The Scarlet Professor: Newton Arvin, A Literary Life Shattered by Scandal by Barry Werth; 326 pages; Nan A. Talese Doubleday Hardback, $26.00; Anchor Paperback, $14.00.
Newton Arvin (1900-1963) was an award-winning author and a distinguished professor at Smith College. He was also a furtive homosexual and, briefly, the lover of Truman Capote (who was not furtive). In 1960 Arvin was the victim of an antismut campaign. Arrested for possession of gay porn, Arvin broke down and named names, including those of fellow Smith professors Edward Spofford and Joel Dorius. Though Arvin, a tenured professor, was allowed to retire, Spofford and Dorius lost their jobs.
The Scarlet Professor: Newton Arvin, A Literary Life Shattered By Scandal is Barry Werth's biography of a figure who is more pathetic than heroic, but whose life story is sadly reflective of the lives of too many lesbian, gay and bisexual teachers. Even today the arrest of a teacher in a backroom bar raid is grist for the media mill, regardless of how it would affect the victim himself. Perhaps this is why the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table of the American Library Association saw fit to give The Scarlet Professor its Nonfiction GLBT Book Award. According to Anne Moore, past chair of the Award committee, "the impact of this beautifully written and well-researched work can, in part, be measured by the decision of the current Smith College Board of Trustees 'to explore appropriate responses by the college' regarding the dismissal of the professors involved in the case."
The fact that Professor Moore's position with the ALA Task Force do not disturb her superiors at the University of Massachusetts tells us that things have changed somewhat, at least in Massachusetts. As for Smith College, its board of trustees recently voted to honor the victims of the 1960 scandal by creating the Newton Arvin Prize in American Study and the Dorius/Spofford Fund for the Study of Civil Liberty and Freedom of Expression.
Though the decision fell short of an apology, it can be viewed as a vindication for the late Newton Arvin and for Dorius and Spofford, who are still alive. The decision was also pleasing to Werth, for the Board's decision was prompted by The Scarlet Professor.
Interesting Monsters: Fictions by Aldo Alvarez (Graywolf Press; 192 pages: $14.00) caught the attention of the Insight Out Book Club, which chose it to be a finalist for its prestigious Violet Quill Award. This collection of interrelated short stories tell the story of Mark and Dean, a couple who come together and apart and back together again by force of character and circumstance. Amazon.com calls Interesting Monsters "a sly, brainy, delicately shaded novel masquerading as a postmodern short story collection," which is as good a summary of this book as anything that I can come up with. Interesting Monsters is an interesting book.
Hasty Hearts: The Best of Ken Anderson (Florida Literary Foundation and STARbooks Press; 416 pages; $13.95) is a good introduction to the works of that prolific author. Though Anderson's poetry (The Intense Lover) is missing here, Hasty Hearts includes some of his best gayrotic fiction and his 1999 novel Someone Bought the House on the Island: A Dream Journal. In addition to showcasing Ken Anderson's talent, Hasty Hearts is one of the last books edited and published by John Patrick, who sadly passed away shortly after this book appeared.