Monday, June 15, 2009
HEDY WEST IN CULLOWHEE, N. C., CIRCA 1957
I just found this 55-year-old, waterstained photograph in my attic: Hedy West at Western Carolina College circa 1957. That's her in the corner, listening attentively to her fellow students. This photograph was made in the basement of the old Joyner building, in what was called the "student center" (now long-gone). Hedy appears to be a very serious young lady, and indeed, she was. She was also unhappy and alienated.(See another post on this blog entitled "Hedy West: Folksinger.") Shortly before her death, I talked to Hedy via "instant message" on my computer, and although she named a few instructors that she liked, she frankly felt that her years at WCC were marked by frustration and bordom. Within a decade of her sojourn in Cullowhee, she would be a celebrated folk musician playing at festivals with Pete Seeger and on her way to study folk music at Columbia where she would meet Allen Lomax. In New York (Greenwich Village)where she sang "500 Miles," and in Germany where she studied "leider."
However, looking at this picture, I remember a different Hedy who sometimes played "Hard Times, Cotton Mill Girls," and told stories of her father,Don West, a poet (avowed communist) and labor organizer. I met him several times when he came to visit Hedy. He was a gifted storyteller and I hung on every word when he talked about strikes and violence in Georgia textile mills. In fact, he gave me a lot of exciting "dangerous" literature about topics like the Haymarket Street Riots, Governor Altgeld of Illinois and Eugene Debs - names and events that became important to me for the rest of my life.
At some point, I hope to give these two remarkable people their due with this blog. I've just acquired two books: a biography of Don West, A Hard Journey, by James Lorence and a collection of his writing No Lonesome Road. Stay tuned!