Category Archives: Americana

“Cormac McCarthy’s Early Proofs: How to Tell the Real from the Fake” – Another Blog by Our Friend Scott Brown

Cormac McCarthy has a devoted following of readers & collectors, and as such, this Pulitzer-Prize winning author has drawn the interest of those who prey on such collectors.  My ABAA colleague, Scott Brown, in a recent blog, identifies and discusses some fake McCarthy proofs recently discovered in the market.  In an effort to disseminate this bibliographic information to a wider audience in the hopes of precluding the perpetuation of any further fraud, we share this information with you.  

Finally, as one of my other colleagues is known remark, “Be careful out there.”

Kind regards,


Forged proofs1 exist for many of Cormac McCarthy’s books. They have fooled major McCarthy collectors, top dealers in first editions, and specialist book auction houses. You can read how I came across these fakes in my regular Dispatch newsletter.

This list is intended to help collectors and booksellers identify fake proofs of the first editions of Cormac McCarthy’s first five novels, the ones published before the break-out success of All the Pretty Horses in 1992.

Please contact Downtown Brown Books or post a comment to this post if you have corrections or questions about this list.

The starting point for this project was an attempt to compile a list of all the proofs of Cormac McCarthy’s novels known to exist before the forged proofs began to appear in the 2010s. I found two reliable pre-2010 sources for information on McCarthy proofs:

  • The Author Price Guide (APG) for Cormac McCarthy published by the booksellers Quill and Brush in 2004. For more than a decade the authors, Allen and Patricia Ahearn, compiled every catalog reference to McCarthy. Any book not seen by them should be considered suspect.
  • The J. Howard Woolmer Cormac McCarthy collection at the Wittliff Collection at Texas State University (TXST) in San Marcos. Woolmer began collecting McCarthy in 1969. He was a bookseller and a respected bibliographer. He sold his McCarthy collection to TXST in 2006. If he didn’t have an early published McCarthy item in his collection, it should be considered suspect.

“Suspect” does not necessarily mean forged. If a particular proof does not conform to the known real proofs or forgeries described below, a careful examination should be made to determine its authenticity.

In addition to the pre-forgery sources I located, I also consulted Ken Lopez, a specialist in modern first editions who focused on McCarthy early on and who also deals in uncorrected proofs.2 This bibliography would not have been possible without his considerable assistance. Ken and his photographer, Brendan Devlin, examined a large number of forgeries about 2013, took photos, and generously shared them with me. The collector Umberto La Rocca, who has done archival research on McCarthy’s proofs, willingly answered questions for me. A number of other dealers and collectors offered opinions and advice. The conclusions, however, are my own.

Observations on Known Forgeries

For Cormac McCarthy’s first five books, there are more distinct forged proofs than there are real proofs for those novels. (There are also forgeries of proofs of All the Pretty Horses and other books. I will add them in the future, as time permits).

This list was compiled without my ever seeing a forgery in person. I was unable to convince anyone to loan me one to examine, nor were any of the current owners willing to describe in detail the make-up of their forgeries. The conclusions rely on visual evidence from photographs supplemented with the memories of people who have seen them in the past and the surviving archival evidence. But that is more than enough. Once you know what to look for, the forgeries are obvious, it’s figuring out what to look for that is hard.

My analysis of the methods of manufacture devised by the forger are based on the information preserved by Ken Lopez and Brendan Devlin. However, there are variants in the forged proofs that indicate that fakes were produced at different times and the methods used might have changed.

So far, the fabricated UK proof of Suttree is the only forgery that appears to have been done in any sort of edition. I have located three or perhaps four identical or nearly identical copies; presumably there are more. The other fake proofs seem to have been made in smaller batches or perhaps one at a time. Where I have found more than one forgery for a particular proof, it is clear they were made at different times with different cover designs.

The big problem facing the forger of an entire book is how to produce the hundreds of pages required. In most (if not all) cases, the forgeries incorporate printed pages extracted from real books.

In some cases, the forger used first editions of the Cormac McCarthy’s novels to make fraudulent proofs. This was a reasonable choice because at least two real McCarthy proofs are made from the sheets of first edition books. The invented Chatto & Windus proof of Suttree seems to have used a paperback edition. When dismantled hardcover first editions were used to create forgeries, the forger appears to have variously used ex-library, remaindered, and later printing books for the text block of the fakes. These would have been cheaper to procure. Some forgeries also show evidence that the page block edges were sanded, perhaps to remove library or remainder marks. The UK proofs may have been made from American books, which also would have required the replacement of the title page.

Whatever the source, the sheets (pages) were then glued into paper covers printed with an invented or copied design. In a few cases (the least convincing forgeries), rubber stamps were created to add authenticity to the finished product. There is also evidence that false foxing (spotting) was added to the edges of proofs to make them look older than they are.

For the forgeries of books originally printed in the 1960s to the 1980s, the use of computer fonts is obvious to a practiced eye. But not everyone has a practiced eye so based on Ken Lopez’s photographs taken in the early 2010s, I have identified three hallmarks of the forgeries that can be observed without special training or experience. It is possible, however, that the forgeries improved over time and that these techniques are not sufficient to identify all forged McCarthy proofs. Any collector of McCarthy proofs should be exceptionally careful.

Hallmark 1: The Replacement of the Title/Copyright Leaf

For reasons that are still not completely clear, the forger regularly replaced the title/copyright leaf in the fake proofs with a modern printed sheet.

Hallmark 2: Amateurish Binding

The forger was not an experienced bookbinder and does not appear to have had access to professional equipment. As a consequence, there is a homemade look to the bindings (at least the ones seen by Ken Lopez early on—the forger may have improved over time).3 Real proofs are professionally made in almost every case. They are, after all, produced by companies who make books for a living. The design may be simple and the text pages may show corrections, but the books themselves are manufactured, not assembled by clerks with glue sticks.

The fake proofs for which images are available also show a mixture of glues, the original glue used to bind the real book and new glue used to attach the sheets to the paper proof covers.

The inserted title/copyright leafs often protrude from the rest of the page block. Inserting new leaves into an already-bound book is a binding skill that requires practice to do invisibly. The forger did not have enough practice.

Examples of fake Cormac McCarthy proofs showing inserted pages that don’t match the color of the other paper and which protrude beyond the edge of the page block. Note also the gaps between the sheets and the covers and the odd glue residue. [Images courtesy of Ken Lopez]

Hallmark 3: The Use of Color Inkjet Technology for Black-and-White Printing

Many color inkjets print blacks using all four ink colors by default (the printer manufacturers say these blacks are richer; I suspect they want users to consume more ink cartridges). The forger was apparently unaware of this and consistently printed in full color. Under magnification, tell-tale spots of cyan (blue), magenta, and yellow inks can be clearly seen on the pages printed by the forger. Similar anachronistic printing can be seen on some of the covers, but this is harder to spot when the fake covers are printed on colored paper.

Under magnification, many of the fake McCarthy proofs show spots of color, artifacts of the modern desktop printing equipment used to make them. [Images courtesy of Ken Lopez]

A Pictorial Guide to Real and Fake Proofs of Cormac McCarthy’s First Five Novels


Random House (1965)

Real US Proof

Covers: Light colored printed wrappers (paper covers), variously described as gray or buff. The paper has a faint vertical pattern.

Page Block: Folded and gathered signatures glued into paper covers. You should be able to clearly see the “loops” of the gatherings (also called signatures).

Notes: Since this proof is made with real folded and gathered sheets, it is better described as an advance reading copy (ARC).4 In this it resembles many of the phony proofs. The real version of the proof does not have a tipped in title page. The text paper color and texture should be the same throughout the book.

This proof is listed in the Ahearns’ APG (McCarthy no. 001a) and a copy is found in the Woolmer collection. No fake copies of this proof have been located but they could exist.

REAL: The advance reading copy (ARC) of The Orchard Keeper (Random House, 1965). Bound from folded and gathered signatures in buff-gray paper wrappers. [Images from Between the Covers (l) and First and Fine (r)]

Real UK Proof

Andre Deutsch (1966)

Covers: Proof version of the UK dust jacket with “For Publication/Mar 1966/Andre Deutsch Ltd. Finished Jacket Will Be Varnished” in bold purple lettering on the inside of the front cover (the back or verso of the jacket)..

Page Block: Folded and gathered sheets from the first American edition glued into wrappers made from the trial dust jacket. Green top edge. With a Random House title page.

Notes: This description is from the Ahearns’ APG (#001c), citing a for-sale offering from Waiting for Godot Books in April 2004.

The UK proof of The Orchard Keeper with publication information stamped on the inside front cover (a trial dust jacket used as wrappers). [Courtesy of a private collector]

Forgery of the UK Proof

Covers: Bright yellow printed wrappers in a dust jacket.

Page Block: Signatures, with a tipped in title/copyright leaf printed with a color inkjet printer.

Notes: This proof cannot be a second variant of an Andre Deutsch proof because it includes a false title page printed using twenty-first century technology.

The ink stamp on the cover also has an anachronistic element: the straight single quote in the word “printer’s”. Straight quotes were based on typewriter fonts that were ported to early word processors; they were not in general use before the desktop computer era.

The jacket on this proof could be real, but it is more likely a modern recreation.

FAKE: (Left to Right) Cover of a forged UK proof of The Orchard Keeper. Detail of the page block showing sanding near the spine and glue residue left after the sheets were removed from a hardcover book. The jacket (possibly real) wrapped around the proof. Detail of the straight apostrophe that give the computer-generated origin of the rubber stamp. [Images from Ken Lopez]



No proofs of Outer Dark were made by either Random House in the US or Andre Deutsch in the UK. All Outer Dark proofs should be presumed to be fakes until proven otherwise.

Random House: A search of internet book marketplaces suggests that Random House produced very few paperback proofs in the late 1960s so the lack of a proof of this novel is not especially surprising.

In the late 1960s, Random House instead tended to produce unbound galleys of forthcoming books. Such an advance issue is known for Outer Dark. Galleys are long narrow sheets output from the typesetting equipment of the era. The Ahearns recorded an unbound set of galleys in their APG (#002a), and copies are found in Cormac McCarthy’s archive at TXST.

The collector Howard Woolmer unsuccessfully sought a proof of Outer Dark for many years, and in his papers at TXST is a copy of a letter he wrote to Ken Lopez in 1988 seeking information about this proof.

Forgeries of the US Proof

Two different fake proofs for Outer Dark are known.


Covers: Cream-colored printed wrappers with the title on one line. Information sheet taped to cover (replicating real examples of later McCarthy proofs). Tapebound spine

Page Block: Folded and gathered signatures glued into paper covers. Title/copyright leaf printed on an inkjet and tipped in.5


Covers: Title on two lines. The cover design uses a typeface that is not characteristic of printing in the 1960s. The lower half of the cover copies the design of the real proof of The Orchard Keeper.

Page Block: Unknown

FAKES: (Left) The Style 1 forged proof of Outer Dark. (Top) Detail of the cover sheet and the logo on the cover that both show spots of color from inkjet printing. (Bottom) A detail of the page block with the tipped-in white title page sticking up at the left and unconvincing glue residue at the spine. (Right) A partial cover of the Style 2 forged Outer Dark proof with the title on two lines and a lower half that copies the real Orchard Keeper ARC. [Images from Reddit user howtocookawolf (right) and Ken Lopez]

Forgery of the UK Proof

Covers: Tan printed wrappers with the phrase “uncorrected first proof” at the top of the front cover. The tan wrappers on copy of this fake examined by Ken Lopez were printed on white paper (why the forger didn’t just use tan paper cannot be readily explained).

Page Block: Bound from folded and gathered signatures; tipped in title/copyright leaf printing on a color inkjet printer.

Notes: The description of this undoubted forgery is based on an examination of an fake proof seen by Ken Lopez.

Another copy of this proof was sold at auction on December 10, 2019 by Fonsie Mealy as part of lot 716, a group of books from the Philip Murray collection of Cormac McCarthy. The purchaser was a UK bookseller, who consigned it to Forum Auctions in Lonon, which sold the book with a fake UK Child of God proof (see below) on November 30, 2023 for £1,512 (about $1,900).6

I considered the possibility that the Murray Outer Dark proof might have been real and the source of the fake seen by Ken Lopez. Looked at on their own, the fake UK Outer Dark proofs look plausible, until you compare them with other proofs from the same publisher from about the same time.

FAKE: A forged UK Outer Dark proof alongside contemporary real proofs from the same publisher. The text “uncorrected first proof” gives this British proof away. That text is copied from the real American proof of McCarthy’s next novel.

A strong argument can be made that the Murray copy was also fake, from the cover design alone without knowing how it was constructed.

The key give-away is the phrase “uncorrected first proof” on the cover. This is not typical wording for any proof, let alone an Andre Deutsch proof from the early 1970s.

This phrase comes from Random House, McCarthy’s American publisher, which used that descriptor on proofs for a brief period in the early 1970s, including the real proof of Child of God (1973). Thus, the forger faked a 1970 British proof using a distinctive design element from an American proof published three years later.

There are other elements that don’t pass the sniff test. The addition of the superfluous “by” in front of the author’s name; the italicization of Cormac McCarthy, copied from the Random House proof of The Orchard Keeper; and the use of a contrasting font for the publisher’s name (Andre Deutsch did not have a standard typeface for its proof covers, but it typically used just one type family for the entire text).

The Philip Murray / Fonsie Mealy / Forum proof is thus almost certainly fake. Forum Auctions told me they were going to issue a refund to the purchaser, an American.



Real US Proof

Random House (1973)

STATE 1: Without Information Sheet

Cover: Red printed wrappers with a double rule in the center. The double rule is slightly wavy. The Random House logo is hand drawn.

Page Block: Unknown (I haven’t been able to confirm if it is perfectbound or bound from folded and gathered signatures).

Notes: This proof of Child of God is recorded in the Ahearns’s APG (#003a). The catalog entry for the copy in the Woolmer collection does not mention the information sheet..

STATE 2: With Information Sheet Taped to Front Cover.

State 2 is the same as State 1, but it has a photocopied information sheet taped to the cover. Heritage Auctions sold a Random House proof of Child of God on October 16, 2009. It did not have and information sheet but it had surface scars where the tape used to be.

Notes: A distinctive feature of this proof is the wording “uncorrected first proof” on the cover, a particular phrasing that appeared on Random House proofs in the early 1970s and rarely on proofs at any other time or by any other publisher.

A REAL (left) and a FAKE Style 1 (right) Random House proof of Child of God. There are subtle differences between them. For example, the line spacing between the author’s first and last names is slightly larger in the fake. However, the easy way to tell them apart is that the FAKE proof (center, top) has a pair of neat, straight lines. The REAL proof (center, bottom) has a wavy double rule. [Images from Ken Lopez. The real proof image dates to 2006 or before.]

Forgeries of the US Proof

Two different forgeries of this proof are known.


Covers: Red printed wrappers designed to look very similar to the real US proof. The easiest way to distinguish the two are to look closely at the double rule (line) between the title and the author. The forged rules are computer generated and perfectly straight. The real proof has slightly wavy lines.

Page Block: Folded and gathered signatures with an inkjet-printed title/copyright leaf. The sheets appear to have come from a hardcover copy of the book.


Covers: Red printed wrappers with a design similar to the real Random House proof of The Orchard Keeper and the fake Random House proof of Outer Dark. The distinguishing features between this fake style and the real proof are 1) the real proof was a slightly wavy double rule between the author and the title where this fabrication has a tapered rule; and 2) the real proof uses a hand-drawn logo while the forgery uses a more standard publisher’s logo, probably copied from the Random House Orchard Keeper proof.7

Page Block: Unknown

Notes: As with several other fake proofs, this style can be condemned from its cover design, which is copied from the American proof of The Orchard Keeper. Most likely, this forgery was made before the forger had access to the real proof.

The partial photograph I have found of this style shows a copy that has the order “destroy” rubberstamped many times on the cover.8 The fact that this proof pretends to have been destined for the trash bin made it easier to overlook its design flaws.

FAKE Style 2: A partial image of a different forgery of the Random House proof of Child of God. This example uses the wrong logo and a single tapered rule, both copied from the proof of The Orchard Keeper from eight years earlier. [Image from Reddit user howtocookawolf]

Forgeries of the UK Proof

No legitimate UK proofs of Child of God are known to exist. No copies were recorded in the Ahearns’s APG or in the Woolmer collection. The collector Umberto La Rocca spent time researching this proof in the Chatto & Windus archive at the University of Reading. He told me that there is no record of a proof being printed for this book.


Covers: Heavily textured paper. The publisher’s logo is closer to the bottom of the front cover.

Page Block: Folded and gathered signatures with a tipped in title/copyright leaf printed with a color laserjet printer.

FAKE UK Child of God proofs. Style 1 (left) and Style 2 (right). [Images from Ken Lopez and Forum Auctions.]


The Style 2 UK proof proves that fake proofs were made over time (and not in a single act of forgery).

Cover: Lightly textured paper, with the publisher’s name closer to the bottom of the front cover.

Page Block: Unknown.

Notes: An example of fake Style 2 of the UK proof of Child of God came out of the Philip Murray collection auctioned by Fonsie Mealy in 2019. It later sold at Forum Auctions (2023), a sale cancelled by the auctioneer when the forgery came to light.

While this style of proof has not been examined closely, it can be condemned by its cover design.

Stylistically, this proof is atypical of other proofs from Chatto & Windus from the mid-1970s as the title text is based on the dust jacket design, a feature not seen on any other proofs from the era. In addition, it has a text box noting this copy is “the property of the publisher and not for sale.” This wording and the formatting appears to be based on the real Picador proof for Blood Meridian, which wouldn’t be published for another decade.

A distinguishing feature of the McCarthy forger’s design work are elements that are copied from proof to proof, publisher to publisher, and country to country in a way not seen in real proofs by other authors or among the real proofs for Cormac McCarthy. Proofs typically conform the publisher’s current house style and not to previous or future proofs for other books and different editions.

(Upper left) A Style 2 forged proof from the Philip Murray collection sold twice at auction, with proofs of other books from the same publisher within two years of its supposed publication.



Real US Proof

Random House (1979)


Covers: Red printed wrappers without an information sheet taped to the front cover.

Page Block: Unknown

Notes: I have not found an image of the proof without the information sheet. A copy of this proof is listed in the Ahearns’ APG (#004a). A copy is also recorded in the Woolmer collection which is apparently State 1, with a “book synopsis” laid in. No forgery of this proof has been reported.


Same as State 1 but with an information sheet taped to the front cover.

Notes: No forgery of this proof has been reported.

REAL. US Suttree proof, state 2. [Image from Heritage Auctions, 2014]

Forgery of the UK Proof

No proof of this book was issued and any book purporting to be a proof should be considered extremely suspect.

Covers: Red textured printed wrappers, with the title reproducing the title-page design.

Page Block: Perfectbound. Umberto La Rocca has identified the page block of at least one copy are coming from the 1992 Vintage Books paperback which omitted the acknowledgements page which is opposite the copyright page in all other editions. The title page is recreated using a slightly wrong font (see below). The page block may be from a paperback copy or perhaps photocopied from a paperback copy.

FAKE British Suttree proofs (possibly the same copy photographed a decade apart). Two other examples of this proof have been located, bringing the total to either three or four (if the pictures are of different books) known examples. More are likely.

Notes: The UK first edition of Suttree was made in the US from finished American books. The title/copyright leaf was removed and new one with the British publisher’s name was tipped in (in technical book terms, the title leaf is a cancel). The spine of the UK first edition says Random House, not Chatto & Windus. Chatto & Windus designed and printed a different dust jacket for the novel.

It does not seem logical for Chatto & Windus to produce a proof of the novel when they didn’t even bother to put their name on the outside of the finished book. The collector Umberto La Rocca says that there is no record of Chatto & Windus producing a proof for their edition of Suttree in the publisher’s archive at the University of Reading.

The cover design of the fake proof is not characteristic of Chatto & Windus proofs of the era, which use straightforward typesetting, just like the American proofs. Further condemning this proof is the fact that the copyright page is a re-creation of the real UK title page, but the font is wrong.

(Left) Details of the copyright page of the first Chatto & Windus edition of Suttree. (Right) Details of the forged UK proof, with the publisher’s name misspelled (“Wundis”) at the top and the wrong typeface for the numbers below. Another copy (not pictured) has the publisher’s name spelled correctly but the font appears to be the same as the known forgery. [Images from The Rare Book Sleuth (real) and Burnside Rare Books (fake)]

A Note on Foxing

A known fake of the UK edition of Outer Dark has heavy foxing on the page edges. The forged UK Suttree proof photographed by Ken Lopez in the early 2010s and the Paul Ford/BooksCurious/Burnside Rare Books copy that I wrote about in my newsletter also had foxing on the top edge (they may be the same copy, but the photographs are not clear enough to say for sure).

The Suttree foxing may be faked; it has the appearance of a coffee splatter. The forger may have used this and other fake aging techniques to disguise the recent printing of the proof covers.

Bottom Left: Real foxing on a fake proof. Circles: Details of probably fake foxing on fake proofs.



Real US Proof

Random House (1985)


Covers: Printed yellow wrappers without an information sheet on the cover.

Page Block: Perfectbound

A copy of this proof is found in the Woolmer collection with an information sheet laid in. It is also listed in the Ahearns’ APG (#005a). No forgery of this proof has been reported.


Same as State 1 but with an information sheet taped to the front cover.

Notes: No forgery of this proof has been reported.

Two states of the US proof of Blood Meridian. [Images from Heritage Auctions and Books4Ewe]

Real UK Proof

Picador (1989)

Covers: Red printed wrappers.

Page Block: Uncertain. The cover says the page block is printed on “proofing paper.” How this is different from regular paper is unclear.

Notes: A copy of this proof is listed in the Ahearns’ APG (#005c) and a copy can be found in the Woolmer collection at TXST.

Fake UK Proof

The cover of the forged proof of the Picador edition of Blood Meridian is the best of the fakes. The most obvious difference is that the publisher’s logo is closer to the bottom edge on the fake than on the real proof.

Covers: Printed red textured wrappers.

Page Block: Bound from folded and gathered signatures from a hardcover book.

REAL proof on the left; forgery on the right. The typefaces used are not quite the same but the most obvious difference is the placement of the publisher’s logo. The fake proof’s logo is positioned somewhat lower than on the real proof. [Images from First and Fine (left) and Ken Lopez (right)]


Forgeries of Other McCarthy Proofs

Faked copies of the UK proofs of All the Pretty Horses and The Stonemason exist. There are also fakes of a fictitious illustrated edition of Blood Meridian and of a supposedly scrapped signed, limited edition of The Road.

Be careful out there.

—Scott Brown, Updated April 10, 2024


The Realism of Stephen Crane

We thought we’d start off a very autumnal month like November with an in-depth look at an author read country-wide… oftentimes in the fall school semester for required High School reading! Stephen Crane, the author of The Red Badge of Courage, continues to captivate readers of all ages, all over the country. Published in 1895, this novel doesn’t only have an engrossing (according to my sophomore year lit teacher) narrative, but it truly is an in-depth exploration of human nature, war… and an “American” experience. On this here his birthday, let’s remember what Crane did for American literature!

Before we dive into the The Red Badge of Courage, we should understand the literary movements of the time that helped shape Crane’s writing into what we see today. The late 19th century, when Crane was writing, witnessed both movements of Realism and Naturalism. Both literary trends sought to show life as it truly was… sans the idealization or romanticism of previous movements. 


Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage uses realism and naturalism to show the raw, gritty reality of war. Through the eyes of Henry Fleming, a young soldier who dreams of glory but is suddenly faced with fear and confusion on the battlefield, Crane paints a pretty vivid picture of the uncertainty, fear and coldness of battle. Crane’s (almost ridiculous – oh, I’m sorry…. meticulous) attention to detail, his extremely vivid descriptions of battle, and his description of the emotional turmoil experienced by the protagonist Henry all contribute to the novel’s realism. For Crane, sugar-coating was simply not allowed! 

One of the most striking characteristics of The Red Badge of Courage is Crane’s focus on the inner struggles of its protagonist. Crane goes deep into Henry Fleming’s psyche, offering readers a pretty remarkable ‘character study’. The novel watches the evolution of Henry, as he confronts fear, cowardice, and a desire for forgiveness. We get to see his journey from a self-doubting youth to a more adult, self-assured and introspective individual. During his transition, American high school students all around the country get a more comprehensive understanding of human nature.


In the world of American literature, Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage is considered a masterpiece of realism. Its enduring appeal lies in its (almost) too-descriptive depiction of the psychological and emotional struggles of a young Civil War soldier. Crane’s understanding of an “American experience”, coupled with his decided portrayal of war’s (extremely) harsh realities, truly fixed the novel’s place as an American classic.


The Literary Marvel of the American Declaration of Independence: An Ode to Freedom

The American Declaration of Independence is a remarkable document that paved the way for a new nation founded on the principles of freedom and equality. As we take a closer look at this historical masterpiece, we discover profound notions that continue to resonate with individuals even today. In honor of July 4th, we did a dive deep into the Declaration, uncovering its key ideas and their relevance to society today.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

These simple yet powerful words serve as a jumping-off point for the Declaration’s journey. The phrase in its entirety captures the belief in certain undeniable truths, such as the equality of all people. It reminds us that some things ought to be so obvious that they require no further explanation, urging a sense of shared understanding and unity. Interestingly, the inclusion of the “pursuit of Happiness” among the inherent rights highlighted in the Declaration is kind of a revolutionary idea. It acknowledges the innate desire for personal fulfillment and the pursuit of one’s ambitions. This concept, somewhat rooted in the philosophy of the Enlightenment at the time, reflects the profound belief in individual agency and has resonated throughout American history… it is even a trait we are still associated with today.

“That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…”

This quote recognizes the idea that every person is born with fundamental rights that cannot be taken away by man. It reminds us that our rights, like life and liberty, are not granted by any government or individual, but are inherent and universal. These words resonate with everyone, as it reaffirms the belief in the intrinsic worth and dignity of every individual, no matter their background.

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…”

With this phrase, the Declaration emphasizes the true purpose of government: to protect the rights of its citizens. This concept resonates with us still today, as in a perfect world we would like to rely on our government to ensure justice and uphold our freedoms. It highlights the reciprocal relationship between the governed and those in power, reinforcing the notion that government should serve the people, and not the other way around.

Listing Grievances: An Unveiling of Injustice

The middle section of the Declaration lists a set of grievances against the British King George III, describing the colonists’ reasons for seeking independence. As one delves into these exploitations, you can understand the injustices that fueled the desire for change. 

“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…”

This quote alone encapsulates a pretty powerful idea—that people have the right to challenge a government that fails to protect their rights. For us, it serves as a reminder that we have agency and the ability to demand change when necessary. It empowers individuals to question authority and assert their rights not only as citizens, but as humans.

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

The concluding words of the Declaration of Independence embody the spirit of sacrifice, confidence and commitment that began the American Revolution. The men who signed it, fully aware of the risks they faced in doing so, pledged their lives, fortunes, and honor to the cause of American liberty. 

The American Declaration of Independence continues to speak to American citizens in profound ways, when we take the time to reread it. Its simple, straightforward language and relatable themes resonate with individuals from all walks of life. It reminds us of the timeless importance of equality, the true role of government in protecting our rights, and the power of the people to effect change. The Declaration’s literary genius lies in its ability to engage the average person and inspire them to recognize their own agency in shaping a more just and free society. As we reflect on this literary treasure on the anniversary of the birth of our country, we embrace the enduring spirit of freedom and continue the pursuit of justice… for all!


Happy Birthday, Walt Whitman!

In honor of his birthday, today we dive into the world of early American poetry and the incredible, lasting impact of Walt Whitman. In the mid-19th century, American literature was primed to experience an almost seismic shift. That’s where Whitman – with his larger-than-life personality, strong opinions and groundbreaking verses – stepped in and became a figurehead of the American dream. As poet Ezra Pound once said about Whitman… “America’s poet… He is America.” 

Walt Whitman was born on May 31st, 1819, in West Hills, New York. After a rather long period of time working in editing and freelancing (and getting fired from several jobs in the process), Whitman decided to write poetry. He began writing poems in 1850, and in a time when strict poetic forms and rhymes were expected – Whitman broke free from these conventional norms. His first book of poetry and magnum opus, “Leaves of Grass,” first published in 1855, shattered the traditional poetic protocol of the time. He celebrated the beauty of everyday life (what a novel idea!), embraced a democratic spirit, and wove together the interconnectedness of all beings, human and nature alike. He opted for free verse, aiming to set poetry free from the rigid confines it had been heeding to. It even seemed to some that Whitman wished the art of poetry to be as free as he himself was.

Whitman’s ideas aligned perfectly with the transcendentalist movement of the time. Transcendentalists believed in the power of the individual, the transcendence of the self, and a connection between humans and nature. Minds like those of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were Whitman’s philosophical comrades, Emerson praising Leaves of Grass far and wide, and almost certainly aided in the work’s popularity. Transcendentalists were all about embracing spiritual in the mundane, finding beauty in the everyday, and recognizing the oneness of all existence. Whitman’s revolutionary approach to form and subject matter not only rocked the American literary scene, but paved a way for future poets to break free from using more traditional verse. Emily Dickinson, often regarded as one of the greatest American poets, was profoundly influenced by Whitman’s somewhat unorthodox style, and proceeded to use her own brevity and lyricism to explore similar themes of individualism and the human condition. Other notable poets who fell under Whitman’s spell include Langston Hughes, Allen Ginsberg, and Adrienne Rich. Each poet, in their own way, channeled Whitman’s spirit of rebellion, using poetry as a tool to challenge societal norms, advocate for social justice, and shed light on the diversity of the American experience.

Walt Whitman’s celebration of democracy, inclusivity, and everyday beauty continues to inspire modern American readers. Whitman’s embrace of individuality and his refusal to be confined by societal expectations serves as a powerful reminder that we all have a unique voice and our own stories to tell… if only we have the courage to open our mouths!


“The tigers have found me and I do not care.” A Blog on the King of the Underground… Charles Bukowski

Cheer up. Maybe you’ll be famous after you’re dead.


29 years ago, the “King of the Underground” Charles Bukowski, passed away from leukemia in his (adopted) home city of Los Angeles, California. Bukowski is well known for his poetry and short stories, but even more known for his intense subject matters and persona. Publishing almost exclusively in small presses and literary magazines (hence the King of the Underground), and focusing on the plight of the every-man, the dirty, sometimes terrifying, sad and isolating aspects of humanity – he really was an impressive spokesperson for the average man. That being said, Bukowski is often considered more famous now than he was during his life (for as popular as he was in his lifetime, he was definitely underestimated in the American literary/academic arena).

What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.

Bukowski was born Heinrich Karl Bukowski in Andernach, Germany, on August 16th, 1920. His early life in Germany was difficult, as WWI war reparations had stagnated the German economy forcing his father to attempt to find employment elsewhere. In April of 1923 the small family traveled to Baltimore, Maryland, where they lived until moving to Los Angeles in 1930. Bukowski’s childhood was ripe with problems. According to the author, his father struggled with alcoholism and frequently emotionally and physically abused his family – his behavior teaching Charles at a young age about “undeserved pain” and part of his sons work for the rest of his life. Charles’ family’s foreign ways, the clothes his parents made him wear, and a terrible case of acne further isolated the young man, and the bullied Charles became a quiet, somewhat repressed teen. All that changed, however, when a friend of his introduced a 13 year old Charles to alcohol – a substance he would depend on for life.

I want so much that is not here and do not know where to go.

After high school, Bukowski began a two year stint at Los Angeles City College, thriving in his humanities courses on journalism, art and literature. However, at the onset of WWII in 1944 he quit and moved to New York City, hoping to try his hand at being a writer. During this time he was actually arrested by the FBI for 16 days for potential draft evasion, as was frequently happening to those of German heritage. After failing a physical, however, he was determined unfit for military service and was released. At the age of 24 he began writing and started to be published in a couple of small magazines and presses, but the acceptances of his work were few and far between. Deciding it a failed experiment, Bukowski quit writing for almost a decade – a time in his life he referred to as “a ten-year drunk”. He moved back to Los Angeles, worked at a pickle factory, drifted around the United States working odd jobs when it suited him, moved back to LA and worked for the United States Postal Service, and then quit that for a short time as well.

But then if you lied to a man about his talent just because he was sitting across from you, that was the most unforgivable lie of them all, because that was telling him to go on, to continue which was the worst way for a man without real talent to waste his life, finally. But many people did just that, friends and relatives mostly.

In 1955, a brush with death made Bukowski revisit his original dreams of writing. After a hospital stay for a bleeding ulcer, Charles started writing poetry once more. In the late 1950s, after his “ten-year drunk” period had finished, Bukowski began to be published in a couple poetry and literary magazines, such as Gallows and Nomad – finally giving the credit he was looking for to Bukowski’s early work. As a matter of fact, not only was Bukowski published in both of the only two issues of Gallows to ever exist, but two of his other poems were featured works in the inaugural issue of Nomad in 1959. The same magazine would also go on to publish his essays, including one of his best known essays, Manifesto: A Call for Our Own Critics. By 1960, the small Hearse Press was beginning to publish Bukowski’s work – they put out his collection Flower, Fist and Bestial Wail, and then continued publishing his poetry through the decades, all the way up until the early 80s.

He asked, What makes a man a writer? Well, I said, it’s simple. You either get it down on paper, or jump off a bridge.

By the 1970s, Bukowski had accepted an offer from John Martin, publisher of the Black Sparrow Press, to leave his post office job behind (yes, Bukowski had gone back to the job several times) and write full time. Bukowski accepted the offer, writing in a letter “I have one of two choices – stay in the post office and go crazy… or stay out here and play at writer and starve. I have decided to starve.” A mere month after his retirement from the postal service, he completed his very first novel, entitled (drumroll, please) Post Office. For the remainder of his years, Bukowski would publish many of his works with Black Sparrow Press – making it a successful press in the long run! That being said, he always favored small presses and underground magazines, and published with many over the course of his lifetime. 

And if you have the ability to love, love yourself first.

Throughout his life, Charles Bukowski wrote over forty books of prose and poetry. His work continued to come out after his death, and he was heavily posthumously published (with new material) for over a decade after he passed away. He was a controversial writer, using a hard, clear voice and often centering his subjects on violence, drinking, sexuality, gambling, death, desolation and abandonment. His work spoke to those who ever felt dehumanized by society or by others, to those who felt desperation, but weren’t always able to act on their most basic desires. Today, Bukowski continues to inspire. 

Genius might be the ability to say a profound thing in a simple way.


Sometimes you climb out of bed in the morning and you think, I’m not going to make it, but you laugh inside – remembering all the times you’ve felt that way.


The Whale – and How it Shapes Lives All Over America


A few years ago we published a blog detailing Herman Melville’s life. This week we thought we’d revisit his most famous work in a bit more detail, and come up with five in-depth reasons about Moby Dick, why it is one of the most widespread works taught in American schools today, and why it matters. “Book! You lie there; the fact is, you books must know your places. You’ll do to give us the bare words and facts, but we come in to supply the thoughts.” And on we go!

 melville 1


1. Several scholars argue that the opening sentence of Moby Dick “Call me Ishmael” is the best known line in classic American literature. It starts off a long tale of adventure and revenge, focusing on a crazed whaling boat captain and his enduring grievance against the giant white sperm whale that took off his leg. While this book is, as stated, one of the most well-known works in America today, it was considered a flop at the time of its publication. Melville wrote it at the tender age of 32 in 1851, and over the next fifty years of his life it sold only 3,215 copies, making him a whopping $1,260 over those decades. It was only after the centennial of his birth in 1919 that a slow resurgence of interest in Melville’s work began, and by the 1960’s Moby Dick was being regularly taught in schools.


“I try all things, I achieve what I can.” – Herman Melville, Moby Dick


2. Melville masterfully created characters that could inspire, despite their outward, stereotypical appearances. The moral compass of humanity in Moby Dick is the cannibal Queequeg. He is courageous, stoic and self-sacrificing, a good friend to the novel’s narrator, and his virtuous nature is a stark contrast to the vengeful and fanatical Captain Ahab aboard the Pequod (the whaling ship). In this way, Melville dictates to his audience that appearances are not always what they seem. After all, “Better to sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunk Christian.”


3. Another reason why the story is so revered is Melville’s ability to use these characters to make social commentary on society at large. As Jamie Gass wrote, “A full decade before the Civil War’s carnage, only a highly unconventional writer of profound depth could craft a poetic novel using an enlightened cannibal to devour America’s racial, nativist, and religious stereotypes.” By placing Queequeg as the savior in the story, Melville highlights to students today how being fearful of someone different than us isn’t necessarily justified. Just because people are different doesn’t mean they are inherently bad – and we should not stereotype each other without giving ourselves a chance to see the human beneath the surface, as Ishmael does Queequeg. Some have even likened the Pequod to Melville’s America, with its treatment of minorities on the ship. In this way, Melville used his characters to comment on America’s shameful treatment of African Americans and other minorities, and continues to this day to remind us to look beyond the surface. As Melville writes, “See how elastic our prejudices grow when once love comes to bend them.”


4. The life lessons throughout the story rival those in famous religious works. Not only are their cautionary lessons on the limits of vengeance inside, but there are studies of the issues of man vs. nature (is it our job to conquer nature, or simply be its stewards? I’ll give you one guess), sexual orientation, the dangers of following a charismatic madman, and how our unacknowledged biases shape our actions – for better and for worse. One website claims that you couldn’t open to a single page of Moby Dick without finding a lesson being taught…. even when it is lessons on the world of whaling (at times disgusting and horrifying – but nevertheless educational).

moby dick 1

5. Moby Dick is an adventure story, yes. But layered within the adventure “we learn about malevolence, ambition, ego, bravery, friendship. We meditate on the existence of truth. We gather up an understanding that ‘truth’ is rarely captured in a snapshot, that it’s a mosaic of perspectives that don’t always add up neatly.” (Suzy Akin). It can be seen at one time as a religious text, an ancient epic, a Shakespearean drama. It can be interpreted a multitude of different ways. But one thing is for sure – it does teach lessons that could come in handy as students ready themselves for the future, and the “rough seas” that may lie ahead.


“All my means are sane, my motive and my object mad.” – Herman Melville, Moby Dick



The Household Name that Was a Radical Before it was Cool to be a Radical


Every American-raised person once attended (though when I was in school it was more like seven years in a row attended) classes on American history. We all know the name Thomas Paine, we all associate him with the American Revolution. We all know he wrote Common Sense. Who among us has read it? Don’t worry if you haven’t, you wouldn’t be alone. That being said, however, there is so much to this gentleman… born into an age that both revered and scorned him, whereas if the man lived in today’s world he might have been revered and revered only. Let’s find out just how cool Thomas Paine really was, shall we?

Born on February 9th, 1737, in Norfolk, England, many Americans who didn’t pay much attention in history class would be surprised to find out that he lived a relatively average British life… for thirty seven years before emigrating to the British colonies in America. Born to a tenant farmer and stay-maker (a tailor specializing in the making of corsets), Paine’s baptized name is spelled “Pain” – a change he apparently made when moving to America. His early life seems uneventful, he attended a few years of schooling, then apprenticed with his father as a stay-maker. He married at 22, but his young wife died in childbirth along with the baby soon after. Paine dealt with typical difficulties – many of which were financial in nature. After working several occupations in several towns, in 1768 Paine ended up in Lewes – a town in Suffolk known for its radical notions (like an opposition to the monarchy). It was here that Paine first became involved in political and civic matters, and gained an interest in the plight of freedom of the every-man.

In Lewes, Paine was a member of the parish vestry, and in the early 1770s joined excise officers in their ask of Parliament for better wages and treatment. It was during this period that he published his first political work – a twelve page article entitled The Case of the Officers of Excise. He failed again financially around this time, and moved to London – where he was introduced to one Benjamin Franklin, who convinced Paine to emigrate to the colonies, and even wrote him a letter of recommendation for the change. Paine agreed, and arrived in Philadelphia in November of 1774.


By March of 1775, Paine was the editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine, then becoming the editor of the American Magazine – in a short time becoming a rather important figure. Under Paine’s direction, the magazines flourished, gained a wider audience, and became more and more political in nature. In fact, just a few short months after arriving in America, an untitled essay appeared in the Pennsylvania Magazine entitled African Slavery in America – an early abolitionist essay attacking slavery as an “outrage against Humanity and Justice.” That essay is commonly attributed to Thomas Paine’s own hand. Paine also focused often on the plight of the working man – using his platforms to discuss worker’s rights. Clearly, Paine quickly became a leading figure in the political consciousness of America on the brink of revolution.

Thomas PainePaine’s pamphlets, especially Common Sense, were immediate successes. Common Sense was published on January 10th, 1776, and was signed anonymously, “by an Englishman”. Within the first three months of its existence 100,000 copies were sold throughout the colonies. He employed his eloquence to fan the flames of anger at the British monarchy for their abuses. While published after the start of the American Revolution (which began in April 1775), it served to bolster enthusiasm for the cause, to inspire many and to aid in the confidence of those fighting for freedom. Common Sense largely upholds the ideals of republicanism and encouragement for freedom, and spends some time encouraging readers to join the Continental Army. He advocates an extreme change, a total break in the narrative of history. Though his ideas were not necessarily original nor unheard of, Paine’s method and way of speaking to the public made his pamphlet one of the most popular Revolutionary works in existence. In that vein, Paine became one of the most influential revolutionary writers in history.

Though throughout his life he went in and out of favor, what never faltered was Paine’s personal beliefs in freedom and liberty. He denounced slavery, supported the French Revolution, he advocated religious freedom, condemned and criticized those he did not care for, and had no qualms about staying true to his own personal values until the day he died. As Robert G. Ingersoll once famously said: “Thomas Paine had passed the legendary limit of life. One by one most of his old friends and acquaintances had deserted him. Maligned on every side, execrated, shunned and abhorred – his virtues denounced as vices – his services forgotten – his character blackened, he preserved the poise and balance of his soul. He was a victim of the people, but his convictions remained unshaken. He was still a soldier in the army of freedom, and still tried to enlighten and civilize those who were impatiently waiting for his death. Even those who loved their enemies hated him, their friend – the friend of the whole world – with all their hearts.” Happy 285th Birthday to Thomas Paine, a man ahead of his time!