Jessamyn West (writer)

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Jessamyn West
West in 1954
West in 1954
BornMary Jessamyn West
(1902-07-18)July 18, 1902
Vernon, Indiana, U.S.
DiedFebruary 23, 1984(1984-02-23) (aged 81)
Napa County, California, U.S.
RelativesRichard 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).[1] A Quaker from Indiana, she graduated from Fullerton Union High School in 1919[2] and Whittier College in 1923.[1][3] There she helped found the Palmer Society in 1921. She received an honorary Doctor of Letters (Litt.D) degree from Whittier College in 1946.[4] She received the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize in 1975.

Personal life[edit]

West was born in Vernon, Indiana, to Eldo Roy West and Grace Anna Milhous.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7]


West's first publication was in 1939, a short story called 99.6 about her experiences in the sanitarium.[3] Her early success came from publishing short stories in literary journals.[5] 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.[3] 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.[8]

The Friendly Persuasion[edit]

The Friendly Persuasion (1945) is West's most well-known work. The 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.[9] To See the Dream, an autobiographical book, described her experiences as the movie's script writer.

Except for Me and Thee, the sequel to The Friendly Persuasion, was adapted into a 1975 television movie, titled Friendly Persuasion, starring Richard Kiley.[10]

Cress Delahanty[edit]

Cress Delahanty (1953) is a collection of short stories about a sensitive and artistic teenage girl growing up in rural Orange County, California. Some of the stories were previously published in magazines including The New Yorker, Woman's Day and The Ladies' Home Journal. The book was a Book of the Month Club selection for January 1954. Los Angeles Times book reviewer Milton Merlin calls it, "a richly rewarding story of five mysterious, unpredictable and adventurous years in a girl's life on a Southern California ranch....Jessamyn West never reaches out for spectacular incidents. She doesn't have to, for growing up has enough excitement, amusement and heartbreak in itself for any novel. This is one that you'll remember and that will make you remember."[11]

Published works[edit]

  • 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


  1. ^ a b "Jessamyn West (American writer) – Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2010-11-29.
  2. ^ list of FUHS Wall of Fame members, accessed 2010-12-16
  3. ^ a b c "Author West Dies in Napa." The Sacramento Bee, Friday, February 24, 1984.
  4. ^ "Honorary Degrees | Whittier College". Retrieved 2019-12-06.
  5. ^ a b Carolyn Doty (Fall 1977). "Jessamyn West, The Art of Fiction No. 67". The Paris Review. Fall 1977 (71).
  6. ^ Meier, Gisela. "Jessamyn West is city's other famous resident." Yorba Linda Star, January 6, 1979. pp 2. Accessed 06-06-2011.
  7. ^ West, Jessamyn. Double Discovery: A Journey New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980; p. 125
  8. ^ Stilley, Joy. "Book is Childhood Dream Come True." Associated Press, Friday, May 30, 1969.
  9. ^ "Friendly Persuasion (1956)." Internet Movie Database.
  10. ^ "Friendly Persuasion (1975)." Internet Movie Database.
  11. ^ Merlin, Milton (10 January 1954). "'Cress Delahanty' Tells Ranch Girl's Struggle with Her Adolescence". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 166584653.

External links[edit]