Recently, I stumbled upon an article on Vice that featured an interview with Joel Whitney, author of Finks: How the C.I.A. Tricked the World’s Best Writers. In his novel, he reveals how great writers such as James Baldwin, Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Richard Wright, and Ernest Hemingway became soldiers in America’s cultural Cold War. The book sets out to debunk the myth of a once-moral intelligence agency and reveals an extensive list of writers who were involved in transforming the image of America in countries suffering destabilisation due to coups, dictatorships, assassinations and other all-American interventions.
Gabriel García Márquez | Image Via Pinterest
Ernest Hemingway | Image Via Pinterest
James Baldwin | Image Via Pinterest
Aside from the American writers listed above, Whitney claims that the CIA had investments planted in multiple cultural platforms that would cast a controlled image of America all over the world. For example, The Paris Review, the quarterly literary magazine, is known to be co-founded by once-undercover CIA agent Peter Matthiessen in Paris, 1953. Mundo Nuevo was created to offer moderate-left perspectives to earn trust among Latin American readers, which then muted the more radical ones during the Cuban Revolution. The Agency also launched the Congress for Cultural Freedoms (CCF), which built editorial strategies for each of these literary outposts. Editors were funded, content was created, and writers were directly chosen to shape the discourse America wanted to the world to have. It wasn’t only literary platforms either; artists Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko were also, in Whitney’s words “championed by the arms of the agency.”
Jackson Pollock, “Autumn Rhythm”, 1950 | Image Via The Guggenheim
Mark Rothko | Image Via Guggenheim
So you might ask yourself why Latin American left-leaning writers such as Márquez were used since his writings gave credibility to the idea of autonomy in the region. But Whitney explains the left’s most beloved writers were massively influenced by anti-Communist propaganda. Therefore, Márquez, like many others, became a tool for the CIA. As Whitney says in his interview, “It was a control of how intellectuals thought about the US.” This makes me wonder whether literature is the most effective medium for propaganda in times of political strife?
Image Via Vice
Whitney talks about the multiple ways in which the support systems around these young writers were infiltrated. He says, “They were in their early 20s, and when you’re young and your professors have national reputations, you take their attention seriously.” A fair point made by the interviewer is that this information is of utmost use to us now, and may serve as a cautionary tale for those trying to navigate today’s “post-truth” environment, particularly within the media landscape.
The University of Texas at Austin’s Harry Ransom Center purchased Gabriel García Márquez’s archive for about $2 million two years ago, and, as of this week, has digitized and uploaded about half of the collection. It’s available for free online here.
Considering Márquez’s work remains under copyright protection, this decision is slightly unusual. The university’s library is famously deep-pocketed, as they have also purchased the archives of British novelist Ian McEwan and Nobel prize winners J.M. Coetzee and Kazuo Ishiguro.
The university has said that it plans to make all 27,000 pages of Márquez’s manuscripts, photographs, letters and scrapbooks available online in both English and Spanish.
Steve Enniss, director of the Harry Ransom Center, told The New York Times, “Often estates take a restrictive view of their intellectual property, believing scholarly use threatens or diminishes commercial interests. We are grateful to Gabo’s family for unlocking his archive and recognizing this work as another form of service to his readers everywhere.”
Harry Ransom Center, UT Austin | Image Via Lake Flato
Whether you love him or hate him, there’s no denying the effect Hefner’s work has had on both the literary and publishing worlds. In memoriam of Hugh Hefner’s life and career, we’ve put together a list of some of the most notable authors and interviews published in Playboy to prove that yes, some people really do read it for the articles.
I had so much fun making the featured image that I couldn’t not also make a full cover. Enjoy. / Image Via The New Yorker, Photoshopped by yours truly.
If you’ve got a subscription to Playboy, be sure to check out the Playboy Archive for digital copies of magazines ranging from 1954 to 2007.
1. An Interview with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Image via Wikipedia
In 1964, just after he had won the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sat down with Alex Haley for a series of interviews, which were then edited together for the magazine’s January 1965 issue. The interview is the longest interview King gave to a publication. Ever. King speaks of his observations of the Civil Rights Movement (at that point) and the first time he remembered experiencing racism. He was forced to stand on a bus, not too dissimilar to Rosa Parks’ story, which later inspired him to stage a bus boycott.
Vonnegut first appeared in Playboy in a 1973 interview. Most notably, though, the magazine was the first to publish an excerpt from Armageddon in Retrospect, Vonnegut’s first posthumous collection. The collection features several new short stories, a letter Vonnegut wrote to his family during his time as a prisoner of war in World War II, drawings, and a speech written shortly before his death.
During the first years of Playboy’s life their budget only allowed for reprinted stories, and in 1954 they published a serialized version of Fahrenheit 451. ‘The First Night of Lent’, Bradbury’s first original story for the publication in 1956, was among the first previously unpublished stories the magazine sent to print.
Atwood’s first foray into Playboy was in 1991 with the publication of ‘The Bog Man’. ‘The Bog Man’recounts the discovery of a 2,000 year old man during a trip between a Canadian student and the married archaeology professor she is in love with. Atwood’s other works published in Playboy include The Bad News (2006) and The Age of the Bottleneck (2008).
Published in 1971, Marquez’s short story ‘The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World‘ is about a ridiculously handsome dead body that washes up onto shore and enchants an entire village. If you’re unfamiliar with Marquez’s work, I absolutely recommend A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings.
8. Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond novels
Image via Ian Fleming
According to John Cork, founding member of the Ian Fleming Foundation, “by 1960 Ian Fleming, James Bond, and Playboy magazine became a nearly synonymous cultural force, truly united with Playboy‘s publication of [Fleming’s story] The Hildebrand Rarity.” Fleming’s 11th book, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, was published simultaneously as a hardcover in Britain and serialized in Playboy from April to June 1963.
Dahl’s only non-children’s book, My Uncle Oswald, was based on ‘The Visitor’, a story written for and published in Playboy in May of 1965. You wouldn’t think a beloved children’s author would fit in with the publication but Dahl describes main character Oswald as “the greatest fornicator of all time”, so. Dahl’s first original story for Playboy was ‘A Fine Son’, published in 1959.
Heller refers to his short story ‘Yossarian Survives’(published in Playboy in 1987) as a lost chapter of Catch-22. The story describes Yossarian’s training at Lowry Field Air Force base in Denver, Colorado. Fans interested in reading this ‘lost chapter’ can find it in Catch As Catch Can: The Collected Stories and Other Writings.
Palahniuk is no stranger to getting published in Playboy, but I’m including him for a reason very close-to-home. When I was twelve-years-old, rifling through my best friend’s stepfather’s magazines, I found what would eventually become one of my favorite short stories. Palahniuk’s controversial short story ‘Guts‘was first published in the March 2004 issue of Playboy. ‘Guts’ is part of Palahniuk’s short story collection Haunted: A Novel.
12. Hunter S. Thompson, father of Gonzo journalism
Image via Rolling Stone
‘The Great Shark Hunt‘graced Playboy‘s pages in 1973 and was later published in a book of autobiographical essays of the same name. Over his career, Thompson’s work appeared in Playboy on a number of occasions.
In the January 1984 issue of Playboy, Capote retold some of the most outrageous stories from friend and playwright Tennessee Williams’s life. It wasn’t the first time Capote was featured in the magazine. He was also the subject of a 1968 interviewabout his writing career, the role of Jewish writers in the American literary scene, and his views on capital punishment.
14. An Interview with Joyce Carol Oates, author of 56 novels, and a lot more.
one of the most prolific writers in America. Her critics even complain that she writes too much. She has written more novels than Nobel laureate Saul Bello, more short story collections than John Updike, more books of essays than Norman Mailer, more words of poetry than Emily Dickinson and more plays than Chekhov. Critic Harold Bloom considers her “our true proletarian novelist.”
Featured image via The New Yorker, improved via my own photoshop abilities.
While we wait for the robots to take over most cumbersome tasks, a brave few still take it upon themselves to tackle books that defy easy absorption or explanation. These classic works of literature are no walk-in-the-park. You may even find your self questioning your sanity. But if you stick it out, you may just end up with a truly transformative experience. Might be best to put a ‘no entry’ side on the door, ’cause you’re gonna be out of commission for the next few days/weeks/months…
Joyce’s final novel, ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ is also the Irish modernist’s most complex work. The narrative tools Joyce had been finessing for years, from stream-of-consciousness to sudden changes in perspective, all culminate in a work so dense that there is still no absolute consensus on what the plot even is. Enter this mad house if you dare…
Back when Chaucer wrote ‘Tales’ way back in the 1390’s, Middle English was the common language of the English people. Things have changed a bit since then. Though modern readers attempting to absorb the text in it’s original vernacular must confront a bizarre sense of simultaneous recognition and alienation while parsing out expired words and spellings, modern English translations still present their own challenges when it comes to understanding syntax and the social mores of Chaucer’s day.
In 1972, Ishmael Reed cut mainstream American society–and its appropriation of black culture–down to size with this epic work about an “epidemic” of blackness called “Jes Grew” spreading into white America. Reed takes his world building to the extreme, incorporating a jam-packed cast of historical figures and nobody misfits, and entire sections that veer completely away from the main plot. It’s crazy, it’s frightening, it’s mesmerizing—just like America, it seems.
Woolf, one of the early twentieth century modernists who helped changed the way novels are written, aims to explore nothing less than the very nature of human consciousness in this expressionist take on the journey of one large English family over a tumultuous period of personal and political history. The lighthouse is the least of our worries…or is it?
Though praised for its frank exploration of homosexuality when such depictions were extremely hard to come by, this very autobiographical 1936 novel’s gothic prose style makes it yet another modernist masterpiece with capacity to slowly melt your brain.
And to think it all started with a madeleine cake! One taste of the dessert is all it takes for The Narrator (heavily based on Proust himself) to descend into a spiraling rabbit hole of emotions, regrets, and involuntary childhood memories of life in the prosperous but repressed wealthy French milieu. At 4,125 pages, this probably isn’t the kind of book you should tote to the beach.
For Tolkien-ites, ‘The Silmarillion’ is where it all begins: it is the story of how Middle-Earth itself came to be, and it was the first LOTR-related writing Tolkien—who started work on the project while recuperating from injuries sustained in WWI—ever did. Those who thought the LOTR trilogy and ‘The Hobbit’ contained more than enough background information and weird fantasy names would be best to avoid this book. If that isn’t you, happy reading!
In the tradition of Leo Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’, Stein crafts a multi-generational epic about the fortunes and failures of two prominent American families. Though she doesn’t include maddeningly tedious-to-translate French like Tolstoy does, Stein does make a specific choice to repeat certain phrases over and over that makes it quite easy to totally lose your bearings in the already-dense universe of the Hersland and Dehning clans.
What to the nineteenth century South Pacific, 1970’s California, and the post-apocalyptic future have in common? You tell us! Mitchell’s foray into re-incarnation and the unchangeable components of human nature is at turns exhilarating and, well, exhausting. Take snack breaks.
Paul Atreides is your average 15-year old boy. He likes swords. He is the heir to a Dukedom. He lives in space—specifically, on a desolate desert planet where giant worms roam and the locals take drugs that turn their eyes blue. Oh, and he’s probably the intergalactic messiah. Sorry, did we say he was average? What we meant was “balls-to-the-wall insane and profoundly complicated.” Dune offers much to those who accept its challenges, but do not expect a story that one can just consume without quite a bit of digestion afterwards.
Whimsical magic and brutal historical realities make strange bedfellows in this look at one very messed up Colombian family’s experience of love, violence and colonialism in a small backwater town. If nothing else, Márquez makes abundantly clear that “the truth”—or the rationalizations and pat stories we convince ourselves are the truth—are not what he’s aiming for here. And we are (mostly) grateful for it.