'A drop of ink, a moving pen, and a Word'

John McClure, The Double Dealer and a bottle of ink

In 1921, a group of writers from America’s Southern states decided it was high time the region had its own showcase for prose and poetry. The result was The Double Dealer, a short-lived but influential publication that stands tall in the little magazine movement of that period between the two wars.

One of the magazine’s founders was John Peebles McClure, who would became a mainstay of editorial leadership at the New Orleans Times-Picayune, where he worked in various roles for more than three decades.

A child of the Oklahoma Indian territory, McClure was a reporter in several towns before settling down in the Big Easy, long before the city went by that well-earned nickname. A talented poet, McClure and the magazine’s other founders wanted to create an outlet for the region’s writers and put to rest the notion that the South lacked literary talent.

Naturally, Vincent Starrett soon became an irregular contributor.

Or rather, unnaturally, since Starrett was far from a Southerner.

Nonetheless, he was an admirer of the The Double Dealer’s editors, especially McClure’s poetry, and was soon contributing book reviews, little stories based on his experience as a war correspondent in Mexico, and his “Chicago Letter,” a precursor to his “Books Alive” column that would appear in Chicago newspapers some 20 years later.

Even in its early days, The Double Dealer was hardly a purely Southern-grown product.

Yes, The Double Dealer kept its Southern perspective, but quickly began publishing quality work of writers from around the country. The August-September 1921 issue’s index, for example, features several other Chicago writers: Chicago Tribune columnist Burton Rascoe, Chicago Evening Post literary editor Llewellyn Jones and one of that city’s best-known poets, Thomas Kennedy.

Other Northerners were also represented. Hart Crane was born in Ohio and was living in New York at the time he wrote for DD. Oscar Williams, a native of Ukraine, was firmly placed in New York when he wrote his dour poem, “Oblivion.” Jeannette Augustus Marks was at least a native of Chattanooga, before she left to go to school at Wellesley and to teach at Mt. Holyoke in Massachusetts.

As I said, that’s hardly a representation of the South.

Still, the The Double Dealer made a reputation for itself in a relatively short period of time and young writers were willing to test their talent in its pages.

Sherwood Anderson, firmly associated with Ohio, was also well represented in The Double Dealer. After an emotional collapse prompted him to leave his home state, Anderson moved to New Orleans and was working to become a full-time writer. His view of the DD staff is enlightening, as revealed in this comment from a column published in the August 20, 1922 New York Tribune:

Everybody in New Orleans seems to have a good time. They all take life easy, don’t devote all their time to making money and enjoy themselves. These boys at the ‘Double-Dealer’ go out on parties and dances and come back after midnight and get out their magazine. They don’t take the magazine or themselves very seriously, and just because of that, I think, they get out a surprisingly good lot of reading.

For Starrett, writing for The Double Dealer offered a few substantive benefits:

  1. He learned enough about the little magazine world to dip his own toe in with The Wave.

  2. He gained a broader reputation as a writer outside the Chicago market and made connections that would prove useful for the rest of his life.

  3. He became friends with John McClure, one of the magazine’s founders and the fellow we started this entry discussing. (It all comes back around, doesn’t it?)

Which brings us to Jan. 17, 1939, long after both The Double Dealer and The Wave had seen their last issues and were on their way to becoming collector items.

On that date in 1939, a very brief essay by John McClure written 25 years earlier was resurrected by Vincent Starrett. The occasion was the 55th anniversary of Edwin B. Hill’s run as the Ysleta, Texas printer of fine little publications. Starrett and Hill became close friends and their joint publications are delights. It was Hill, for example, who first published Starrett’s sonnet “221B” as a holiday greeting in 1942.

I have recently acquired a number (but not a complete set) of Hill/Starrett publications and will devote an entire post to them soon.

Until then, take a few moments to relish this lovingly written and reproduced essay by McClure on the magic of writing. While few of us use an inkwell today, the sentiment remains true, I think. The reproduction of the little booklet’s essay is presented large enough so you should be able to read it in its original state, without a transcription.