One reason that so much must be thrown out from a biography — or, at least, from my forthcoming biography of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss — is that a lot of research can underwrite a very small fact. For example, I sometimes had to read a book in order to write a single sentence. Another reason is that not all research is conclusive. I know that Crockett Johnson was an editor for several McGraw-Hill trade publications in the 1930s, but I never discovered which ones (company records don’t go back that far, and the publications do not consistently list editorial staff, if they list them at all). Here is something that I’ve rewritten several times and have now just cut. It follows — or used to follow — a sentence conveying the fact that Johnson joined the staff of New Masses in June 1936.
It is unclear whether he left McGraw-Hill for New Masses or continued to work at McGraw-Hill on a part-time basis. There are reasons to believe either. In favor of the former: (1) In a June 1936 letter and a July 1936 letter, New Masses editor Joe Freeman mentions Dave leaving McGraw-Hill to work for them; (2) A. B. Magil, who joined as an editor in 1938, did not remember Dave working outside New Masses; and (3) putting out a weekly issue of New Masses was a full-time job. In favor of the latter: (1)With no prohibition against free-lancing, he had economic incentive to keep his old job (at New Masses, Dave’s salary was only between $20 and $25 per week); (2) in July of 1936, the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) listed him as a new member, employed by McGraw-Hill, and residing at 423 West 21st Street; (3) his 1940 Selective Service Registration lists McGraw-Hill as his employer. McGraw-Hill retains no employment records from this period. Biographical profiles and reference entries either indicate that Dave stayed with McGraw-Hill throughout the 1930s or are evasive (saying that he was “art editor for several magazines,” but not which ones). And none of them mention his involvement with New Masses.
I’d even toyed with the idea of presenting this information in two adjacent columns, thinking that perhaps one could use graphic design to make the facts more interesting. On one side, place evidence for his staying at McGraw-Hill; on the other, place evidence for him leaving. But I understand why readers might want some of the vagaries of the research process to remain invisible. So, all of this is gone — well, nearly all. I’ve retained the salary, and the fact that he may have remained at McGraw-Hill during this period. But that’s it.
For balance’s sake, here’s the pre-revision version of a paragraph on Ruth Krauss and her first husband:
During these years, both Ruth and Lionel are hard to pin down precisely because Lionel liked to move. He and Ruth had several addresses, probably including Dutchess County, New York; Bernardsville and Pittstown, New Jersey; and certainly including Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In 1935 and 1936, Ruth and Lionel lived in Bucks County, in small towns along the Delaware River. They lived on both River Road in Erwinna, and fifteen miles south in New Hope, an artists’ colony made famous by the Pennsylvania Impressionists two decades before. When Lionel and Ruth took up residence, some of these painters were still living there — notably John Folinsbee, Henry Bayley Snell, and William L. Lathrop. While Ruth and Lionel may have met these artists, the two of them had a much more precarious existence.
And here’s what remains of that now:
During these years, Ruth and Lionel moved a lot, living in: Dutchess County, New York; Bernardsville and Pittstown, New Jersey; and Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in small towns along the Delaware River.
The fact that they were living near an artists’ colony comes up a few paragraphs later, and the “precarious existence” forms part of the next sentence in the paragraph (the above sentence now introduces a different paragraph entirely).
I strongly suspect that the minutiae of editing The Purple Crayon and a Hole to Dig: The Lives of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss (forthcoming from UP Mississippi, 2012) has a very limited audience. So, in conclusion, I salute my readers. Both of you. Thanks for stopping by!