Crockett Johnson: A Quiet Man

I’m posting another Crockett Johnson artifact to commemorate the completion of the latest (and, I hope, final) round of revisions to The Purple Crayon and a Hole to Dig: The Lives of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss (forthcoming from UP Mississippi, 2012). I just finished this evening.

One of the greatest challenges in writing the Crockett Johnson half of the biography is that he lacked any autobiographical impulse. Krauss wrote roughly 150 pages about herself; Johnson wrote none.  She was effusive; he was reticent.  This letter, which Marcia Ascher kindly shared with me, is a case in point:

Crockett Johnson, letter from 6 March 1943

Asked for details about his life, Johnson suggests that she look at a recent Newsweek article or quote from a fictional character — Barnaby’s loquacious con artist of a fairy godfather, Mr. O’Malley. Granted, he is responding to a ten-year-old fan’s query for her school project; he may not have had time to compose a full autobiography. Still, this sort of self-effacing response is typical of Johnson. You might say that his succinct, minimalist aesthetic extends even to casual self-expression.

If you did, you would be partially correct. When he’s writing satirically, he can approach a verbosity of O’Malley-esque proportions.  I’ll post an example of that some other time.

4 Comments »

  1. Susan T. Said,

    August 11, 2010 @ 2:03 pm

    I look forward to reading that book! I’m a longtime admirer of the University Press of Mississippi, too.

    Do you know if Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss lived in Westport, CT? I seem to remember that they lived in Rowayton but wasn’t sure about Westport (my town).

  2. Philip Nel Said,

    August 11, 2010 @ 2:14 pm

    They lived in both places. Johnson only lived in Westport for a few years — they moved to Westport in the summer of 1972, and he died in the summer of 1975. Krauss lived there until she passed away, in 1993.

    Hope you enjoy the book! It’s taken me ten years to write, and is expected out in the spring of 2012. From time to time, I’ll post Johnson-and-Krauss related info. here — mostly, items I’ve not included in the bio., but also a few “teasers” from the bio.

  3. Susan T. Said,

    August 12, 2010 @ 11:25 am

    That’s interesting! Looks like I missed Ruth Krauss’s years here by only a short time. If you need any (amateur) pics of houses, let me know! I’ve heard that Richard Scarry lived here, too. I’ll have to check that out.

  4. Philip Nel Said,

    August 14, 2010 @ 11:37 pm

    Thanks, Susan. For inclusion in the bio., I have a 1959 photo of Johnson and Krauss in front of their Rowayton home. I’m afraid I won’t have room for an additional photo of solely the Westport house. Were there a photo of the two of them at the Westport house, then that would be interesting, of course. But thanks just the same!

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