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Howard Fast on the Blue Heron Press
in Being Red

"... Then a letter arrived from Little, Brown, explaining that since they had taken over Duell, Sloan and Pearce when it went bankrupt, they had plates for all of my books back to The Last Frontier.

They also had three thousand or so copies of all my titles. They wanted to be rid of every bit of evidence that connected them to Howard Fast, and they would be happy to sell me the plates and all the contractual rights to these books for $4,683.31. This covered plates and thirteen titles. The plates alone were worth more than that, and the residual rights to these books in due time came to over a million dollars - and all this for $4,683 to get them off the hook and, figuratively speaking, J. Edgar Hoover out of their editorial chambers.

Did I respond? I certainly did. Bette and I cashed in a few bonds we owned, borrowed on our insurance, took some loans and somehow scraped together $4,683. The plates were at the American Book Company, if I remember correctly, and I worked out a way to leave them there for the time being. The books were shipped to the tiny office I had rented. And there I was, with cartons of books piled high around me, books I could not sell, a publishing company on the edge of bankruptcy, enough cash to pay the next month's rent, and after that? Well, I could keep it alive as long as my foreign royalties continued to come in - I did, for six years - and in the process learn something about small business in a world of big business. I did learn here what I had never learned in the party - that being a small businessman can be as self-destructive as being a member of the Communist Party. I incorporated and became the Blue Heron Press. The name rose from the caustic suggestion of a friend that I call it the Red Herring Press*, and while that was colorful, it did not strike me as a fruitful aid to selling books. I was a rotten businessman; I had no talent for it, and I never spent more than a couple of hours a day with the Blue Heron Press. I hired a lady to run it, and somehow it survived. I reissued four of my old books, published two new novels, The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti and Silas Timberman, as well as a book of my short stories. I covered my costs, if not my office expenses, because I still had a large reading public who would pay to read anything I wrote. To Bette and me, this was our great personal struggle to maintain our dignity and pride. She got a job as a designer of women's clothes; I wrote my novels, wrote a column for The Daily Worker, and ran my publishing company. When Shirley Graham came to me and asked me whether I would reprint W. E. B. Du Bois's classic work, The Souls of Black Folk, which no other publisher would touch, I agreed - again, a no-profit-net-loss project, but a very beautiful book that made me quite proud. The results were similar when I published a book of Edward Biberman's working-class paintings, and even worse when Walter Lowenfels, one of those soft-spoken Communists, beseeched me to publish a book of his poems. My venture into free enterprise was teaching me only the dark side of capitalism, but I will say that J. Edgar Hoover sent none of his agents to knock on my door and instruct me not to publish books by Howard Fast. To that extent I had beaten the little bastard, and whatever it cost, it was my small victory. [298-299]

* Campenni, in "Citizen Howard Fast":
Ironically, Spartacus had sold so well, though self-published, that Doubleday, which had rejected it, ordered five hundred copies for its bookstore outlet.** Then Citadel Publishing House, which had refused to consider the book*** (although Citadel editor Philip Foner was Fast's friend), now took over distribution of the book. A few months later, Fast organized the Blue Heron Publishing House, which he named after the inn where the Jewish patriot, Haym Salomon, had hidden out while fleeing his British pursuers (as chronicled in Fast's biographical novel of Salomon in 1941)." [372]
**In Being Red Fast reports that the promise of the order had been made by George Hecht, president of the bookstore chain, angry with Doubleday's refusal of the book, when Fast was still searching for a publisher.
***In the same section, Fast says he never asked Citadel, since he wanted a major publisher.