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Robert West Howard Papers, 1985-1993

One hundred thirteen letters and enclosures, 1985-1993, provide a permanent record of the brief but lively cultural and intellectual discourse between Ann B. [Mrs. John] Bowen, formerly the wife of Lander College president Elmer Don Herd (1932-1980), and internationally known American author and editor Robert West Howard (1908-1988) and his wife, Elizabeth ("Lee") Z. Howard (d. 1993), who in 1984 retired to Orangeburg.

The correspondence began when, as Ann B. Herd, then director of community relations and budget at Lander College, Mrs. Bowen was asked by Lander president Larry Jackson to answer a query posed by Howard regarding a possible connection between the college's name and Lander, Wyoming. This arose, he wrote in his first letter to her (25 January 1985), out of his work on the 1957 award-winning book This Is the West, which subsequently led to his editing This Is the South (1959). "Research on the South job," he went on to say, "convinced me that Southerners actually conquered the American West, socially and economically, between 1780 and 1850. Just why CSA failed to take advantage of this has long mystified me!!! I'm just as mystified as to why no hack has ever produced a readable book on that period of Southern `exodus', basically triggered by tick fever of Piedmont livestock and Marse Whitney's cotton en-gin."

Over the next three years their frequent letters to each other, some of which were written inclusively to Lee Howard or contained notes and messages from her, covered a wide range of subjects from historical topics of mutual interest, current local and national political events ("the rotten state of the world," 21 February 1989), and gardening to matters relating to marriage and family, mutual friends, travels, careers and the phenomenon of their own correspondence. "I have enjoyed our giddy correspondence," he wrote her on 28 April 1985. "If you wish to continue it... selah!!! You write easily and sassily. Very few people can."

Occasionally Howard discusses matters pertaining to his profession of editing and authorship. "Professionally, the roof fell on me this summer," he told her in a letter of "Augie's 19th, 1986." "Random House owned by a newspaper chain. Owners wanted Marc Jaffe to whoop up Villard and Ballantine lists with fast-sell sex and exercise stuff. Jaffe said `Nuts to you' and resigned. So I severed my relations with Random House." A few months later, "Now In November, 1986," he revealed-"Have three book ms out for peddle so while they collect dust on publisher desks have been swatting short stuff. Expect to get enuf rejection slips to paper my den. Some of these editors are unbelievable. I did yarn on `Garden Gifts of Slavery' about slaves introducing peanuts...benne seed...okra...blackeyed peas...watermelons to future USA. Magazine bot it. Then editor retired and her successor whimpers about publishing the article because `it might offend some people'. EVERY article is bound to offend somebody." The collection includes copies of several of his letters to editors, as well as correspondence relating to an article entitled "Equal Rights for Faculty Husbands," which he wrote for the Lander Magazine.

They frequently wrote each other with information and opinions on a mutually shared passion: books and reading. "Ever read any of John Jakes?" he asked in a letter of "Julius' XIIth One, 1985." "I got hooked with his NORTH & SOUTH a month or so ago. Great writing and splendid history....Wrote Jakes and accused him of sadism because I am 77 and dunno whether I'd live long enuf to read next book. Then we went to Jackson's brother's bookstore in Columbia and there was a pile of Jakes sequel, WAR & LOVE...just as absorbing as NORTH & SOUTH. Best, and gutsiest, job I have ever read on just what it was like in SC and Va and Pa 1861-6. At end of book, he has two of the principal characters heading West. Obviously, third and last book of series will have some Old West in it. So I wrote Jakes with pageful of research suggestions (i.e. Newberry Library, Father Peter Powell, files of Salt Lake's Deseret News, etc.) This morning's mail brought another long letter from Jakes. He began by saying `Your name rang bells with me and now I know why. I read and re-read and re-re-read This is the West until book fell apart', etc., etc."

On 5 December 1985 Ann Bowen wrote Howard that she was reading "a terrific book on women in the XVI century-THE WEAKER VESSEL by Antonia Fraser." She suggested that he "might want to peek into it sometime, unless you ain't particularly interested in a study of women, liberated or otherwise." On "Decum 7um" he replied-"I tried to read Antonia Fraser's WEAKER VESSEL but gave up and sent it to Darter I who is ultra-feminist. Don't object to feminism but couldn't take the dame's pompous style." Early in 1986, on "Marcus VII," he suggested-"You really should take THE NEW YORKER. Its about the only legitimate magazine left in these USA. Their Talk of the Town downgraded since EBWhite's day, but jimdandy features and most sophisticated cartoons `with bite'." And on "Ides of May" [1986] she wrote him- "There's a little Modern Library edition of Emerson's Journals, much excerpted, that would do you a lot of good right now. I always go back to it when I'm feeling out of step with things, and it helps put me to rights again (you should worry when you're feeling in step with things)."

On 19 April 1988, the day Howard died, Ann Bowen wrote his widow and her friend, Lee-"The first thing I did this morning was go through his letters...for a smile, a tear or two, and a goodbye salute." She went on to say-"I knew about his health problems. Among the charms of our correspondence were his frank and open battles with a failing body-still, it is hard to accept the loss of his unique presence. I shall always be grateful to have known him....It was clear Bob considered you the best thing that ever happened to him."

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