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Monday, September 12, 2011

Granville Hicks


A previous posting, Small Town, focused on Granville Hicks's most famous book. In this posting, I'm going to touch on Granville Hicks the man and his tie to the Town of Grafton, New York.

Born in 1901 in Exeter, New Hampshire, Hicks was one of the most prominent and important intellectuals for three decades beginning in the 1930s. He authored many articles, reviews and books. His books included many literary critical works, a biography, novels and an autobiography. He was a proponent of Marxism and Communism until the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact in 1939, at which time he renounced his Communism and shifted to milder liberal views. He later warned against the aim of communism being "brutal revolutionary totalitarianism" in a 1954 essay "The Liberals Who Haven't Learned." During the 1950s, Hicks testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee twice. As he got older, his writing became progressively more balanced and humanistic.

Hicks purchased a house (that still stands) at the end of Shaver Pond Road in the Town of Grafton in 1932 while serving as an assistant professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Originally intending the house to be for weekend and summer use only, Hicks was dismissed from RPI in 1935 at which time he moved there full time. RPI claimed his dismissal was due to budgetary retrenchment, while Hicks always maintained it was a result of his Communist views. Nevertheless, it changed his life. He took to the rural lifestyle and wrote the seminal book Small Town. Beginning in 1931, Macmillan Publishing provided him with 35 years of work as a literary advisor allowing him to live decently with his own writings as supplemental income. His work modus operandi mirrored that of those people today who work out of their homes via the Internet. In Hicks's case, the Grafton Post Office was kept extremely busy.

Hicks was the director of the Yaddo artists' community in Saratoga Springs beginning in 1942 and later served as its acting executive director. In the mid-1940s he and his family were instrumental in founding the Grafton Community Library, stocking it with books he had collected during his many years as one of this country's most prominent literary critics. He lived his last few years in New Jersey, where his daughter Stephanie had settled, and passed away in 1982.

"About two miles northwest of the town center, off a rutted, stony dirt road that rose steeply from the highway leading into Grafton from the west, Hicks had discovered an old, story-and-a-half clapboard farmhouse with corrugated iron roof and attached woodshed. In its simple, starkly graceful lines it seemed particularly well-suited to the landscape, blending with the angular lines of the winter maple branches that framed it. From Hicks's first inspection of the place, which stood at an elevation of sixteen hundred feet and provided a view to the east of the Taconics rising a thousand feet higher, he was captivated. That the road leading there could turn into a winding ribbon of mud during the spring rains and could become glazed with ice or clogged with snow in the winter appeared not to diminish his enthusiasm nor did the fact that the house, without electricity, left them dependent on wood, and oil,burning stoves for heat and was without telephone or adequate plumbing." (Levenson, Leah and Jerry Natterstad. Granville Hicks and the Small Town. The Courier 20.2 (1985): 95-112.) 

Most of Granville Hicks' property was purchased by New York State and today is an integral part of Grafton State Park.

Former Granville Hicks Residence
(still standing at the end of Shaver Pond Road in the Town of Grafton)

Plaque on the Hicks Trail
(east of the end of Shaver Pond Rd. near his former house)

Grave site just east of Hicks' former house

Granville and Dorothy Hicks's Grave Maker

Part of the Truth
Read More:
Grafton Lakes State Park Trail Map (note Granville Hicks cemetery and the Granville Hicks Trail)
Granville Hicks (Wikipedia)
Granville Hicks Papers (Syracuse University Library Special Collections)
Hicks, Granville. Part of the Truth: An Autobiography. Harcourt, Brace & World 1965
Levenson, Leah and Jerry Natterstad. Granville Hicks and the Small Town. The Courier 20.2 (1985): 95-112.
Levenson, Leah and Jerry Natterstad. Granville Hicks; The Intellectual in Mass Society. Temple University Press 1993

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