If you are bothered by shameless acts of self-promotion, then you may not want to read this or, for that matter, anything on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, or LinkedIn. When a newspaper reporter once labeled me a “modern day Elbert Hubbard,” I wasn’t sure whether it was a compliment or a criticism.
I’m still not sure.
Elbert went from peddling soap door-to-door on horseback in Illinois to selling books from a drafty barn in East Aurora, New York. When he soon figured out books don’t make enough money to pay the bills, he became an innkeeper. He then focused his marketing skills on selling the work of locals he hired to work in his blacksmith shop, his leather shop, his copper shop, and his furniture shop on his growing Roycroft Campus.
I also grew up riding horses in Illinois, but opted for the more moderate climate of North Carolina when it came time to move. I arrived in Asheville having heard about the 1913 Grove Park Inn and the role the Roycrofters had played in furnishing it. I knew far less about the time in which three iconic and tragic literary figures – F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, and Thomas Wolfe – had spent here.
As I began writing about the Grove Park Inn, I also began collecting stories about Scott and Zelda’s years spent in and around Asheville from 1935 until 1948. They weren’t such pleasant stories, as the pair — whose antics during the Roaring Twenties had spawned lurid newspaper headlines — had spiraled down into a black hole of alcoholism, schizophrenia, and despair.
It was not a pretty sight.
But history is not always neat and tidy and filled with thornless roses. My research into the Fitzgerald’s quickly led me into the life of their friend Thomas Wolfe, who was born in Asheville in 1900 and was buried here just 38 years later. In 1929 Wolfe completed “Look Homeward, Angel,” an autobiographical novel which skewered nearly 300 townspeople over a public fire pit. The young author showed no mercy for his mother, father, siblings, and childhood friends, not even bothering to disguise their identities. Even the deceased E.W. Grove was a target of his pent-up wrath.
For eight years Wolfe was afraid to return to Asheville, as newspaper editors and townspeople continued to lash out at him publicly. Finally, in 1937, at the same time Scott and Zelda were living here, Tom slipped back into town, discovering that while not forgiven, the townspeople were now smitten with having a literary celebrity in their midst.
All of this and more has made its way into my new book “Tom, Scott and Zelda: Following In Their Footsteps.” It’s a concise biographical exploration of their time spent in North Carolina, designed to be used either as a guidebook or simply as a book to be enjoyed sitting at home. Either way, it was my intent to bring into sharper focus a chapter in the lives of these three tragic figures which previous biographers had only skimmed over.
The softcover book will be available at the National Arts and Crafts Conference at the Omni Grove Park Inn from February 15-17, but you can also read more about it now and see how to get your personalized copy at BruceJohnsonBooks.com.
Shameless self-promotion, but with Elbert’s approval.
Until next week,
“I don’t need an alarm clock. My ideas wake me.” – Ray Bradbury