Agrarian Socialism In Oklahoma: The Early Twentieth Century

Oscar Ameringer an Oklahoma Socialist Leader

Agrarian Socialism In America: Marx, Jefferson, and Jesus in the Oklahoma Countryside, 1904-1920. By Jim Bissett (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999.)

Most Americans are unaware of the fact that the rural state of Oklahoma supported the strongest socialist movement that any American State ever produced. This apparently anomalous development has been chronicled by a number of scholars over the past 40 years. The first modern study was Howard L. Meredith’s 1969 Ph.D. dissertation “A History of the Socialist Party in Oklahoma, ” which was soon followed by Garin Burbank’s When Farmers Voted Red and James R. Green’s Grassroots Socialism in 1976 and 1978 respectively.(1) While all three are excellent studies, a more recent book, Jim Bissett’s Agrarian Socialism in America: Marx, Jefferson, and Jesus in the Oklahoma Countryside, 1904-1920 (1999), covers the same ground most successfully to date through clear arguments and an energetic and sympathetic point of view. READ MORE

Ray DeCapite (1924-2009)

RAY DECAPITE (1924-2009)

by Thomas Baughman

One of my favorite authors is Cleveland novelist Ray DeCapite, a writer who devoted his entire life to writing fiction that took place on the very streets where he was born and raised. More specifically, his work chronicled life among Cleveland’s ethnic working class.

In 1960, DeCapite published his first novel, The Coming of Fabrizze, a celebration of ethnic working class community set in the 1920s. Fabrizze is an almost mythical tale of an immigrant who succeeds by hard work, marries a beautiful girl, wins the admiration of the immigrant community, then fails on a large scale. Even so , it ends well with the hero retaining the love of his neighbors.

The next year, the author would publish his second novel, A Lost King, which is a small masterpiece. As writer Thomas DiPietro has written ,“this elegant little novel beautifully captures the double consciousness of American ethnicity in its tale of an emotional struggle between a son and his father.”

Carl, an immigrant crane operator who has recently retired, cannot comprehend his carefree son. Paul, the slacker son, is content to play his harmonica and sell watermelons from a cart rather than pursue success or gainful employment. The ensuing conflict in the novel is both heartbreaking and uproariously funny.

Even though both books were greeted critical acclaim, they also met with public indifference and soon went out of print. Further complications ensued when DeCapite’s editor died and his publisher went out of business. Then to top it all off, several publishers passed on the authors next novel because the hero was a garbage man.

It would be 35 years before DeCapite would publish another book. In 1996, Pat The Lion on the Head was published by University Editions. This book, a novella really, tells the story of a trash sweeper at Cleveland’s West Side Market in the in the 1950s. Christy, an aging, lonely, hard-drinking veteran, meets and finds love with a lonely widow named Jenny. Ultimately he loses Jenny and ends up alone. While the story sounds simple the book is a small miracle of precise writing and nuanced detail. Four years later, the author would publish his last book, Go Very Highly Trippingly To and Fro/ The Stretch Run, which would again delineate life at the bottom.

Ray DeCapite died last year at the age of 84. He left behind an unpublished manuscript entitled All Our Former Frolics.

Lest the reader find the above story depressing, there is good news. Kent State University Press has republished both The Coming of Fabrizze and A Lost King. I can only hope that a new generation of readers will read and revere these two wonderful books.