Crossing, and The Hessian. In other historical novels he continued to re-examine earlier themes: The Winston Affair deals with the court-martial of an American murderer, homosexual and anti-Semite who nevertheless deserves and wins justice in a military court, while Power shows the corruption by power by a John L. Lewis-type of labor leader: Agrippa's Daugther rejects the "just-war" theory of My Glorious Brothers in favor of Rabbi Hillel's pacifism.

Most readers saw Fast in two new guises (or disguises), as author of science-fiction stories and as a writer of "entertainments" in the manner of Graham Greene. These late science fiction or "Zen stories" include stories in The Edge of Tomorrow, The Hunter and the Trap and The General Zapped an Angel (late gathered into one volume, Time and the Riddle ). The dozen or so "entertainments" are written under the pseudonym E.V. Cunningham, most built around the female title characters. Both the science fiction and the Cunningham novels criticize American institutions and values with wit and humor, and all show the deft hand of the professional storyteller at work. A newer series of Cunningham thrillers stars Masao Masuto, a Japanese-American detective of the Beverly Hills Police Department and a Zen Buddhist. In these, character holds the main appeal, especially that of family-man Masuto.

More recently, Fast has achieved repeated bestsellerdom with an immigrant-saga that has grown to several large novels, starting with The Immigrants and including, The Immigrant's Daughter. These volumes trace the Italian, Dan Lavette, and his family while newly arrived Italians, Jews, Orientals, and others struggle against the entrenched wealth and prejudice of old-line Americans. Beginning with the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, the series energetically sweeps across twentieth-century American history and recent world events. No longer ax-grinding, Fast uses well his own rich experiences for the first time, and he is at the top of his admirable narrative form.

Frank Campenni

Fast, Howard

views updated May 29 2018

Howard Fast

Born Howard Melvin Fast, November 11, 1914, in New York, NY; died of natural causes, March 12, 2003, in Old Greenwich, CT. Author. Prolific author Howard Fast wrote more than 80 books, many of them best–sellers, over the course of a career that spanned nearly 70 years. Through many of his works ran a strong liberal streak, the legacy of Fast's left–leaning political convictions that landed him in trouble with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the 1940s. In his 1990 memoir, Being Red, he chronicled his experiences as a member of the American Communist Party, an association he formally relinquished in 1956. "In the party I found ambition, narrowness, and hatred," he wrote, according to the Independent. "I also found love and dedication and high courage and integrity—and some of the noblest human beings I have ever known."

Born in 1914, Fast was one of four children of a laborer father and an English–born mother. The family was poor, a condition that grew bleaker after his mother died when he was 12. As a teen during the Great Depression, Fast left New York and traveled cross–country by riding railroad cars with other freight hobos. He returned to the area and found success when his first novel, Two Villages, was accepted for publication by Dial Press in 1933, the year he turned 18. His first commercial success, however, came in 1939 with Conceived in Liberty, a historical novel that fictionalized the American Revolutionary Army's experience at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

Other works from early in Fast's career also delved into Revolutionary War times and were a success with both the reading public and the critical establishment, such as the 1942 bestseller about Army general and future United States president George Washington, The Unvanquished. Citizen Tom Paine, which appeared the following year, was an even greater career triumph, and was said to have helped restore this Revolutionary War pamphleteer's reputation. Moving on to the post–Civil War Reconstruction era, Fast's 1944 best–seller, Freedom Road, chronicled the life of a former slave who becomes a United States Senator and target of 1870s Ku Klux Klan riders. It was later made into a 1979 television mini–series that starred Muhammad Ali.

During World War II, Fast worked in the Office of War Information as a scriptwriter for Voice of America radio broadcasts, but ran afoul of the government when he joined the American Communist Party. He was investigated by a Congressional committee that was rooting out alleged subversives in 1945, and refused to cooperate with its demand to turn over records of the Joint Anti–Fascist Refugee Committee, which had collected funds for victims of the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. A series of court challenges followed, and the FBI compiled a 1,000–plus–page dossier on Fast and pressured his New York publishers to shun him. He was even jailed for three months in 1950 on a contempt of Congress charge. A hero to many of the left for his defiance, Fast was awarded the Stalin International Peace Prize in 1953, making him the sole American to earn it after actor–singer Paul Robeson.

Fast's career was revived that same year with the publication of his novel Spartacus, about a slave who leads a revolt the against powerful Roman Empire in late antiquity. It was later made into a successful 1960 movie of the same name that starred Kirk Douglas and was director Stanley Kubrick's first major blockbuster film. By then Fast had left the Communist Party, disillusioned after revelations that came out of the Soviet Union about the millions who had been persecuted under Soviet leader Josef Stalin. "I was part of a generation that believed in socialism and finally found that belief corroded and destroyed," a New York Times obituary by Mervyn Rothstein quoted him as saying in a 1981 interview. "That is not renouncing Communism or socialism. It's reaching a certain degree of enlightenment about what the Soviet Union practices."

After 1957, Fast lived in California, where he enjoyed success as a screenwriter for such films as 1968's Penelope, which starred Natalie Wood. He also wrote news articles, children's stories, poetry, and a successful fictional family saga beginning in 1977 with The Immigrants. He also was the author of detective novels under the pseudonym E. V. Cunningham that featured Masao Masuto, a Zen Buddhist police detective in Beverly Hills. In all, Fast sold more than 80 million books around the globe, a figure that included sales of his final work, Greenwich, in 2000. Its story centered around a dinner party in the posh Connecticut enclave of the same name, where Fast and his wife, Bette, had lived since 1980. Widowed in 1994, he wed Mercedes O'Connor in 1999.

Fast died on March 12, 2003; he was 88. He is survived by his second wife, his daughter, Rachel; his son, Jonathan; three stepsons, and three grandchildren. The inexhaustible author claimed never to have been plagued by writer's block. "The only thing that infuriates me," his New York Times obituary quoted him as saying "is that I have more unwritten stories in me than I can conceivably write in a lifetime."


Independent (London, England), March 14, 2003, p. 18; Los Angeles Times, March 14, 2003, p. B13; New York Times, March 13, 2003, p. C12; Washington Post, March 14, 2003, p. B7.


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