Writings From the Handy Colony

Book Summary

edited by Helen Howe, Don Sackrider and George Hendrick

Writings From the Handy ColonyA collection of previously unpublished writings from the Handy Writers' Colony, supported by James Jones, after the success of From Here to Eternity, and his mentor Lowney Handy, in Marshall, Illinois. This anthology reflects the writing philosophy Handy taught scores of colonists in the 1940s, '50s and early '60s through her letters, the stories, a play based on the Colony and insights by a number of her students and scholars who have studied her work and her method of teaching writing.

"Despite bizarre goings-on, writers' colony spawned successful authors"

The Editors

George Hendrick is a retired University of Illinois English professor and department chair who served as the first president of the James Jones Literary Society and edited To Reach Eternity: The Letters of James Jones.

Helen Howe taught American literature, composition and creative writing at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Illinois, before retirement. Her husband, Tinks, was a childhood friend of James Jones.

Don Sackrider, former president of the James Jones Literary Society, is a retired airline captain, was born in Robinson, Illinois, and became the second student in the Handy Writers' Colony after James Jones.

Read an Excerpt

We, of course, were never allowed to see each other's work at the Handy Colony. I even felt a little guilty seeing it in print, as when Jerry Tschappat's and Sonny Daly's books came out a short time after I left. A little strange, you might think. You don't know the half of it. The Handy Colony was as far away from Yaddo and MacDowell as the night the day. It was more like—shall I dare say it?—a cult rather than a learning center for the fashioning of prose. At its center was one powerful woman. She drew people to her in a messianic way. She left you never the same again. Her name was Lowney Handy.

Jon Shirota recounts his sending a manuscript to Lowney in high innocent optimism, seeking admission, and its coming back like a rifle shot with "Shit" written on it. This was not unusual. It was Standard Operating Procedure. You were brought down and then you were lifted up, thinking absolutely differently about everything in the process.

Going back and reading these works from the Colony is strange for me. They evoke so much. "V for Victory," by Lowney herself (how weird to see work from someone who used to mark yours up and down!) recreates the atmosphere of WWII and slightly beyond. Vets are returning, a new world is opening up, the old order is about to be brought down. It is not in her voice—you have to go to her letters, some included [in the book], for that, and even there you won't get the full pungent flavor—but it does capture that period and her role in it. Disturbed Vets were returning to small towns that didn't know what to do with them. (James Jones was one in real life.) The narrative has an unfinished quality and it's a little hard to follow, but if you knew her, you get the drift. There's Minnie, who kicks up her heels, has a lover, was "a dictator in the social whirl." There is the older Alfred, a paragon of understanding and patience, and white-haired Jacob, a poor vindictive devil who's been cuckolded. We place a lot of emphasis today on finding one's own voice. It's too bad hers seems filtered through Thomas Uzzell's The Technique of the Novel or some such tract. It's too formal and writerly for the raucous, explosive Lowney that I knew. She had a lot to say and had, pardon the expression, the balls to say it. If she had thrown off constraints and convention the way she urged us to, she might have concocted a masterpiece.

...It is fitting indeed that Jon Shirota's play, "The Last Retreat," should conclude this collection. He was the last survivor, someone left stranded on that Mount Everest we had all, at one time or another, been trying to climb. Our trail maps did not include Chekhov, Joyce, and certainly not James, Henry. We never studied real history or Shakespeare, or the essays of Macaulay or Cyril Connelly. If you said Bloomsbury, we would have thought you were ordering ice cream. We didn't know what we were getting into. All we knew was that someone pointed out a high reach, some great distant spot covered by clouds, and tried to get us there past all endurance, past all reason. Some failed at base camp. Some got up part way. Some had to be carried down. But what a sight, that top of Everest! What a guide we had!