Daniel Lewis James

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Daniel Lewis James, (1911 – May 18, 1988),[1] was an American author, best known for his novel, Famous All Over Town, about Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles. He published the novel under his pseudonym, Danny Santiago, and during most of his professional career, he kept his identity a secret. James's own agent Carl Brandt did not know his real name until it was revealed by fellow author and friend, John Gregory Dunne.[2][2] Some critics call this use of a Latino pseudonym a literary fraud, while others appreciate his contributions to literature, regardless of his race. Although he was white, he was able to convey an accurate portrait of the Chicano culture.[2]

Biography[edit]

The son of a wealthy Kansas City businessman,[2] James grew up in Kansas City, Missouri[1] and graduated from Andover Academy and Yale.[2] He majored in classical Greek and was the only one to do so from the Yale Class of 1933.[1]

He and his wife, Lilith, wrote the book for Bloomer Girl, a musical which was successful on Broadway during the 1940s.[2] However, he was blacklisted as a Communist in the 1950s and dropped out of sight as an author for some time.[2] For the next 20 years, he and his wife worked as volunteers in Hispanic neighborhoods.[1]

He gained notice under his pseudonym after the publication of "The Somebody" in Redbook in 1970.[2] In order to keep his identity a secret, he kept in contact with his New York agent through a post office box in Pacific Grove, California.[2] According to interviews, James apparently "lost confidence in [his] writing ability" [1] after being blacklisted and used the name as a way to find his courage through a different entity.

He published the novel, Famous All Over Town, in 1983.[1] In 1984, he was awarded the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award, a prize worth $5,000, from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters for his novel, but he did not show up to accept it.[2] His publisher, Simon & Schuster, wanted to submit the novel for the Pulitzer Prize, but James refused to supply personal information.[1]

His true identity came to light when writer John Gregory Dunne wrote an article for the August 16, 1984, issue of The New York Review of Books[3] The Jameses met Dunne and his wife, Joan Didion, in 1966 and had become good friends.[2] Although Dunne was not keen on using pseudonyms, he encouraged James to submit his work.

At age 77, James died at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula in Monterey, California. He had two daughters: Barbara James of Madison, Wisconsin, and Catherine McWilliams of Westchester County, New York.[1]

Controversy[edit]

Famous All Over Town was published in 1983. It tells the story of a Mexican-American family in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Eastside, California, and was initially considered a "highly regarded contribution to Chicano literature".[4] The book was recognized and awarded as an outstanding work of fiction. Hispanic youths found the novel inspiring and considered the main character a role model; they believed in Danny Santiago as a man who had endured situations like their own and had become the author of a best seller.

The book became controversial when an article in the New York Review of Books revealed that the author was Daniel Lewis James from Kansas City, Missouri, and not Mexican-American Danny Santiago who was writing from his personal experience growing up Hispanic in LA.[6], as his readers believed. It is now debated whether the novel can be taken as a straightforward document of the Hispanic experience.[4]

Why did Santiago change his name?[edit]

For two decades, James wrote screen plays as "Daniel Hayatt", and he began using the name "Daniel Santiago" in 1965. James said he changed his name because "...he believed he had been blacklisted after he was identified before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1951 as having been a member of the Communist Party." [5]

His friends had advised him not to use a pseudonym which implied a different ethnicity, but he argued that use of a pseudonym was well understood—Mark Twain and other authors did it—and no harm would come from it. A few of his fellow writers remarked that the pseudonym would not matter if the book was good.[5] His new name was both defended and denounced by Hispanic-American writers.[5]

Laura Browder suggests that Danny Santiago was an alter ego through which James was able to forge a new, strong public identity and to avenge himself against the repressive America that had wrecked his life.[4]

Opinions[edit]

Views differed on the significance of his novel after his public learned that Santiago was not Hispanic. Those who has been inspired by the book became hostile.[4] They believed that, because he was not actually Hispanic, his work no longer mattered. "The problem of how to respond to Famous All Over Town now that it can no longer be taken as a straightforward document of the Hispanic experience has become enmeshed …".[4]

Others had a different perspective. "There is some suggestion that James felt himself to be so close to the members of the Hispanic community that he felt that he could speak from their vantage point".[4] The review in The New York Times described Famous All Over Town as ``an honest, steady novel that presents some hard cultural realities...”

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "KC Native Ruffles Feathers with Hispanic Pen Name", McDowell, Edwin, N.Y. Times News Service. 23 July 1984: 18. Lawrence Journal-World. Web. 27 Feb. 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Author Abandons Pseudonym". Los Angeles Times (Web) (The Register-Guard). 22 July 1984. p. 18D. 
  3. ^ International Fiction Review article
  4. ^ a b c d e f Sun Sentinel article
  5. ^ a b c NY Times 1984 article