Friday, February 19, 2010

It Took Great Editors and Great Writers to Make The Rivers of America Series

     Carl Carmer's role in the Rivers of America series, first as the author of The Hudson, and subsequently as an editor, was assigned to him by a remarkable woman, Constance Lindsay Skinner. Skinner was born Canadian, in Cariboo, near Vancouver, British Columbia in 1877. She lived the history of the western frontier; her father traded furs for the Hudson's Bay Company.  She worked first as a journalist, and then as one of just three women who contributed to the Yale University Press's first attempt at a comprehensive, fifty-volume, American history for the general reader. In a male dominated field where academic training was becoming the norm, she lacked a degree. She pioneered in the writing history that combined literature and folklore. (There's an essay on her in Creating Historical Memory; English Canadian Women and the Work of History.)
     She proposed a series which told America's story through its Rivers. The authors were to be from the various river valleys, and write from a native's sense of place. By 1939, the first volume, Kennebec: Cradle of America by Robert P. Tristam Coffin had sold 12,000 copies. When she died, four more volumes had been published. She died having just finished editing the galleys of Carmer's The Hudson.  Carl Carmer and Stephen Vincent Benet then edited the series from 1940 to 1943. Carmer authored another in the series, The Susquehanna and edited the series from 1946 thru 1974. If you ever aspire to owning the entire series, and like to lurk in antiquarian bookstores looking for certain volumes, you may want to invest in Carol Fitzgerald's The Rivers of America, A Descriptive Bibliography. You'll find details of every volume: author biographies, editions, printings, editors and publishers. Flow on!

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