The Portland Phoenix

The Universal Notebook: Conspicuously unpublished

Aside from a brief career as a librarian back in the 1970s, I’ve managed to eke out a modest living as a journalist most of my working life.

Now that it’s almost over, I look back and see that in addition to hundreds of articles in newspapers and magazines, I also spent considerable time writing books that no one will ever read.

That’s either because readers will never find them or because they were never published.

I like to consider myself a conspicuously unpublished novelist. The one novel I did more or less complete, “The Russian Lesson,” is available digitally from Amazon. That’s because I couldn’t find a publisher for a book I worked on for more than 40 years.

“The Russian Lesson” is based on the life of Serge Rossolowsky, a Russian immigrant artist I befriended when I worked at Portland Public Library. No local publisher was interested and the one national publisher who was wanted $15,000 to publish it. That’s when I opted for Amazon, where “The Russian Lesson” is currently No. 2,004,327 on the Amazon bestseller list.

I started thinking about my extensive unpublished oeuvre the other day when I read that Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh had died. Twenty years ago I worked on a book that required me to spend considerable time with Thich Nhat Hanh and his followers at the Green Mountain Dharma Center in Vermont.

Tentatively titled “When You’re Falling, Dive,” the book was to have been a spiritual autobiography of my friend Pritam Singh, who was one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s chief American sponsors. For the record, Thich Nhat Hanh was the most authentically spiritual person I have ever met. I hope Pritam finishes the book one of these days.

“Maine Art Now,” a collection of my reviews, essays, and profiles, actually was published back in 1990. It is currently No. 8,684,958 on the Amazon list. “Maine Art New,” which was to have featured writings by myself and a dozen other writers, was to have been published as a sequel in 2012, but it died a long, miserable death due to personal conflicts. 

Then there is the Neil Welliver monograph I wrote for a New York gallery. I tend to forget about that stillborn project. I seem to recall it was to have been published on the occasion of Welliver’s gift of his own work to a museum, but the gift was never made because the museum would not agree to Neil’s terms. For my part, I got to spend a lot of time in Lincolnville with one of America’s finest contemporary landscape painters.

The bibliography of my journalism over the past 25 years runs to 22 pages and that doesn’t count the previous 15 years at Maine Times, so I have managed to keep busy at the keyboard all these years. I even got a couple of books into print.

“Backyard Maine” (No. 5,206,751) is a collection of these very columns, albeit the most personal and least political ones. And I wrote a little gift book about Maine for the Harry N. Abrams “The Spirit of America” series (currently No. 4,154,887). 

Other than “The Russian Lesson,” however, the only books I wrote cover to cover rather than collected from existing writings are two privately commissioned books I wrote for the Hildreth family. 

“Hardlines” is a history of the Emery-Waterhouse hardware distribution business Charley Hildreth owned. “The Law of the Land” is a history of his cousin Hoddy Hildreth’s environmental activism. We have Hoddy to thank for the fact that there are no oil refineries on the coast of Maine. You might be able to find the Hildreth books at a research library.

Then again, you might not.

Edgar Allen Beem has been writing The Universal Notebook weekly since 2003, first for The Forecaster and now for the Phoenix. He also writes the Art Seen feature.

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