April Morning: Biography: Howard Fast

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Howard Fast was born on November 11, 1914, in New York City, the son of a British mother and Ukrainian father, who was a factory worker. His mother died in 1923, and his father became unemployed, forcing the youngest brother, Julius, to live with relatives while Howard and older brother Jerome sold newspapers and stole food to survive the poverty he never forgot. Though he dropped out of high school, his education came from hitchhiking and riding railroads, looking for jobs. Meanwhile, he wrote, and published his first novel, Two Valleys, in 1933, at the age of 18. His leftist political views were formed by the Depression and the hardship of his youth.

During World War II, Fast wrote for the Voice of America with the United States Office of War Information. He joined the American Communist Party in 1944. Called before the House Un-American Activities Committee, he refused to disclose the names of other Communist sympathizers, and he was imprisoned in 1950 for three months.

In jail he began writing his most famous work, Spartacus, about an uprising among Roman slaves. When he was blacklisted for Communist activities, he published Spartacus by creating his own Blue Heron Press. This press published not only the successful Spartacus (1951), later made into a film, but also Silas Timberman (1954), a novel about a victim of McCarthyism and The Story of Lola Gregg (1956), describing the FBI pursuit of a trade unionist. Fast also worked as a staff writer for the Daily Worker, a communist newspaper, in the 1950s. Unable to publish under his own name, he used various pseudonyms, including E.V. Cunningham, under which he published a series of popular detective novels.

In 1952, Fast ran for Congress on the American Labor Party ticket. In 1957, he was awarded the Stalin Peace Prize. He eventually broke with the Communist Party over the conditions in the Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe. The Naked God: The Writer and the Communist Party (1957), and Being Red (1990) explain his Communist experiences.

In 1974, Fast became a Hollywood and television writer but continued to write successful political novels such as The Immigrants (1977), Second Generation (1978), The Establishment (1979), The Outsider (1984) and the Immigrant's Daughter (1985).

Fast published more than forty novels under his own name and twenty as detective writer, E.V. Cunningham. He specialized in historical novels and wrote several on American history. Books about the American Revolutionary War period include Conceived in Liberty (1939), The Unvanquished (1942), Citizen Tom Paine (1943), and April Morning (1961). The Last Frontier (1941) looks at the effects of American colonization from the viewpoint of Native Americans. Freedom Road (1944) is about the lives of former slaves during Reconstruction. The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti (1953) praises the Italian-born anarchists who were executed in the United States in 1927. Fast explored the history of American Jews in The Immigrants (1977). The Trial of Abigail Goodman (1993) examines a woman's right to abortion. He also wrote science fiction, children’s fiction, and “Zen stories.”

Fast's son Jonathan, is also a novelist and the husband of novelist, Erica Jong. Howard Fast died in Old Greenwich, Connecticut, on March 12, 2003. Though a popular writer, widely read in schools, he has not been taken seriously by literary critics. His books have been translated in over eighty languages and appreciated all over the world for their portrayal of the multicultural American experience.

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