:: Buzzwords Archive: August 2011. Click here for the latest posts.

3:AM Cult Hero: James T. Farrell (published 12/08/2011)

By Robert O’Connor.


Studs Terkel was born Louis. He got the name “Studs” after enthusiastically reading the Studs Lonigan trilogy of books (Young Lonigan, The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan and Judgment Day), and it stuck when he published his book Giants of Jazz and the publisher told him “Studs Terkel is a great name for a jazz author.”

The Studs Lonigan trilogy was written by James T. Farrell who grew up half a generation before Terkel. Farrell was raised on the other side of downtown as Terkel in the neighborhood of Bridgeport. The neighborhood was (and still is) known as a haven for Irish-Americans like future mayors Martin Kennelly, Edward Kelly, Richard J. Daley and his son. Michael Bilandic was an alderman for the neighborhood in the City Council before he became mayor.

Farrell attended St. Cyril High School (now Mt. Carmel High School), a Catholic high school on the south side, and went to college at the nearby University of Chicago.

He grew up surrounded by racism. Many of his fellow Irishmen would join gangs and fight African-Americans in the surrounding neighborhoods in the summer of 1919. Some of them became gangsters who made fortunes from banned liquor and competing with the likes of Al Capone for control of the city.

But in nearby Bronzeville, jazz and blues were being created. Bix Biederbeck, King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton were in their prime, and guys like Gene Krupa and Louis Armstrong were getting started.

Farrell was a political leftist, joining the Socialist Workers Party and later the Workers’ Party. The three books in the Studs Lonigan trilogy were repudiations of his Irish-Catholic upbringing and the neighborhood they were in. In the books, Studs is a young man who is raised in the Catholic church, that instills plenty of guilt in him, and later decides to rebel and attends burlesque shows, drinks and other sins. The conflict between what he wants and the guilt within him – put there by the church – ends up killing him at the age of 30.


The book shocked its audience when it came out, but it’s become recognized as one of the best works of 20th century American literature. When Norman Mailer decided to become a writer instead of an engineer, he reread the trilogy constantly. Illustrator Jules Feiffer also greatly enjoyed it. Farrell wrote much more after the trilogy, but it didn’t enjoy the same acclaim and most of it is out of print.

In his later years, Farrell became known as a Trotskyist, vocally anti-Stalin and a supporter of Hubert Humphrey against the New Left. He was a long time member of the Socialist Workers Party – he was the chair of the Civil Rights Defense Committee which had been formed to defend SWP members who had been prosecuted under the Smith Act – but he left due to the group’s support of Stalin’s Russia.

Farrell completed his last novel five weeks before his death on August 22, 1979. Sam Holman was about its title character, a left-wing Jewish intellectual in New York (where Farrell lived after 1932). His last book was about who he had become, while his most famous work was about who he thankfully left behind.

MORE: Profile, Library of America / Profile, University of Michigan’s “Chicago Literature” / Revolutionary Novelist in Crisis” by Alan M. Wald, from The New York Intellectuals / Collection of papers, University of Deleware / Profile, Penniless Press / James T. Farrell: My past is considered better than my future by Roger Ebert, Chicago-Sun Times, Sept. 15, 1968 / The life of James Farrell, author of a popular trilogy, recalls a time when writers’ political ideas still mattered by David Kipen, San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 26, 2004 / Articles by Farrell written for The Nation magazine / Robert Landers talks about his book An Honest Writer: James T. Farrell, C-SPAN, Mar. 11, 2004.

Unbound (published )

Alongside Summerhall’s These Silences literary symposium and Word Power’s Book Fringe, Unbound promises some of the finest literary events in Edinburgh this month. It’s on every night from the 14th to the 29th August in the magnificent Spiegeltent in Charlotte Square Gardens as part of the Edinburgh International Book Festival. All events are free and unticketed, start at 9pm and the bar will be open until 1am. The Skinny has the full rundown but highlights include,

– McHigh – a Gutter evening of stimulant based writing – Monday 15th August

‘Literary intoxication and stimulation’ from the exceptional Gutter Magazine featuring Alan Bissett (Death of a Ladies Man), Chris Adrian (The Great Night), Amy Burns (author of forthcoming Wake Me When It’s Over) and Jenni Fagan (author of the forthcoming The Panopticon and 3:AM’s 2010 poetry collection of the year The Dead Queen of Bohemia).

The Paris Review Presents New American Writing – Wednesday 17th August

‘Editor Lorin Stein discusses the history and success of the magazine with three of the most exciting, innovative American writers at work today: Pulitzer Prize winning author of A Visit from the Goon Squad Jennifer Egan, essayist and staff writer for The New York Times Magazine John Jeremiah Sullivan as well as Donald Antrim, regular contributor to The New Yorker and author of The Verificationist‘.

– The Golden Hour – Thursday 18th August

Words from Joe Dunthorne (Submarine), Kelly Link and William Letford. Music from Billy Liar, Mikel Krumins (ex-Abdominal Showmen) and Earl Grey and the Loose Leaves.

– Alasdair Roberts & Robin Robertson– Sunday 21st August

Collaborative St Kilda song cycle from the poet Robin Robertson and the mighty Alasdair Roberts.

– Literary Death Match – Monday 22nd August

Battle Royale-style fight to the death* between four esteemed writers, hosted by Literary Death Match founder, Todd Zuniga.

– Cargo Special Delivery – Wednesday 24th August

Featuring Allan Wilson (Wasted in Love), Tracey S. Rosenberg (The Girl In The Bunker), Rahul Bhattacharya (The Sly Company of People Who
) and music by the patron saint of bearded lovelorn debauchees (and co-creator of one of the album’s of the year Everything’s Getting Older) Aidan Moffat.

Five Dials – Thursday 25 August

Hosted by editor, Craig Taylor, the evening will be a mixture of readings and music from Hamish Hamilton’s literary magazine.

– Words Per Minute – Friday 26 August

Bringing the acclaimed Arches night to the city, Kirstin Innes, Kirsty Logan and Helen Sedgwick present a cavalcade of talent including Alan Bissett and Adam Levin (The Instructions).

James Yorkston with The Pictish Trail and Lisa O’Neil – Saturday 27 August

Musician and author of It’s Lovely To Be Here: The Touring Diaries Of A Scottish Gent, James Yorkston appears alongside Fence Collective stalwart The Pictish Trail and Lisa O’Neill.

Love’s Rebellious Joy: A Party For Paul Reekie – Sunday 28th August

A celebration of the life and work of Scotland’s much-missed poet and scholar, Paul Reekie. Compered by Tam Dean Burn, ‘the night will feature readings by veterans of Children of Albion Rovers, the book that captured the spirit of Kevin Williamson’s 1990s lit-zine Rebel Inc, and redefined Scottish literature forever with the publication of amongst others, Reekie’s novella, Submission.’ Featuring Irvine Welsh, Gordon Legge, Laura Hird and Kevin Williamson plus ‘collaboration between post-punk existential crooner Vic Godard of the Subway Sect and Edinburgh’s own strung-out guitar thieves led by former Fire Engine Davy Henderson, The Sexual Objects, with Pop Group guitarist Gareth Sagar guest-starring.’

*no writers are actually harmed, bar crushed egos.

Gone fishin’ (published 11/08/2011)

Tom Waits goes fishing with John Lurie. (Thanks for the reminder, Darran Anderson).