Jessamyn West (writer)
Jessamyn West photographed by Johan Hagemeyer in 1954.
July 18, 1902|
Vernon, Indiana, U.S.
February 23, 1984 (aged 81)|
Napa County, California, U.S.
|Relatives||Richard Nixon (second cousin)|
Mary Jessamyn West (July 18, 1902 – February 23, 1984) was an American author of short stories and novels, notably The Friendly Persuasion (1945). A Quaker from Indiana, she graduated from Fullerton Union High School in 1919 and Whittier College in 1923. There she helped found the Palmer Society in 1921.
West was born in North Vernon, Indiana, to Eldo Roy West and Grace Anna Milhous. She was a second cousin of Richard Nixon through her mother's father. Her family left the state to move to California when she was the age of six. The family included two brothers and a sister, Merle, Myron, and Carmen. Growing up in the West Home in the same rural Yorba Linda region as Nixon, West attended a Sunday school class taught by Nixon's father, Frank, whom she described as "a fiery persuasive teacher." She later wrote that Frank Nixon's version of the social gospel inclined her politically toward socialism.
She graduated from Whittier College with an English degree in 1923 and began teaching. That year she also married Harry Maxwell McPherson, whom she had met at the college. They lived in Yorba Linda before West started graduate work at the University of California in 1929. While there, she attended Oxford University briefly, and visited Paris. Prior to her oral exams at Berkeley, she was diagnosed with bilateral tuberculosis. In August 1932, she was sent to a sanitorium, and two years later was sent home to be with her mother because she was not expected to live. While in the hospital, she resumed writing to pass her time. West wrote in her autobiography that she felt she had nothing to live for and was tormented by the lives of those who did, but that her mother shared childhood memories of growing up as a Quaker farm girl in southern Indiana to provide her "a life to live in" while she regained her health. Slowly she began a recovery, but the writing continued.
West lived her last 24 years in Napa Valley California where her husband was a school superintendent. She died from poor health following a stroke at the age of 81. There is a Jessamyn West Park in Yorba Linda which is named for her. 
West's first publication was in 1939, a short story called 99.6 about her experiences in the sanitarium. Her early success came from publishing short stories in literary journals. Her first book concerned Indiana Quakers, despite the fact that she grew up and lived during her adult life in California. Asked about this in an interview, she said, "I write about Indiana because knowing little about it, I can create it." Comparing herself to other authors who created fictional universes, she remarked:
- "Roth wrote The Breast. Would you ask him how he could do this since he had never been a breast? Adams wrote Watership Down. Would you ask him how he could do this since he admitted his rabbit knowledge came from a book about rabbits? ... And those hobbits!... I am a bigger risk-taker than these others. The Hoosiers can contradict me. No rabbit, hobbit, or breast has been known to speak up in reply to their exploiters."
Her stories, although shaped by her imagination, are loosely based on tales told to her by her mother and grandmother of their life in rural Indiana. The Birdwells of her books The Friendly Persuasion and 'Except for Me and Thee' are based on Joshua and Elizabeth Milhous, the great-grandparents she shares with President Nixon.
The Friendly Persuasion
The Friendly Persuasion (1945) is West's most well-known work. New York Times book reviewer Orville Prescott called it "as fresh and engaging, tender and touching a book as ever was called sentimental by callous wretches... There have been plenty of louder and more insistent books this year, but few as sure and mellow as The Friendly Persuasion."
The novel was adapted into the 1956 movie Friendly Persuasion, starring Gary Cooper and directed by William Wyler. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. To See the Dream, an autobiographical book, described her experiences as the movie's script writer.
- The Friendly Persuasion - 1945
- A Mirror for the Sky - 1948
- The Witch Diggers - 1951
- Cress Delahanty - 1953
- Love, Death, and the Ladies' Drill Team - 1955
- To See the Dream
- Love Is Not What You Think - 1959
- South of the Angels - 1960
- The Quaker Reader - 1962
- A Matter of Time - 1966
- Leafy Rivers - 1967
- Except for Me and Thee - 1969
- Crimson Ramblers of the World, Farewell - 1970
- Hide and Seek - 1973
- The Secret Look - 1974
- The Massacre at Fall Creek - 1975
- The Life I really Lived
- The Woman Said Yes - 1976
- Double Discovery
- The State of Stony Lonesome
- Collected Stories of Jessamyn West
- "Jessamyn West (American writer) - Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Britannica.com. Retrieved 2010-11-29.
- list of FUHS Wall of Fame members, accessed 2010-12-16
- "Author West Dies in Napa." The Sacramento Bee, Friday, February 24, 1984.
- Carolyn Doty (Fall 1977). "Jessamyn West, The Art of Fiction No. 67". The Paris Review.
- Meier, Gisela. "Jessamyn West is city's other famous resident." Yorba Linda Star, January 6, 1979. pp 2. Accessed 06-06-2011.
- West, Jessamyn. Double Discovery: A Journey New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980; p. 125
- Stilley, Joy. "Book is Childhood Dream Come True." Associated Press, Friday, May 30, 1969.
- "Jessamyn West dies of stroke at age 81." Yorba Linda Star, March 7, 1984. pp. 5.
- "Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) Yorba Linda Local History". Yorba Linda Public Library. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
- "Friendly Persuasion (1956)." Internet Movie Database.
- "Friendly Persuasion (1975)." Internet Movie Database.
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