Smith, Lillian: Strange Fruit
(researched by Erin Nagle)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description
1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)
Lillian Smith. Strange Fruit. New York: Reynal & Hitchcock Publishers, 1944. Copyright: Lillian Smith, 1944.
2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?
First edition published in trade cloth binding
3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available
4 Pagination
194 leaves, pp. [8] 1-371
5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?
No introduction.
6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?
Black and white illustrations on title pages (215mm by 80mm); artist unknown.
7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available
8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)
Readability is perfect. There is no foxing or staining on the pages. Margins are generous and print is large roman, making for easy reading. Only illustrations are on title pages and dust jacket cover. Chapters numbered and in caps but without titles. There is no colophon. Serif type is used throughout the novel. Title pages include italicized type and roman. 90R. Book size (l x h): 145mm by 210mm; Size of text: 101mm by 160mm.
9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available
10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)
Paper is machine made, untrimmed. No foxing, stains, tears or discoloration. Excellent condition.
11 Description of binding(s)
Trade cloth binding, calico-texture cloth, not embossed, dark blue with vivid yellow stamping. Dust jacket is blue with white and yellow text and white illustration (artist: Richard Floethe). Back cover of dust jacket includes photo of author and text. One endpaper in front and one in back. Transcription of front cover: STRANGE FRUIT Transcription of the spine: LILLIAN | SMITH | STRANGE | FRUIT| REYNAL & | HITCHCOCK
12 Transcription of title page
Title Page(s) transcription: (Left side): STRANGE | [illustration, 215mm by 80mm] | REYNAL & HITCHCOCK (Right side-recto): FRUIT |A NOVEL BY LILLIAN SMITH |PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK Title page verso transcription(back of right side of title page): COPYRIGHT, 1944, BY LILLIAN SMITH | All rights reserved, including the right | to reproduce this book or portions |thereof, in any form | This book has been manufactured in |strict conformity with Government | regulations for conserving paper and | other essential materials. | PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA | BY THE CORNWALL PRESS, CORNWALL, N.Y.
13 JPEG image of title page, if available
14 Manuscript Holdings
Manuscript Holdings: Manuscript holdings of Strange Fruit are held at The University of Florida at Gainesville, 32611.
15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)
There is a bookplate on the inside cover of the book (85mm by 65mm) by the donators, Lillian Gary Taylor and Robert Taylor. The author dedicates the book on the recto of the leaf (after the verso of the right title page): To Paula. The inside front dust jacket flap includes the price of the book ($2.75) and a statement from the publisher including their prediction on its success: "For Strange Fruit we confidently predict: this book will be eagerly and widely read, it will be heatedly discussed and long rememberedÖStrange Fruit deals with things the neighbors mustn't know-and it deals with the neighbors." The inside back dust jacket flap includes an advertisement: "Help YOUR country to | win YOUR war | Insert YOUR dollars |and dimes in | US War Bonds and | Stamps" The back cover of the dust jacket includes the end of the inside flap's description of the book as well as a photograph of the author (65mm by 75mm).
Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History
1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A
Strange Fruit, a novel by Lillian Smith. [wartime edition] New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1944. 250 p. 20 cm. Strange Fruit, a novel by Lillian Smith. [wartime edition] New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1944. 314 p. 20cm. Strange Fruit, a novel by Lillian Smith. [seventh printing] New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1944. 3p. 1, 314 p. 20cm. Sources: World Cat, RLIN, National Union Catalogue Pre-1956 Imprints (vol 551, 1944)
2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available
3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available
4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?
According to Publisher's Weekly, as of July 29, 1944, there were 350,000 copies in print of the first edition, with sales at 19,000 copies per week. Soon after, though, though, in May of 1945, the new publisher was Grosset & Dunlap. Sources: Publisher's Weekly (VOL 146, 147) and The New York Times Book Review (July-Dec 1944)
5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A
Strange Fruit, a novel by Lillian Smith. New York: Brace & World, 1944. 250 p. 21 cm. Strange Fruit, a novel by Lillian Smith. [1st Harvest/HBJ edition] San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992, 1944. 371 p. 21 cm. Strange Fruit, a novel by Lillian Smith. [Forum Books Edition] New York: The World Publishing Co., 1944. 250 p. Strange Fruit, a novel by Lillian Smith. Cleveland: World Publishing Co., 1944. 250 p: ill: 20 cm. Strange Fruit, a novel by Lillian Smith. New York: Book Find Club, 1944. 371 p., 20 cm. Strange Fruit, a novel by Lillian Smith. [A Signet Book] New York: New American Library, 1944. 286 p. 18cm. Strange Fruit, a novel by Lillian Smith. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1944. 250 p. 20 cm. Strange Fruit, a novel by Lillian Smith. [Armed Services Edition Q-32] New York: Edition for the Armed Services, 1944. 383 p. 11x17cm. Sources: WorldCat, National Union Catalogue Pre-1956 Imprints (VOL 551, 1944), RLIN, International Books in Print (online)
6 Last date in print?
Strange Fruit, a novel by Lillian Smith. Buccaneer Books, Inc., 1994. Source: Books in Print, Bowker (VOL 8, 1996-97)
7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)
According to Publisher's Weekly, by May 12, 1945, over 550,000 copies had been sold. Mott's Golden Multitudes did not list Strange Fruit as an "over-all" bestseller and thus, did not provide the sales figures. Sources: Publisher's Weekly (VOL 147, p. 1894)
8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)
N/A
9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)
There is a three page spread in the November 1, 1944 issue of Publisher's Weekly (volume 145). This ad was placed by the original publisher, Reynal & Hitchcock and praises the novel as the "bookseller's biggest money-making success." Following are some excerpts from the three-page ad: "Reynal & Hitchcock gratefully expresses its heartfelt thanks for the cooperation which booksellers everywhere have evidenced during the months of this sensational sale. Strange Fruit is still averaging 10,000 copies a week with no slump in sight. Orders are piling up by the thousands." The ad also labels Strange Fruit as a novel "certain to be one of 1945's greatest fiction successes." There is also an ad in the May 12, 1945 Publisher's Weekly (volume 147) by the new publisher, Grosset & Dunlap. Additionally, there is an ad in the July 16, 1944 New York Times Book Review (placed by Reynal & Hitchcock) claiming sales of over 80,000 a month and over 300,000 copies in print.
10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available
11 Other promotion
There is a review of the novel in The Saturday Review of Literature, June 10, 1944 (volume 271, Jan-Jun 1944).
12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A
Strange Fruit [NY, Hart Stenographic Bureau] 1945. Dramatization of the novel of the same title produced at the Royale Theatre, NY on November 29, 1945. Source: National Union Catalogue Pre-1956 Imprints (vol 551, p. 586)
13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A
E'trange fruit (Strange Fruit). Tr.de l'americain par Edith et Denyse Berdonneau; roman. Paris, Gallimard, 1948. 321 p. 21 cm. French Extrano fruto. Traduccion de Clara Diament y Floreal Mazia. Buenos Aires, editorial sudamericana, 1946. Spanish. Frutto proibito; romanzo. Traduzione di Giovanni Fletzer. Milano Bompiani, 1947. 467 p. 21 cm. Italian. Peri zar; roman. Translation of Strange Fruit. Tel Aviv, 1948. 412 p. 19 cm. Hebrew. Translation of Strange Fruit, by Hsin Ho. Taipei, 1959. 4, 455 p; ill; 19cm. Chinese. Fremde Frucht; roman. Translation by Susel Huggenberger-Bischoff. Zurich, 1947. Dutch. Sources: WorldCat. International Books in Print (online), National Union Catalogue Pre-1956 Imprints (volume 551, p. 585).
14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A
Searches in Publisher's Weekly did not indicate that this novel was serialized.
15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A
Searches in National Union Catalogue Pre-1956 Imprints and Pulisher's Weekly did not indicate that this novel had any sequels or prequels.
Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author
1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)
Lillian Eugenia Smith was born the seventh of nine children on December 12, 1897 in Jasper, Florida to Calvin Warren Smith and Anne Simpson Smith. Her father was in the lumber business and her mother was a homemaker. Smith, known to friends as "Lillie," attended Piedmont College from 1915-1916, Peabody Conservatory from 1917-1922 and Columbia University Teacher's College in 1927. Until her mid-thirties, Smith dedicated her life to her first passion-music. As the child of a prominent white family in the south, Smith recalled being erroneously taught that "a terrifying disaster would befall the south if I ever treated a Negro as my social equal" (Loveland, 7). She oftentimes felt baffled by "the dichotomies of our southern way of life (Loveland, 7)," the Christian notion of brotherhood and simultaneously the evils of racism. After attending Piedmont College, Smith, with a strong desire to serve her country, volunteered for the student nursing corps. Then in 1922, Smith became the head of the music department of the Virginia School in Huchow, Chekiang Province. Her time in China proved a "tremendous experience" and inspired her thinking and writing. Her career in writing emerged permanently after the death of her father in 1930. She had previously written only newsletters for Laurel Falls Camp for Girls in Georgia, where she served as camp director from 1925-1948. Along with her newfound passion for writing, Smith also became a fervent advocate of human rights and equality. "Lillian's views of the south had also evolved to a point where she was distinctly at odds with most of the whites in the region" (Loveland, 37). By the mid-1940's, when Strange Fruit was first published, Smith had dedicated her life to the fight for racial justice and desegregation. Before publishing her first novel at the age of forty-seven, Smith and close friend Paula Snelling established a small magazine in 1935 called Pseudopodia. Although Strange Fruit was her third book, it was the first to be published. Strange Fruit tells the story of the forbidden romance between a white man, Tracy Dean, and a black woman, Nonnie Anderson, in the south. Banned in Boston and Detroit, the novel quickly became a bestseller due to its controversial nature. In the spring of 1944, Smith signed a contract with Jose Ferrer to produce the novel on Broadway. Smith's private life remains elusive even today. She kept her personal life to herself and though much of her writing was autobiographical, she remained secretive. While she never married, it is widely assumed that Smith and business partner Paula Snelling had a relationship beyond the workplace. Although she published a total of seven books, a series of newspaper columns, articles and book reviews, her career was stymied by her continuous battle with cancer, which first appeared in 1953. She finally lost the battle on September 28, 1966 at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. Her manuscripts are currently held at the University of Florida Libraries, Gainesville, the University of Georgia Libraries, Athens, and the Robert W. Woodruff Library, Emory University. Her seven novels are: Strange Fruit (1944), Killers of a Dream (1949), The Journey (1954), Now is the Time (1955), One Hour (1959), Memory of a Large Christmas (1962), and Our Faces, Our Words (1964). She also wrote an autobiography: Memory of a Large Christmas (1962). SOURCES USED FOR ASSIGNMENT 3: Blackwell, Louise, and Frances Clay, Lillian Smith. Twayne Publishers, NYC:1971. Loveland, Anne C., Lillian Smith, A Southerner Confronting the South: A Biography. Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge: 1986. Smith, Lillian, How Am I To Be Heard?: Letters of Lillian Smith. University of North Carolina Press: 1993. Contemporary Authors. VIRGO: Other Databases.
Assignment 4: Reception History
1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
Contemporary Reception: Amidst a period of racial injustice and conflict emerged a brave new look at the truth of race relations and frustrated attempts at equality in the South in a book called Strange Fruit. Named for an eerie Billy Holiday song about a lynching, Strange Fruit by Lillian Smith immediately triggered controversy. "Firmly and convincingly written, with great strength and feeling and power"(The Saturday Review of Literature Mr 11 1944), this novel did not go unnoticed. Adored and simultaneously disparaged, this novel was loved, then banned, then became a number-one fiction bestseller. Never before had a white southern woman attempted to write such a horrifyingly candid novel about race in the 1920's. Written about an interracial love affair in 1920's Georgia, Strange Fruit attempts to critique the nature of race in the South. Though she certainly questioned the [then] current dynamic between blacks and whites, Ms. Smith did not attempt to solve the tremendous problem at hand. Smith's decision to not preach or try to give answers does not go unrecognized. The New York Times Book Review commended Smith saying, "The author has suggested no cure for that urge: you will no black messiah's here, no white devils?But the tragedy of the South is explicit in every line" (Mar 5 1944). After being published, Strange Fruit was banned from Detroit and Boston. The reason was cited as being because "in it is twice printed what is usually euphemistically referred to as a 'four-letter word.'" Ms. Smith's response to editing her word-choice was that she "wanted no other word in that place and she intends it to stay there" (Publisher's Weekly Apr 8 1944). Thus, the novel received more attention and more reviews. On the whole, Strange Fruit emerged as a brave and respected work of fiction, honestly depicting the oftentimes-overlooked state of race in the South. Most of the reviews for Ms. Smith's first novel were immediate and positive. Although her novel made a risky social commentary, it nonetheless received praise in most reviews. One critic from Book Week (Mar 5 1944), praised Smith's bravery: "One of the finest, most sensitive novels of the season. Her theme is a startling and controversial one. Her aim is to shed light not only on the problems of the South as they revolve around the race question, but also on one phase of it which has never been fully treated before, which has remained an illicit, regional dirty joke: the relations of Negro women and white men." Besides being an engrossing piece of fiction, Strange Fruit also made a clear political and social statement--it was time for a change. Struthers Burt, a critic for The Saturday Review, credited Smith's effectiveness with her ability to write from the perspective of a black living in the South: "This is the first novel I have ever read which I have felt really gives you a genuine and penetrating insight into the colored mind" (Mar 11 1944). Conversely, those who felt her novel was too radical scolded Smith. For example, the Catholic World wrote: "Most importantly of all, presumable for the purposes of appealing to a vulgar multitude, she sins against good taste so grossly as to make her story quite unfit for general circulation. It seems curious enough that 'the daughter of one of the South's oldest families' should?employ the phrases which decent people regard as unprintable" (My 1944). While Catholic World was insulted by the sexual content, most protest or debate over the novel's content was related to its race confrontation. Smith's novel also received slight backlash from the African American community, who felt misrepresented in her novel. Surprisingly, though most thought Smith felt sympathetic towards blacks in the South, some felt she dealt inaccurately with her portrayal of the black community. The New York Times reported a specific case of an African American denouncing Smith's novel. Dean Gordon B. Hancock, contributing editor of The Associated Negro Press, wrote in his column: "It is difficult to imagine a more subtle yet scathing indictment against the Negro race in general and Negro womanhood in particular than presented in 'Strange Fruit.' It will do irreparable damage to the cause of race relations, and postpone still further the already too indefinitely postponed better era of the Negro's full integration into American life" (Aug 5 1945). While this review is an obvious disapproval by a prominent member of the African American intellectual community, it is in no way representative of the general opinion of Smith and her writing. The controversy seemed to work in her favor--more people read her novel and more supported her quest for racial equality. SOURCES: 1)Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature (July 1943-April 1945) 2)Publishers Weekly, Mr 10, 1945, Mr 25, 1944, Apr 1, 1944, Dec 2, 1944 3)The New York Times Book Review Mr 5, 1944 4)The New York Times Ag 5, 1945. 5)Book Review Digest, 1944, p699. 6)The Saturday Review of Literature. Volume 271 (Jan-June 1944). Mr 11 1944.
2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
Contemporary Reception: Amidst a period of racial injustice and conflict emerged a brave new look at the truth of race relations and frustrated attempts at equality in the South in a book called Strange Fruit. Named for an eerie Billy Holiday song about a lynching, Strange Fruit by Lillian Smith immediately triggered controversy. "Firmly and convincingly written, with great strength and feeling and power"(The Saturday Review of Literature Mr 11 1944), this novel did not go unnoticed. Adored and simultaneously disparaged, this novel was loved, then banned, then became a number-one fiction bestseller. Never before had a white southern woman attempted to write such a horrifyingly candid novel about race in the 1920's. Written about an interracial love affair in 1920's Georgia, Strange Fruit attempts to critique the nature of race in the South. Though she certainly questioned the [then] current dynamic between blacks and whites, Ms. Smith did not attempt to solve the tremendous problem at hand. Smith's decision to not preach or try to give answers does not go unrecognized. The New York Times Book Review commended Smith saying, "The author has suggested no cure for that urge: you will no black messiah's here, no white devils?But the tragedy of the South is explicit in every line" (Mar 5 1944). After being published, Strange Fruit was banned from Detroit and Boston. The reason was cited as being because "in it is twice printed what is usually euphemistically referred to as a 'four-letter word.'" Ms. Smith's response to editing her word-choice was that she "wanted no other word in that place and she intends it to stay there" (Publisher's Weekly Apr 8 1944). Thus, the novel received more attention and more reviews. On the whole, Strange Fruit emerged as a brave and respected work of fiction, honestly depicting the oftentimes-overlooked state of race in the South. Most of the reviews for Ms. Smith's first novel were immediate and positive. Although her novel made a risky social commentary, it nonetheless received praise in most reviews. One critic from Book Week (Mar 5 1944), praised Smith's bravery: "One of the finest, most sensitive novels of the season. Her theme is a startling and controversial one. Her aim is to shed light not only on the problems of the South as they revolve around the race question, but also on one phase of it which has never been fully treated before, which has remained an illicit, regional dirty joke: the relations of Negro women and white men." Besides being an engrossing piece of fiction, Strange Fruit also made a clear political and social statement--it was time for a change. Struthers Burt, a critic for The Saturday Review, credited Smith's effectiveness with her ability to write from the perspective of a black living in the South: "This is the first novel I have ever read which I have felt really gives you a genuine and penetrating insight into the colored mind" (Mar 11 1944). Conversely, those who felt her novel was too radical scolded Smith. For example, the Catholic World wrote: "Most importantly of all, presumable for the purposes of appealing to a vulgar multitude, she sins against good taste so grossly as to make her story quite unfit for general circulation. It seems curious enough that 'the daughter of one of the South's oldest families' should?employ the phrases which decent people regard as unprintable" (My 1944). While Catholic World was insulted by the sexual content, most protest or debate over the novel's content was related to its race confrontation. Smith's novel also received slight backlash from the African American community, who felt misrepresented in her novel. Surprisingly, though most thought Smith felt sympathetic towards blacks in the South, some felt she dealt inaccurately with her portrayal of the black community. The New York Times reported a specific case of an African American denouncing Smith's novel. Dean Gordon B. Hancock, contributing editor of The Associated Negro Press, wrote in his column: "It is difficult to imagine a more subtle yet scathing indictment against the Negro race in general and Negro womanhood in particular than presented in 'Strange Fruit.' It will do irreparable damage to the cause of race relations, and postpone still further the already too indefinitely postponed better era of the Negro's full integration into American life" (Aug 5 1945). While this review is an obvious disapproval by a prominent member of the African American intellectual community, it is in no way representative of the general opinion of Smith and her writing. The controversy seemed to work in her favor--more people read her novel and more supported her quest for racial equality. SOURCES: 1)Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature (July 1943-April 1945) 2)Publishers Weekly, Mr 10, 1945, Mr 25, 1944, Apr 1, 1944, Dec 2, 1944 3)The New York Times Book Review Mr 5, 1944 4)The New York Times Ag 5, 1945. 5)Book Review Digest, 1944, p699. 6)The Saturday Review of Literature. Volume 271 (Jan-June 1944). Mr 11 1944.
Assignment 5: Critical Analysis
1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)
Lillian Smith's first and most controversial novel, Strange Fruit, was published in 1944, immediately climbing to the top of the bestseller list. This novel's profound acceptance and appeal was due to several factors. Throughout this essay, the ingredients that constitute the novel's success will be discussed in detail. The following aspects of Strange Fruit are common threads among other bestsellers that critique serious social issues of their time. These factors include the relevance of its topic to national events, its controversial nature, the marketing of the book, and the vehement and outspoken character of the author. The surprising success of this piece of fiction is due to the fact that it dealt with a very serious social theme of the time and tackled issues that were traditionally left untouched and oftentimes ignored. The issue at hand in Smith's poignant novel is racial segregation and prejudice in the 1920's South. Smith's novel critiques the southern racial mores and looks at civil rights as a moral rather than economic issue. Strange Fruit, named for a Billie Holiday song, is a novel about an interracial love affair in Maxwell, Georgia in the 1920's. The novel tells the story of an ill-fated relationship between a white man, Tracy Dean, and his black lover, Nonnie Anderson. The two lovers were stymied by a social system that condemned any inappropriate relationships between blacks and whites. The male protagonist, Tracy, is torn between the powerful and real love he feels for Nonnie and a socially acceptable relationship with a wealthy white woman. Tracy is cognizant of the danger in loving a black woman. His character says to himself, "Nonnie was only a name today. A name and an obstacle. A colored girl blocking a white path" (Smith, 97). Though Smith is a white female, she realistically and reliably writes the voices of black women, white men, and black men, merging the voices to create a tragic and political message by the close of the novel. The relationship of the two doomed protagonists ultimately ends with the murder of Tracy and the lynching of a black man. The "strange fruit" of Maxwell, Georgia is the lynching of the innocent members of the black community. This book narrates a fictitious tale, but is rooted in the universal truths of racial injustice of the time. In the early twentieth century, American liberal reformers were intensely focused on the poverty of the South and its contribution to the problems of race. But following World War II, the emphasis of American liberals transferred from the economic problems to "a more moral and psychological critique " (Georgia Historical Quarterly, 1992, no.1-2) of the race issue in the South. The South shifted from the "nation's number one economic problem" to the "nation's number one international embarrassment" (GHQ, 1992, no.1-2). The Truman administration began to address this issue at a national level, discussing its pertinence at a higher-echelon. President Truman established a Committee on Civil Rights and secured the support of many black protesters, forcing the issues of race and segregation to the top of the national agenda. Many liberal politicians began to question the validity of America's nickname, the "land of opportunity" when segregation and bigotry were at the forefront of most southern communities. While many liberals disagreed with this new assessment of race in the South, Smith was one of the leaders of this psychological take on segregation, arguing that the black community struggled more from the emotional injuries than the economic ones. Smith coined the term "cultural schizophrenia" as a way to describe segregation in the South. As a determined crusader against racial injustice, Smith sought to redirect the goals of Americans. She strove to utilize the idea of democracy and freedom in her argument to attain racial equality: "We Americans have this crazy dream: this notion of human freedom, this idea that each person has within himself a little kingdom over which he alone rules" (GHQ, 1992, no.1-2). The content of the novel as well as Smith's verbal and known battle against segregation were all relevant to the rising national attention toward this universal theme of freedom and equality, especially after the terror of WWII and the eruption of the Cold War. In addition, mass marketing after WWII reach millions of Americans, far more than the mere thousands reached before these advances. Thus, outside factors seem to be an obvious influence on the best-selling nature of the novel and in best sellers in general. The original publisher, Reynal & Hitchcock fervently advertised the novel, claiming Strange Fruit to be "the booksellers' biggest money-making success"(Publisher's Weekly, Nov 1, 1944). The inside front dust jacket flap of the first edition of the novel includes a statement from the publisher predicting the success of this risky novel: "For Strange Fruit we confidently predict this book will be eagerly and widely read, it will be heatedly discussed and long remembered?Strange Fruit deals with things the neighbors mustn't know--and it deals with the neighbors" (Smith). Inevitably, when a novel tackles and critiques serious social issues, it is bound to create a stir of controversy. While best sellers that address such important social issues don't normally make it to the bestseller list, Strange Fruit sold over three million copies (GHQ, 1992, no.3-4) and made the author an immediate topic of conversation. Why did this novel have the ability to capture and hold the interest of the public while simultaneously conveying a very powerful social commentary? The answer is simpler than one might expect. Strange Fruit, though praised by many for its candor, was also disparaged by conservatives and southerners and even banned for its unprecedented use of explicit language (by a proper Southern white woman, nonetheless). It became a best seller because of the desperate attempts to suppress it. Banned in Detroit and Boston, merchants "withdrew Strange Fruit from sale after a complaint against the language of the novel had been reported lodged with the Commissioner of Police of Boston" (PW Apr 1, 1944). The prosecutors claimed that "the right to express ideas is one thing, the manner of expression is quite another." This is in reference to Smith's use of the "four-letter word." In an editorial in Publisher's Weekly (Apr 8, 1944), this ban on the book was deemed unfortunate for the novel because it created too large of a focus on the profanity rather than the content of the story itself. The hype behind the banning of Strange Fruit was further exacerbated by the reaction of the book's publisher, Reynal & Hitchcock. Instead of adhering to the requests of some Boston booksellers to make "minor changes," Reynal &Hitchcock issued a statement that they "have no intention whatsoever of tampering with a fine and important book in order to transform it to what official Boston might regard as acceptable. The book was published because Reynal & Hitchcock consider it an outstanding work of literature" (PW, Mar 25, 1944). In addition to the criticism of Boston booksellers, Smith received some backlash from members of the African American community. While many in the black community supported her fight for de-segregation, others condemned her novel as belittling and condescending. For example, in 1945 Dean Gordon B. Hancock, editor of The Associated Negro Press wrote: "It is difficult to imagine a more subtle yet scathing indictment against the Negro race in general and the Negro womanhood in particular than that presented in "Strange Fruit" (PW, Aug 5, 1945). This and other discrediting reviews of the novel by members of the African American population also contributed to the stir behind the book's publication. This was also true for other novels of its time that similarly dealt with serious social issues new on the political agenda. For example, Laura Hobson's 1947 novel "Gentleman's Agreement" about post-war anti-Semitism in America (Sampson, 9). Like Strange Fruit, this novel attacked the contradictory notion of freedom and the festering prejudice and apathy toward Jews in America. Hobson was Jewish, allowing her social commentary to be somewhat more justified than Smith's voice in her novel. Smith's separation from the voices in her novel causes an even greater disruption with critics questioning her ability to write accurately and as a reliable narrator. Thus, the 1940's and 1950's seemed to be an era of protest and reformation through nontraditional exposes on the moral decay and shortcomings of post-war America. Lillian Smith's persona also became an important ingredient in the best-selling nature of her first published novel. Born in the late 19th century in Jasper, Florida, Smith recalled being taught hypocritically about the ways of life in the South. She was told that as a Christian she should love all of God's creatures, yet as a wealthy white southerner she was told she was of a superior race. While she always questioned the dynamic between races, she only fully recognized this disparity as an adult. Smith's personality was widely known--her tortured and conflicted feelings along with her vehement views of race. Often joining and then leaving organizations, "Smith was an extremist" (GHQ, 1992, no.1-2) and claimed that "segregation amounted to 'spiritual lynching'" and the only solution was for white people to "acknowledge our sins and humbly ask forgiveness" (Long, 74-75). Smith, more than any of her white counterparts, denounced segregation as a detriment to everyone in society and publicly protested for desegregation and racial equality. In 1944, she wrote: "In trying to shut the Negro race away from us, we have shut ourselves away from the good, the creative, the human in life. The warping distorted frame we have put around every Negro child from birth is around every white child from birth also. Each is on a different side of the frame, but each is there. As in its twisting distorted form it shapes and cripples the life and personality of one, it is shaping and crippling the life and personality of the other. It would be difficult to decide which character is maimed the more--the white or the Negro--after living a life in the Southern framework of segregation" (GHQ, 1992, no.3-4). Unlike other authors of her time, "Smith stood out, a measure as to how far a white southerner could, or would, go in condemning caste, a yardstick against which to measure--and judge--others who fell short" (GHQ, 1992, no.3-4). Smith's public decry of these previously untouched issues lent her novel an advantage in sales. Hearing the voice of an author, especially one considered an anomaly, contributes heavily to the sale of a book and as is the case of many best sellers, outspoken authors usually produces best sellers more than ones behind the scene. As described above, various factors (not all related) advanced the popularity and success of Smith's Strange Fruit. These factors, including the relevant universal theme, the controversial nature, the marketing, and the public persona of the author, seem to be general components to a best selling novel. While the content of a book certainly helps determine whether or not a book is well received, outside components play a significant role in the overall sales of a book. Given the rapid development and acceptance of social issues in America, this novel would probably not be a best seller if published today. But the term "bestseller" is to be used in a comparative sense, given the time and circumstances of its publication. When a white southern woman published Strange Fruit in the mid-1940's, it undoubtedly caused a stir. Smith's crusade against segregation and racial injustice through a fictitious love story was gossip-worthy. It not only challenged those in the political arena, but also those in society who were indirectly being condemned for their ignorance and role in the "sick" state of the South. Thus, this novel is a realistic representation of the life of a bestseller, specifically bestsellers that tackle serious social issues. Its success was due to many outside ingredients and only emerged victorious as a culmination of these various factors. Bestsellers, then, seem much more complex and multi-dimensional then one initially assumes. They're status is earned only if the external elements fit together in the right manner to form the perfect and most appealing product for the American consumer. SOURCES: Long, Margaret. "The Sense of her Presence: A Memorial for Lillian Smith." New South. Volume 21, p. 71-77, 1966. Loveland, Anne. "Lillian Smith and the Problem of Segregation in the Roosevelt Era." Southern Studies. Volume 22-23, p. 32-54, 1983. Patton, Randall. "Lillian Smith and the Transformation of American Liberalism, 1945-1950." The Georgia Historical Quarterly(GHQ). Volume 76, no. 1-2, p. 373-392, 1992. Publisher's Weekly, volumes 145, 146, 147. Smith, Lillian. Strange Fruit. NY: Harcourt Brace, 1992. Sosna, Morton. "Review Essays: Race and Gender in the South: The Case of Georgia's Lillian Smith." The Georgia Historical Quarterly. Volume 76, no. 3-4, p. 427-437, 1992. Sampson, Rachel. "Laura Hobson's Gentleman's Agreement." Bestseller's Database. Assignment 5:Critical Essay. http://www.engl.virginia.edu:8000/courses/bestsellers/search.cgi
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