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Bob-'N-Along -- September 14, 1998

Author William Demby wrote of experiences in Clarksburg

I was sent e-mail by Steven B. Yates, who is promotions manager of University Press of Mississippi, stating that an important reprint is forthcoming -- William Demby's "Beetlecreek."

Yates said Demby lived in Clarksburg after 1941 and wrote about his experiences in this area in his novel.

Here's a brief description sent by Yates:

"In 'Beetlecreek' ... William Demby writes a novel that occupies fresh territory between the ghetto realism of Richard Wright and the ironic modernism of Ralph Ellison.

"And it is this territory that James C. Hall (who wrote the afterword of the novel) says is so valuable. The preservation and teaching of only one or two novels from African-American authors writing in 1945-1960. Hall says, 'may be distorting the breadth of African-American intellectual ambition and accomplishment at the height of the Cold War.

"'We need to know more about the variety of strategies that African American writers used to resist the overwhelming pressure to assimilate, to conform and, ultimately, to capitulate.'

"'Beetlecreek,' Demby's first novel, appeared in 1950 to excellent reviews. The New Yorker said, 'It would be hard to give Mr. Demby too much praise for the skill with which he has manipulated the relationships in his book.'

"During the 1960s, Arna Bontemps wrote, 'Demby's troubled townsfolk of the West Virginia mining region foreshadow present dilemmas. The pressing and resisting social forces in this season of our discontent and the fatal paralysis of those of us unable or unwilling to act are clearly anticipated with the dependable second sight of the true artist.'"

Yates went on to say, "In the novel, a young white man from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, moves to a small town in West Virginia and befriends a black carnival worker and his uncle, an aspiring artist forced to paint signs for a living. Rural provincialism and racial attitudes create turmoil and missed opportunities.

"As William Demby says, 'Even after 50 years, more or less, "Beetlecreek" is still about the absence of symmetry in human affairs, the imperfectibility of justice -- the tragic inevitability of mankind's inhumanity to mankind.'

"A student of poets Margaret walker and later Robert Hayden, Demby wrote two other novels --'Love Story Black' and 'The Catacombs.' He was born in 1922 in Pittsburgh and graduated from high school there in 1941 before his family moved to Clarksburg, West Virginia. He now lives in Sag Harbor, New York."

Which brings me to my question. Do any readers remember William Demby and/or members of his family when they resided in Clarksburg? If so and you'd like to send a brief item of your recollection, write to me at: "Bob'n'Along", c/o Bob Stealey, Editor, the Exponent and Telegram, Post Office Box 2000, Clarksburg, W.V. 26302-2000, or by e-mail at

Thanks to Mr. Yates for this information.

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Paul Moses brought me a copy of a ticket to a baseball game that was to be held on Saturday, April 28, 1923, between Salem High School and Washington Irving High. He said he was told there was once quite a rivalry between WI and Salem.

Does anybody recall?