Six Postcards From Famous Writers: Hemingway, Kafka, Kerouac & More

F. Scott Fitzger­ald to him­self, c. 1937:

F. Scott Fitzgerald postcard

Today we’ve gath­ered togeth­er a group of post­cards from six of the most famous writ­ers of the 20th cen­tu­ry. (Please click the images to see them in a larg­er for­mat.)  Some of the cards are about busi­ness, oth­ers friend­ship. We found them all fas­ci­nat­ing to glance through.

Per­haps the most curi­ous and amus­ing of the cards is the whim­si­cal note F. Scott Fitzger­ald wrote to him­self. (See above.) Fitzger­ald was work­ing as a screen­writer in Hol­ly­wood dur­ing the late 1930s and stayed for awhile at the fabled Gar­den of Allah (now a park­ing lot just down Sun­set Boule­vard from the Chateau Mar­mont), where a num­ber of film and lit­er­ary lumi­nar­ies once lived, includ­ing Errol Fly­nn, Gre­ta Gar­bo, the Marx Broth­ers, Dorothy Park­er and Robert Bench­ley. Lit­tle is known about Fitzger­ald’s post­card to him­self, but alco­hol is gen­er­al­ly assumed to have been involved. The undat­ed card was stamped, but nev­er mailed. In F. Scott Fitzger­ald: A Life in Let­ters, edi­tor Matthew J. Bruc­coli guess­es that it was writ­ten in the sum­mer of 1937.

Jack Ker­ouac to Mal­colm Cow­ley, 1956:

Jack Kerouac Postcard

In 1956, Viking Press edi­tor Mal­colm Cow­ley was a believ­er in Jack Ker­ouac’s tal­ent but was putting off the pub­li­ca­tion of On the Road. In March of that year Cow­ley had cau­tioned the Beat writer about going too far with auto­mat­ic writ­ing. “Auto­mat­ic writ­ing is fine for a start,” Cow­ley said in a let­ter to Ker­ouac, “but it has to be revised and put into shape or peo­ple will quite prop­er­ly refuse to read it–and what you need now is to be read, not to be exhib­it­ed as a sort of nat­ur­al phe­nom­e­non like [the] Old Faith­ful geyser that sends up a jet of steam and mud every hour on the hour.” Ker­ouac was appar­ent­ly stung by the last line, because on July 3 of that year he sent a post­card (above) with a pic­ture of Yel­low­stone Nation­al Park on it, express­ing extreme impa­tience with Cow­ley’s foot-drag­ging. “If you don’t send me a con­tract with an advance (or some kind of option) by Octo­ber first, on On the Road, I am going to with­draw the man­u­script from Viking and sell it else­where. Than have it demeaned I’d rather it were nev­er pub­lished.” A year lat­er Viking pub­lished the nov­el.

James Joyce to Elkin Math­ews, 1908:

James Joyce Postcard

In 1908, James Joyce was four years into his self-imposed exile from Ire­land. He was liv­ing in the Aus­tro-Hun­gar­i­an port city of Tri­este (now part of Italy) and teach­ing at the Berlitz School while try­ing to get his book of short sto­ries, Dublin­ers, into print. One pub­lish­er had already accept­ed the book, but the print­er had refused to pro­duce it for fear of being pros­e­cut­ed on obscen­i­ty charges. On Jan­u­ary 24, 1908 Joyce sent the post­card above to the Lon­don pub­lish­er Charles Elkin Math­ews, who had been hold­ing onto the man­u­script for sev­er­al months, request­ing a deci­sion. Math­ews turned it down. Six more years of headaches fol­lowed for Joyce (with one pub­lish­er actu­al­ly print­ing 1,000 copies of the book only to change his mind and burn them all) before Dublin­ers was final­ly print­ed in 1914 by Grant Richards Ltd.

Franz Kaf­ka et al. to Kurt Wolff, 1913:

Franz Kafka Postcard

Franz Kaf­ka is often pic­tured as a soli­tary fig­ure, brood­ing alone in his room. The post­card above is evi­dence of Kafka’s social side. It was sent on March 25, 1913 from Char­lot­ten­burg, a dis­trict of Berlin, where Kaf­ka was meet­ing with a group of fel­low authors who shared the same pub­lish­er. The writ­ers decid­ed to send a group post­card to their pub­lish­er Kurt Wolff. Kaf­ka writes “Best greet­ings from a ple­nary ses­sion of authors of your house. Otto Pick, Albert Ehren­stein, Carl Ehren­stein. Dear Herr Wolff: Pay no atten­tion to what Wer­fel tells you! He does not know a word of the sto­ry. As soon as I have a clean copy made, I will of course be glad to send it to you. Sin­cere­ly, F. Kaf­ka.” At the bot­tom, in anoth­er hand, is writ­ten “Cor­dial greet­ings from Paul Zech,” and on the front of the post­card is a draw­ing by Else Lasker-Schuler with the name “Abi­gail Basileus III” next to it. The “Wer­fel” Kaf­ka refers to is the Aus­tri­an-Bohemi­an writer Franz Wer­fel, who had told Wolff about Kafka’s unpub­lished novel­la, The Meta­mor­pho­sis. Wolff had expressed inter­est in see­ing “the bug sto­ry.” He pub­lished it two years lat­er, in 1915.

Ernest Hem­ing­way to Gertrude Stein, 1924:

Ernest Hemingway Postcard

In the sum­mer of 1924, Ernest Hem­ing­way trav­eled in Spain to attend bull­fights. On June 9 he sent a post­card from Madrid to his men­tor and fel­low bull­fight­ing fan Gertrude Stein. Hem­ing­way was eager to fill Stein in on the lat­est devel­op­ments. “Tomor­row,” he writes, “six bulls of Mar­tinez with Vil­lal­ta, who is a very won­der­ful kid. Tall and stands out from the rest of them like a wolf. Think he’s going to be the next great one.” Hem­ing­way’s accu­mu­lat­ed knowl­edge of Spain and bull­fight­ing would fig­ure into his break­through nov­el of 1926, The Sun Also Ris­es. Anoth­er post­card from Hem­ing­way to Stein and Alice B. Tok­las appears here.

Kurt Von­negut to David Bre­i­thaupt, 2006:

Kurt Vonnegut Postcard

In the last two decades of his life, Kurt Von­negut cor­re­spond­ed with a young man named David Bre­i­thaupt, whom he had met through Allen Gins­berg. (Bre­i­thaupt had worked part-time as an archivist for Gins­berg in the ear­ly 1980s.) In a 2007 inter­view with The Ner­vous Break­down, Bre­i­thaupt was asked why Von­negut took the time to exchange let­ters with him. “This has mys­ti­fied me over the years,” said Bre­i­thaupt, “but part of the rea­son may have been because Kurt and I were both mid­west­ern­ers. I grew up in cen­tral Ohio and he was a Hoosier next door. We both had Ger­man­ic back­grounds and we were often send­ing sight­ings of the oth­er’s fam­i­ly names to each oth­er. In fact our last cor­re­spon­dence was about Gunter Grass and his out-of-the-clos­et Nazi announce­ment.” Grass had stunned the lit­er­ary world in the sum­mer of 2006 by admit­ting that he was draft­ed into the Waf­fen SS when he was a teenag­er. “As for Grass,” says Von­negut in a Sep­tem­ber, 2006 post­card shown above: “He loves atten­tion. I know him, and as a joke I’ve said ‘Now he’s going to blow my cov­er, because we were in the SS togeth­er.’ If I had been born in Ger­many, I might have joined the com­bat SS, but not, I hope, the death camp sociopaths.”

via Vin­tage Every­day

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Clas­sic works men­tioned above can be found in our col­lec­tion of Free Audio Books and Free eBooks.

Dis­cov­er J.R.R. Tolkien’s Per­son­al Book Cov­er Designs for The Lord of the Rings Tril­o­gy

Jack Kerouac’s Hand-Drawn Cov­er for On the Road (And More Great Cul­ture from Around the Web)

Hen­ri Matisse Illus­trates 1935 Edi­tion of James Joyce’s Ulysses

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