The Scarlet Professor

arvin1.jpegOver the weekend I finally finished reading The Scarlet Professor by Barry Werth, a biography of the literary critic and Smith professor Newton Arvin.
Arvin won a National Book Award and wrote several respected biographies — but he’s remembered as the target of a pornography bust in 1960, which targeted him because he was gay. And once he had been confronted, he immediately named a couple other smith instructors who also had some material then considered obscene (pretty tame by our standards, and it was later ruled not obscene but not before the lives of the three men had been ripped apart).
It’s a terrible sad story, especially since you know the whole time where it’s going, but still interesting — and a good reminder of how horribly many gay people suffered, within living memory for many.
The book held special resonance for me since much of it takes place in Northampton, Mass., home of Smith College. I was born in the same hospital where Arvin died (four years afterwards) and grew up in the area. I rode horses and worked at the Smith College stables in high school (right below the state mental hospital where Arvin was admitted multiple times) and my first internship at a ‘real” newspaper was at the Hampshire Gazette in Northampton and my cousin and her family live there today. So I know the place a bit, and it was interesting to read about its social and political climate in the earlier parts of the 20th century. (In a completely gratuitous aside, check out the city of Northampton’s official website, above — and compare it in ease of use and general user-friendliness to, say, the city of Key West site. Not to be all they-do-it-better-where-I-came-from, but …)
Back to the book: It’s in the collection of the Key West library — as soon as I get around to returning it, you can check it out.
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Filed under Key West Library, nonfiction, Uncategorized

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