Joseph Gerard Dever
PERHAPS THE BEST WAY TO REVEAL
ONE'S TRUE self to anyone who might be interested lies in attempting
to describe what one would truly like to be. The reader, then,
can be depended upon to peek behind the camouflage.
In writing about one's own
writing career, one can act as though a feature writer were doing
For a true understanding of
this or any author, I would advise an interviewer to read the
published work of the subject. In my case, if the profiler had
the time and interest, I would suggest that he talk to a few
old friends and critics like Jesuit Fathers William 3. Leonard
and John L. Bonn of Boston College, John Cogley of The Commonweal,
Professor John Pick of Marquette, and the book editors, Bernard
Wirth of Bruce and Ken McCormick of Doubleday; and last, but
by no means least, my old friend and patron, Father Harold C.
Gardiner, S.J., of America. I would also like to add the
names of Robert and Mary Muse, of Boston, who have been generous
and loyal patrons of my work over a period of twenty years.
Back in 1944, as a twenty-four
year old Air Force GI, my story "Fifty Missions" won
the Yank short story contest over some five hundred GI contestants
all over the world. After winning this prize, my writing career
took a good leap forward. This vignette-like story says more
about my younger days than one can say in a piece like this.
It was done nationally on TV by the Catholic Hour and can still
be read in The Best from Yank (Dutton) and in Sister Mariella
Gable's anthology Our Father's House (Sheed).
In my first novel, No Lasting
Home (Bruce, 1947), one can read the old, passionate story
of an impoverished Irish youth escaping a tenement neighborhood
for the stern but generous patronage of a Jesuit college. Here
too one can find the age-old theme of the big brother sacrificing
to give the younger brother a chance at a better life.
One might note in my second
novel, A Certain Widow (Bruce, 1951), a passion for Boston
politics, an understanding of juvenile delinquency, and a fascination
with the complexities of an Irish matriarch who drives one son
into an ill-fated vocation for the priesthood and coddles the
other son into a rebellious marriage with a blue-blood divorcee.
Because of the need for finishing
the book, the author took flight with his wife and three children
to a decrepit seven-acre ranch in Colorado, leaving behind him
a good job and a fine home in Chicago. Many a novelist can tell
you that often the price of finishing a book is simply financial
A Certain Widow was completed after four alternatingly
bitter and lovely months in the beautiful mountain country of
the San Luis valley in Colorado. Then followed a long and arduous
trip back to Boston in an old Ford, with a half-ton trailer clacking
along behind, loaded with the sum total of one's earthly goods.
If two novels could be written
about Boston, from the distant, focusing perspective of the West
and the Midwest, surely the novel I wanted to write about Chicago
could be written from the perspective of the east coast.
Vitally interested in unionism
and its part in the social order, I took a job as a supply-room
clerk in a large electronics plant and served as a union steward
while working on my third novel, Three Priests (Doubleday, 1958),
for almost five years. This story fictionizes some vital aspects
of the American Catholic social revolution, as focused in the
core-center of this movement in Chicago, and with major character
emphasis on the life of a Chicago bishop who willy-nilly became
a standard bearer for social action.
Father Gardiner, writing in
America, termed it "a bird's-eye view of Catholic social
action in America during the past thirty years"; and the
London Times Book Section, in a special edition on the
American imagination (November 1959), bracketed it with two other
novels on Jewish and Protestant public life, as an exampie of
"religious enthusiasm in America."
Even the solid success of this
work as a Catholic best-seller did not insure the author and
his family against insecurity. Financial insecurity is the familiar
climate of most full-time writers. A writer chooses the stony,
climbing trail if he is determined to say what he wants to say.
He is no plaster saint. He makes an easy, sometimes a desperate
dollar here and there, writing the slick, comforting things,
but he is repeatedly doomed to falling back on his publisher
for a subsidy to get on with his real work.
I have found in ghosting political
speeches a source of stable income; but I can also say that even
this tends to inhibit and corrupt the creative impulse.
There are all sorts of sophisticated
Catholics who sneer at the term "Catholic novelist,"
but it really does have practical and professional meaning. One
can write a Catholic novel and still conform to the objective
canons of the form. By that I mean that one primarily strives
to establish "entertainment" as the primary purpose
of the novel and lets the "pot of message" fall where
The majority testimony of the
book reviewers, regardless of any of the faults of my novels,
have largely been that they are readable and entertaining. The
solid sales record of all three books in their original hardcover
prices, and as regular choices of major Catholic book clubs,
would tend to bear out this statement.
No matter what the Old Adam
in me, my life is saturated with Catholicism on every level.
My wife and five children are the same-Catholic to the core.
So, how can I heed the advice of the sophisticated who think
that I am wasting genuine talent writing Catholic novels and
who urge me to write about things that are not identified with
the public and private life of the Church in America?
For the vital statistics department,
may I say that I was born in 1919, in Somerville, Massachusetts,
a suburb of Boston; I graduated from Boston College in 1942,
served in the Air Force as a camp newspaperman, wrote for Yank,
America, Commonweal, The Sign, and have since contributed
regularly to the Catholic Press.
Like many other writers, my
employment career has been a checkered one. I have been a fiction
editor for the Bruce Publishing Co. (1946-48), a teacher at Marquette
University and Boston College Intown, an administrative assistant
to Bishop Bernard J. Sheil of Chicago, an assistant editor of
a national thoroughbred horse magazine; I held the Funk &
Wagnalls Literary Fellowship at Middlebury College, Vermont;
I have been founding president of an AFL industrial union, and
have served as Massachusetts publicity director of the StevensonKefauver
Committee in 1956. I am presently public relations assistant
to Massachusetts Registrar of Motor Vehicles, Clement A. Riley.
With the patient encouragement
of my lovely wile, Margaret Kermode Dever, I have just completed
my fourth novel.
This book is more generally
autobiographical in that it is preoccupied with the problems,
the joys, and challenges of young-marrieds, mostly Catholics
in my own generation.
A final word: when I am long-gone,
if anyone will write in reputable print that my novels have authentically
reflected something substantial concerning the human side of
Catholicism in America, I will feel that all this struggle has
not been in vain.
published in The Book of Catholic Authors, Walter Romig,
Sixth Series, 1960.