Your Opinion: CSPAN telecast overlooked notable author
Friday, July 27, 2012
CSPAN’s recent national telecast showcasing Jefferson City’s “literary life” was disappointing. Jean Carnahan’s comments on her book about the mansion were genial, but the tour of two archives hardly represented our “literary life.”
The other three featured authors had absolutely nothing to do with Jefferson City! They discussed abstruse works that represented no place in particular.
CSPAN overlooked some superb local writers. CSPAN didn’t mention several published Lincoln University writers. Sadly, some of Lincoln’s nationally acclaimed writing was done during the long decades of segregation when the rest of Jefferson City did not recognize them and still doesn’t.
Then there is Ward Dorrance, one of my favorite writers. Born in Jefferson City in 1904 and raised on Madison Street where Central Dairy now is, Dorrance graduated valedictorian from Ernst Simonsen High School in 1922. He then studied at the Sorbonne. His published Ph.D. dissertation (1935) at the University of Missouri exposed how French language and culture around Ste. Genevieve had survived. It was the springboard for today’s large French heritage tourism in Missouri.
Then, in three successive years he published three books on Missouri, one of which, Three Ozark Streams (1937), helped start the recreation industry of Ozark rivers. Later Ozark writers acknowledged his pioneering in Ozark river and folk literature. Soul-mate Thomas Hart Benton (who had just finished his Capitol murals) sketched a river scene especially for the frontispiece of his book “We’re From Missouri.”
In 1940, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship to write a novel (The Sundowners) set along the Missouri River near Jefferson City. It was semiautobiographical about his years growing up in Jefferson City. He described High Street stores in detail, the Court House and fire station across the street, and entering Simonsen as a freshman.
Dorrance won the O. Henry prize in 1949 for his essay “The White Hound.”
He served in the military during World War II. In 1958 he joined the faculty at Georgetown University and turned to writing short pieces (two of them concerning Jefferson City). He also carried on correspondence with writers like Erskine Caldwell, William Faulkner, and Eudora Welty.
Ward Dorrance died in Washington D.C., in 1996 at age 92. It’s disappointing that CSPAN did not recognize this meritorious writer as representative of Jefferson City’s “literary life.”