John Crawford Remembrance


Photo by Miriam Sagan, Tres Chicas Books

John Crawford (1940-2019), professor emeritus, University of New Mexico, died on January 1, 2019 at the age of 78.  John was an editor, scholar, writer, publisher, activist, and teacher. His knowledge of literature was encyclopedic. He was general editor of the Bedford Anthology of World Literature and a contributing editor to Oxford’s American Working-Class Literature. A fine writer who never got around to writing his own memoir, although many of his friends urged him to do so, John lived a deeply political and intellectual life, complicated by many physical challenges.

John Crawford was a great friend to Working-Class Studies, having published worker writers long before this organization came into existence. Even if you have not met him personally, many of you know him as publisher of West End Press and his list of 150 or so titles of poetry, drama and fiction. The origin of West End Press is a typical John Crawford story.  It began by John as West End Magazine around 1971 while he was a grad student at Columbia University and frequented The West End Bar, located on Broadway, across from Columbia University. A native Californian, John carried the name, West End Press, established in 1975, from New York to the Midwest to Albuquerque. The range of writers he published constitutes a small history of working-class and multicultural writing, including Meridel LeSueur, Thomas McGrath, Don West, Pablo Neruda, and Cherrie Moraga. His relationship with Meridel and the LeSueur family highlights a hidden radical history of farmer/laborer politics in the early 20th century in the American Midwest that challenges contemporary assumptions about coastal thinking and Midwest conservatism.

Voice was very important to John Crawford.  By voice he meant writing from within one’s life experience.  He was concerned that the multi-cultural working classes have opportunities to be heard in their own words from their own perspective. “It’s not just a matter of dignity, it’s completely one of accuracy,” he said.

And then there is John’s own voice. This is from his proposal to present at a 2005 Working-Class Studies conference in Youngstown, Ohio:

The history of the working class in America is a fighting history.  It has been ignored or elided in most of our history books.  We need to recapture that history.  We need to show how economic relations first created, then exploited the working class . . . .

We need to study the artistic representation of the working class . . . .We need to study the history of the body under stress. We need to study the vulnerability of the working class in other respects, from childhood hunger to a lifetime job in a factory to service in the wars to imprisonment.  We need to study class in real relationship to race and gender, as a principal site of victimization and oppression . . . .

We need to see that ‘family values’ are not inventions of the bourgeoisie, but that working class life is a constant struggle to keep the family connection open, to find community and solidarity in numbers, and to resist alienation, economic dispersal, and spiritual impoverishment.  We need to understand the place of celebration, optimism, and spirituality in the midst of all working class struggles for survival.  …”

I wish to give the last word about John to one of the poets he published at West End, Jason L. Yurcic.  I quote from Yurcic’s dedication in his book of poems, Odes to Anger:

To John Crawford who may think his job is to edit and publish books, but in reality has walked into the darkness of my heart with a kind smile, kindled the spirit fire with knowledge, helped the embers of hope to come alive, and is dancing around the flames of my creation asking nothing in return.  Thank you.

Janet Zandy

September 2019