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A nod to Adirondack authors of yesteryear

October 30, 2012 - Don Williams

National Authors’ Day, to pay tribute to those who write, is scheduled Nov. 3 this year. The Dodge Pratt Northam Art and Community Center in Boonville will honor authors on that day, and I’ll be there with the other Adirondack authors to join in the celebration.

Many of today’s authors will show up to autograph and to sell their books, and some will be making writing-related presentations. I will share my “famous” lecture “On Being an Adirondack Writer.” It provides an opportunity to share the relationship writers have with the editors and publishers, and to share the secrets of being a successful Adirondack writer.

Fortunately, over the years, I had opportunities to share stories and experiences with the known writers of bygone days who are no longer with us. Harvey Chalmers, Amsterdam author, Barney Fowler, Albany newsman, and Maitland DeSormo, author of great Adirondack books, supported me in my early beginnings. One word from them, and my books sold. Barbara McMartin, Anne Labastille and Stella King deserve great admiration for their extensive works. I am glad I shared their world. And, luckily, I am getting to know a long list of Adirondack authors still turning out good Adirondack books.

In my fifty-some years of Adirondack research, I have met other great authors who created the vast store of Adirondack literature that we enjoy today. Here are a few from earlier eras:

= Jebediah V. Huntington came to Lewey Lake in the Adirondacks in 1840 and wrote the first Adirondack novel, “The Forest,” published in 1852. = Robert L. Stevenson spent time and wrote while a tuberculosis patient in Saranac Lake.

= Playwright Eugene O’Neill, if I remember right, wrote “Ah, Wilderness” in the Adirondacks.

= Charles Dudley Warner’s “In the Wilderness,” was assigned reading in the schools, required by the New York State Regents.

There were, and are, three types of Adirondack writers: those who came to write about the Adirondacks, those who came to write their non-Adirondack works, and those who wrote about the Adirondacks but never came to the mountains.

Theodore Dreiser wrote the great American novel “American Tragedy” in 1925, based on the Gillette murder case. Jeptha Simms, one of the world’s best historians, wrote about the Adirondack hunters and trappers.

Writers came from all walks of life. The Rev. John Todd wrote of his experiences at Long Lake in the 1840s, predicting that it would become a prosperous Christian farming community and that the Adirondacks would support a “million of people.”

Another author of that day, Joseph Headley, said “no,” the farmers would be attracted to the good hunting and fishing and not take care of the farm and animals. The Rev. William Henry Harrison Murray, nationally known preacher and high on the list of great Adirondack writers, wrote “Adventures in the Wilderness” in 1869 and brought thousands to the Adirondacks. And his books of “Adirondack Tales” were best-sellers.

William E. Porter, a sportsman magazine editor, wrote “A Sporting Expedition in the Adirondacks” in 1840 and was influential in the evolution from hunting for food to hunting for sport.

Those who recorded Adirondack history and details deserve our thanks.

Harold K. Hochschild did a masterful job in his box sets of “Township 34.” Harvey Dunham’s “French Louie” really is an Adirondack history book.

Frank Graham Jr.’s “The Adirondack Park” is a welcomed reference book. Murray Heller’s “Call Me Adirondack” provides the origin of Adirondack names. Paul Jamieson’s “Adirondack Reader” shares the region’s literature collection.

And Donaldson’s 1921 “History of the Adirondacks” is certainly a labor of love for the region.

The list goes on; my hard-covered book collection numbers well over 200 books that discuss the unique Adirondack region of upstate New York.


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