A Lost Steinbeck Story Resurfaces 40 Years After Author's Death
ARUN RATH, HOST:
John Steinbeck - what is there left to say about the great American writer who gave us "The Grapes Of Wrath," "Of Mice And Men" - so much great work? Well, it turns out Steinbeck himself has something left to say, thanks to an exciting discovery made more than 40 years after his death. It's a short story about an African-American pilot returning to his small town in the South during World War II. And before this month, it had never been published. The story is called "With Your Wings," and Andrew Gulli is the man who found it. He's the editor of The Strand magazine, a quarterly mystery magazine based in Michigan. He joins me now at NPR West. Welcome to the program.
ANDREW GULLI: Thanks a lot, Arun. Good to be with you.
RATH: How did you find this? How did it get lost?
GULLI: From speaking to several scholars, from speaking to a lot of his biographers. It seemed that this was something that was impossible to find. And I did a lot of research in various libraries which had Steinbeck manuscripts. And at each term, I was met with a dead end. So I finally went to the Ransom Library at the University of Texas, and I found this little short story. And it was so well done that I said to myself, this had to be published. But I finally found out it was not published, and that was it. I called the estate, and I immediately made an offer.
RATH: And it must be difficult to confirm something hasn't been published - right? - because given how much is out there, how do you rule that out?
GULLI: It's not easy at all. I mean, with Steinbeck, it was difficult, but not as difficult as it was for somebody like H. G. Wells because he published, in his lifetime, 10,000 pages worth of works. But it's always very, very, very difficult. The nightmare of an editor is to always wake up and find out that you've called something unpublished, only to find that it has been published before.
RATH: So we're talking about one of America's greatest writers, John Steinbeck. I have to think that American universities must be lousy with Steinbeck scholars. How is it you, Andrew, can come waltz in and find this?
GULLI: I feel like I'm in this never-ending dream for the past five years. I'll tell you that for every success, there have been seven times where I've chased a dead lead, gotten no permission from an estate to publish this or found out that something that looked like a wonderful gem was published in the small paper, like Boise State Register.
RATH: And you mentioned there are several other great writers who you found unpublished manuscripts for. How do you decide which authors you're going after?
GULLI: It has to be something where I think that the audience would benefit and would find to be interesting. What I love about this is that it's giving me a chance to have The Strand take some writers and bring them back into the national consciousness. A lot of times, we look at a writer like Steinbeck, and he conjures up an image of your required reading in school. I sort of look as this as something to try to show the world today that these writers are very relevant, that they'll still be in the consciousness of the reading public.
RATH: You know, it also makes me a little bit wistful because we do so much reporting about data-mining and discoveries that are made through vast amounts of electronic data. To think of you, like, going from library to library and actually going through papers and collections - I'm kind of nostalgic for that.
GULLI: The great writers that we have today - if they have something that is not been published before, chances are they'll just press the delete button on their computer, and it'll be gone forever. I always get a wonderful kick of out of going into a library or getting some of the work sent to me and saying to myself, my God, this is really great because in many respects, his words will never die.
RATH: Andrew Gulli is the editor of The Strand magazine. Andrew, congratulations on your discovery, and thanks for coming in.
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