Record

CodeDS/UK/213
Dates1914-2003
Person NameFast; Howard (1914-2003); Writer
SurnameFast
ForenamesHoward
EpithetWriter
ActivityFast was born in New York City. His mother, Ida (née Miller), was a British Jewish immigrant and his father, Barney Fast, was a Ukrainian Jewish immigrant whose name was shortened from Fastovsky upon arrival here. When his mother died in 1923 and his father became unemployed, Howard's youngest brother, Julius, went to live with relatives, while Howard and his older brother Jerome worked by selling newspapers. He credited his early voracious reading to his part-time job in the New York Public Library.

Young Howard began writing at an early age. While hitchhiking and riding railroads around the country to find odd jobs, he wrote his first novel, Two Valleys, was published when he was 18, in 1933. His first popular work was Citizen Tom Paine, a fictional account of the life of Thomas Paine. Always interested in American history, he also wrote The Last Frontier, about an attempt by Cheyennes to return to their native land; and Freedom Road, about the lives of former slaves during Reconstruction.

Fast spent World War II working with the United States Office of War Information, writing for Voice of America. But he had joined the Communist Party USA in 1944, and was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He refused to disclose the names of contributors to a fund for a home for orphans of American veterans of the Spanish Civil War (one of the contributors was Eleanor Roosevelt), and he was imprisoned for three months in 1950 for contempt of Congress.

It was while he was in jail that Fast began writing his most famous work, Spartacus, a novel about an uprising among Roman slaves. Blacklisted for his Communist activities and his criminal record, Fast was forced to publish the novel by his own Blue Heron Press. Unable to publish under his own name, he used various pseudonyms, including E.V. Cunningham, under which he published a series of popular detective novels starring a Nisei detective with the Beverly Hills, California Police Department.

In 1952, Fast ran for Congress on the American Labor Party ticket. During the 1950s he also worked for the Communist newspaper, the Daily Worker. In 1953, he was awarded the Stalin Peace Prize. But, later in the decade, Fast broke with the Party over issues of conditions in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

In the mid-1950s, Fast moved with his family to Teaneck, New Jersey.

Shortly afterward, Fast wrote April Morning, an account of the Battle of Lexington and Concord from the perspective of a fictional teenager. While not originally intended as a "young adult" novel, it has become a frequent assignment in American secondary schools and is probably thus his most popular work in the early 21st century. A film version was made for television in 1988.

In 1974, Fast and his family moved to California, where he wrote television scripts, including such television programs as How the West Was Won. In 1977, he published The Immigrants, the first of a six-part series of novels.

He married his first wife, Bette Cohen, on June 6, 1937. Their children are Jonathan and Rachel. Bette died in 1994. In 1999 he married Mercedes O'Connor, who already had three sons. He died in Old Greenwich, Connecticut.

Fast's son Jonathan Fast, himself a novelist, was married to novelist Erica Jong; their daughter is the novelist Molly Jong-Fast.
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