Just learned today about April Derleth’s recent passing on March 21. She was president and CEO of Arkham House, the Sauk City publishing company founded in 1939 by her father, writer August Derleth (1909-1971). I never met April in person, but I spoke briefly with her on the telephone last October about securing rights to reprint a couple of excerpts from her father’s 1961 book, Walden West. She was extremely gracious. My essay on Walden West appears in the Winter 2011 issue of Wisconsin People & Ideas alongside two beautiful excerpts from the book.
Posts Tagged 'Walden West'
Tags: April Derleth (1954-2011), Arkham House, August Derleth, Walden West, Wisconsin literature
Tags: August Derleth, Council for Wisconsin Writers, Jason Smith, John Lehman, Prairie du Sac, Sac Prairie, Sauk City, Walden West, Wisconsin People & Ideas
The current issue of Wisconsin People & Ideas (Winter 2011) includes my essay on August Derleth’s 1961 Walden West. The book is a portrait of the people and landscape of Sac Prairie, a lightly fictionalized composite of Derleth’s Sauk City hometown and the adjacent village of Prairie du Sac. It’s an evocative literary work that’s never really gotten its due. Here’s a brief passage from my piece:
In Walden West Derleth captures a small-town populace increasingly alienated from a natural world to which their rhythms are still connected. It is a book written by a stubborn, unapologetic regionalist, who, in 1961, seemed out of step with the forward-looking optimism and youthful vigor of John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier. While not outright ignored, Walden West was critically panned upon publication. “These sketches have little distinction, no particular chronology or unifying drama,” sniffed a critic for Kirkus Reviews.
My thanks to the magazine’s editor, Jason Smith, and literary editor, John Lehman. An earlier version of this essay won the Council for Wisconsin Writers Rediscovering Wisconsin Writers Award in 2004.
Tags: An Evening in Spring, August Derleth, Return to Walden West, The Shield of the Valiant, Walden West, Wisconsin writing
Our son, Augie, loves rummage sales and flea markets, so we stopped yesterday at Cambridge’s Amundson Center to check out a Vintage Harvest estate sale. Among the retro kitchenware, furniture, and household knicknacks, was a table of miscellaneous hardback books, mostly postwar popular novels from the 1950s and 60s, selling for $2 each. Didn’t take long to spot three volumes by Wisconsin’s premiere writer (and Augie’s namesake), August Derleth (1909-1971), lifelong resident and chronicler of Sauk City. One of the books, Return to Walden West (1970), was inscribed by the author. (The other two were a 1945 Stanton and Lee edition of Evening in Spring and a 1945 Scribners edition of The Shield of the Valiant, easily Derleth’s two finest literary novels, exquisite portraits of growing up in a midwestern small town.) Needless to say, this was six bucks well spent.
Author of over a hundred books in multiple genres (mystery, horror, history, biography, poetry), August Derleth was, at his best, one of the country’s great nature writers. Walden West (1961) and Return to Walden West, considered central works in his enormous output, combine Thoreauvian nature observations with piercing (and sometimes shockingly intimate) portraits of the townspeople he grew up with. Here’s a taste of Return to Walden West:
Now and then, in the course of my walks in the hills or marshes, there were brief periods when awareness of unity with all nature burgeoned—a sense of utter harmony with all things: leaf, stone, soil, blade, water, air—of kinship with insect, bird, all wild creatures—a pouring forth of secret springs deep within, filling me with an almost unbearable bliss. Every sense seemed heightened—I heard the distant hermit thrush as were it at my right hand—the fragrance of maple leaves was never so pervasive—I felt the wind as an intimate caress—I saw deep into the heavens in an experience that was both sensual and spiritual.