Biography of American Writer Joe Gould Part 2

About the famous American writer Joe Gould, history and biography of Professor Sea Gull, professed author of the longest book ever written.


Joe Gould (1889-1957)

In 1917 Joe Gould went to New York as assistant police headquarters reporter for the Evening Mail. Nursing a hangover on the sunny steps of the headquarters, he had a vision in which the idea of the Oral History came to him. In exaltation he quit his job and devoted his lift to recording history in the living vernacular. During the 1920s he tried to get his work published in The Dial, the highest-brow magazine of the day. Finally, in its April, 1929, issue a short essay called "Civilization" appeared. This essay, one of the very few Gould works to see print, helped shape the style of a young man of 20 named William Saroyan.

The Oral History, which Gould claimed was made up of spoken life histories listened to by Gould and written down with the aid of his gift of total recall, consisted of chapters with titles like "Examples of the So-Called Dirty Story of Our Time," "The Good Men Are Dying Like Flies," and "Why I Am Unable to Adjust Myself to Civilization. Such As It Is, or Do, Don't Do, Don't, a Hell of a Note." Writing in longhand in composition books such as children use, Joe Gould had 9 million words of verbatim conversations recorded by 1942, when he heard that the Metropolitan Museum had put its most valuable paintings into a bombproof vault. This inspired Gould to make oilcloth covers for bales of his manuscripts, which he stored in the stone cellar of a Long Island farmhouse.

Or did he?

The manuscript has not been located, which prompts skeptical critics to conclude that the Oral History was no more than an elaborate hoax concocted by Joe Gould to help him cadge drinks. Joseph Mitchell, who Gould had talked into writing in The New Yorker that the Oral History existed without having seen it, wrote a book many years later admitting that no one else had ever seen it either. Gould's life prompted many articles and studies, but his work has yet to fulfill his prediction that a couple of generations after his death he would be hailed as the most brilliant historian of the century, and that sections of the Oral History would last as long as the English language. Whether or not Joe Gould ever quite got around to writing down his Oral History, he certainly lived it. This phenomenon is not unique. Yeats said every artist must choose between the life and the work, and Oscar Wilde said he put only his talent in his writings but his genius in his talk.

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