Anyway, this book is a lovely bit of whimsy and wonder, somewhat reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s work. Shamefully this is my first Beagle novel. I’ve been meaning to read THE LAST UNICORN (the movie has always managed to terrify me and devastate me)! For now, I must say that Beagle has caught my attention.
THE ARTISANRY OF ACORN COTTAGE is slowly experiencing the novel.
Given the general state of the world and our country in particular, I am attempting to balance action and effort with a modicum of self-care. There are only few things I know that compare to the delight of exploring a new-to-me book by a favorite writer. I was able to borrow SUMMERLONG by Peter S Beagle, and am allowing self a few pages at a time, several times a day, to encourage my forward momentum. The wonderfully rich and specific way he uses words, and what to me feels like a glimpse of essential inner lovingkindness, have been invaluable to me.
I first read his THE LAST UNICORN in 1970 (according to my memory and the copyright on my very battered paperback, bought at the New England Mobile Book Fair with a combination of allowance and babysitting money) and have been a delighted if inconstant fan ever since. I read things, and then life distracts me, and then I come back again and remember how nourishing the writings are… Am considering making a reading list, and then after that choosing to add a bit to my heavily curated home library…
Photo: Rina Weisman
Constance Grady at VOX shares a beautiful, forgotten essay by Peter S. Beagle.
The Poor People’s Campaign is a nearly forgotten protest of the civil rights movement, but in 1968 it was one of the most important expressions of the movement.
Planned by Martin Luther King Jr. but carried out after King’s assassination, the Poor People’s Campaign saw thousands of people march into Washington, DC, to join Resurrection City, an encampment on the National Mall. It was, as Vox’s Jenée Desmond-Harris has written, Occupy before Occupy, and the results it achieved were mixed. It fizzled slowly out over a period of months without ever landing a major landmark victory — but it did successfully pressure the federal government into investing heavily in food stamps and school lunches.
One of the best accounts of this almost-forgotten campaign is in an almost-forgotten essay by Peter S. Beagle. Beagle, who is best known as the author of the fantasy cult favorite THE LAST UNICORN, spent the 1960s working as a freelance magazine writer. In 1968, the SATURDAY EVENING POST sent him off to cover the Poor People’s Campaign — a real immersion piece, with Beagle marching and living and demonstrating with the rest of the protesters — but the POST folded before the piece was ever published.
“The Poor People’s Campaign,” Beagle said, was the best magazine writing he ever did, but it didn’t see the light of day until he included it in his 1997 anthology THE RHINOCEROS WHO QUOTED NIETZSCHE AND OTHER ODD ACQUAINTANCES. By then, Beagle wrote, the world had changed, and not for the better: “It seems to me that today’s America not only gives far less of a rat’s ass about the poor than it did thirty years ago, but can no longer be bothered even to pretend that it cares.”
In Beagle’s account, the movement began with beautiful ideals and energetic and enthusiastic protesters ready to march all over Washington if they had to, only to be stymied by an often absent, always poorly organized leadership from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which was founded by King and carried out the campaign while still reeling from his death:
“The rain wouldn’t have mattered if the campaign had been moving. Boredom and confusion — not paid agitators from SNCC [The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee], as we kept being told — were the saboteurs of Resurrection City; but at the first flicker of direction, the slightest hint of real confrontation, the marchers surged together and functioned perfectly well. They picketed the Department of Agriculture in the rain, day and night; they spoke their minds to everybody from jumpy cops with two-foot billies to Attorney General Ramsey Clark; they went to jail for singing and praying in the streets on Capitol Hill. The SCLC leaders were annoyed about that, because it hadn’t been planned in advance. Spontaneity made them as nervous as it did the Washington police.
Beagle’s achingly tender, sorrowful account of the campaign is a reminder of the enormous political power that disenfranchised people can have when they are unified en masse — and of how wastefully that power can be squandered by an incompetent leadership. It’s a powerful prescriptive for how today’s protest campaigns can plan their work. It’s also an enormously beautiful essay.
For more info on SUMMERLONG, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover art by Magdalena Korzeniewska
Design by Elizabeth Story
For more info on THE RHINOCEROS WHO QUOTED NIETZSCHE AND OTHER ODD ACQUAINTANCES, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover by Michael Dashow