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Mark Harris (author)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Mark Harris
Mark Harris Finkelstein

(1922-11-19)November 19, 1922
DiedMay 30, 2007(2007-05-30) (aged 84)
Alma materUniversity of Denver
Known forBang the Drum Slowly
Ruth (née Klausner)

Mark Harris (November 19, 1922 – May 30, 2007) was an American novelist, literary biographer, and educator.


Early life

Harris was born Mark Harris Finkelstein in Mount Vernon, New York, to Carlyle and Ruth (Klausner) Finkelstein. At the age of 11, he began keeping a diary, which he would maintain for every day of his life thereafter.[1]

After graduating in 1940 from Mount Vernon High School, he dropped his surname because "it was a difficult time for kids with Jewish names to get jobs."[2] He subsequently went to work for Paul Winkler's Press Alliance news agency in New York City as a messenger and mimeograph operator.

He was drafted into the United States Army in January 1943. His growing opposition to war and his anger at the prevalence of racial discrimination in the Army led him to go AWOL from Camp Wheeler, Georgia, in February 1944. He was soon arrested and then hospitalized for psychoneurosis. He was honorably discharged in April 1944.[3] His wartime experience formed the basis for two of his novels, Trumpet to the World (1946) and Something About a Soldier (1957).

Journalism career

Harris joined The Daily Item of Port Chester, New York, as a reporter in May 1944. A year later he accepted a position with PM in New York City but was fired after two months. In July 1945 he was hired by the International News Service and moved to St. Louis. While there, he met coworker Josephine Horen, whom he would marry in March 1946. After resigning in July 1946, he spent the next year and a half in a succession of short-lived journalism jobs in Albuquerque, New Mexico (Albuquerque Journal), Chicago (Negro Digest and Ebony), and New York (Park Row News Service).

Academic career

In February 1948, Harris abandoned journalism to enroll in the University of Denver, from which he received a Master's degree in English in 1951 as well as obtaining a PhD in American Studies from the University of Minnesota in 1956, writing his doctoral dissertation on the progressive writer and intellectual Randolph Bourne.

In September 1956, he was hired by the English department of San Francisco State College, where he taught until 1967. He went on to teach at several other universities, including Purdue (1967–1970), California Institute of the Arts (1970–1972), the University of Southern California (1973–1975), and the University of Pittsburgh (1976–1980). In September 1980, he joined the faculty of Arizona State, where he was a professor of English and taught in the creative writing program until his retirement in 2001.[4]

Writing career

His first novel, Trumpet to the World, is the story of a young black soldier married to a white woman who is put on trial for striking back at a white officer, was published in 1946, and he continued to produce novels and contribute to periodicals through the years. In 1960, while in his first college teaching position, at San Francisco State College, Harris promoted his then-most-recent book in a TV appearance as guest contestant in "You Bet Your Life", a game played on The Groucho Show.[5]

In the first chapter of his 1961 classic The Rhetoric of Fiction, Wayne C. Booth quotes the "fine young novelist" Harris as saying: "You will no more expect the novelist to tell you precisely how something is said than you will expect him to stand by your chair and hold your book."[6]

In January 1962, Something About a Soldier, a stage version of Harris's novel, played briefly on Broadway. Written by Ernest Kinoy and produced by the Theatre Guild, it featured Sal Mineo in the lead role. Later, the novel Bang the Drum Slowly was adapted into a stage play at the Next Theatre in Evanston, Illinois.[7]

His nephew (the son of Harris's sister Martha Finkelstein) is the writer Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, author of the memoir When Skateboards Will Be Free: A Memoir of a Political Childhood.[1]

Harris died of complications of Alzheimer's disease at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital at age 84.[8] He was survived by his wife, Josephine Horen; his sister, Martha; two sons, one daughter, and three grandchildren.


Harris was best known for a quartet of novels about baseball players: The Southpaw (1953), Bang the Drum Slowly (1956), A Ticket for a Seamstitch (1957), and It Looked Like For Ever (1979). Written in the vernacular, the books are the account of Henry "Author" Wiggen, a pitcher for the fictional New York Mammoths. In 1956, Bang the Drum Slowly was adapted for an installment of the dramatic television anthology series The United States Steel Hour; the production starred Paul Newman as Wiggen and Albert Salmi as doomed catcher Bruce Pearson. The novel also became a major motion picture in 1973, with a screenplay written by Harris, directed by John D. Hancock and featuring Michael Moriarty as Wiggen and Robert De Niro as Pearson.[4]

Selected works


  • Trumpet to the World (1946)
  • The Southpaw (1953)
  • Bang the Drum Slowly (1956)
  • Something about a Soldier (1957)
  • A Ticket for a Seamstitch (1957)
  • Wake Up, Stupid (1959)
  • The Goy (1970)
  • Killing Everybody (1973)
  • It Looked Like Forever (1979)
  • Lying in Bed (1984)
  • Speed (1990)
  • The Tale Maker (1994)

Short Stories

  • The Self-Made Brain Surgeon and Other Stories (1999)


  • City of Discontent: An Interpretive Biography of Vachel Lindsay (1952)
  • Mark the Glove Boy, or The Last Days of Richard Nixon (1964)
  • Twentyone Twice: A Journal (1966)
  • Best Father Ever Invented: The Autobiography Of Mark Harris (1976)
  • Short Work of It: Selected Writings (1979)
  • Saul Bellow: Drumlin Woodchuck (1980)
  • Diamond – The Baseball Writings of Mark Harris (collection, 1994)


  • Friedman & Son (1963)
  • Bang the Drum Slowly (1992)

Television plays

  • Boswell for the Defence (1983)
  • Boswell's London Journal (1984)


As editor

  • Selected Poems of Vachel Lindsay (1963)
  • The Heart of Boswell: Six Journals in One Volume (1981)


  1. ^ Harris, Mark (1979), Short Work of It: Selected Writing by Mark Harris, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, p. 244
  2. ^ Fimrite, Ron (October 15, 1990). "Fiction in a Diamond Setting: Mark Harris's novels sparkle with hard-edged realism". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved April 19, 2012.
  3. ^ Harris, Mark (1976), Best Father Ever Invented: The Autobiography of Mark Harris, New York: Dial Press, pp. 6–20
  4. ^ a b McLellan, Dennis (June 1, 2007). "Mark Harris, 84; author of 18 books, including 'Bang the Drum Slowly'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 17, 2012.
  5. ^ Groucho Marx, George Fenneman (2004). You Bet Your Life – The Best Episodes (DVD, Disc 1, episode airdate January 19, 1961). Shout! Factory.
  6. ^ Booth, Wayne C. (1961), The Rhetoric of Fiction, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p. 8
  7. ^ Smith, Sid (January 15, 1992). "Plenty of Punch To 'Bang': Team Effort Yields Winner". Chicago Tribune. Chicago. Retrieved May 11, 2012.
  8. ^ "Novelist, ASU prof Mark Harris dies". Arizona Daily Sun. Flagstaff, Arizona. June 1, 2007. Retrieved April 18, 2012.

External links

This page was last edited on 20 December 2018, at 20:15
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