Tom Kromer

Last updated
Tom Kromer
Born(1906-10-20)October 20, 1906
Huntington, West Virginia, U.S.
DiedJanuary 10, 1969(1969-01-10) (aged 62)
Huntington, West Virginia, U.S.
Resting placeSpring Hill Cemetery
Huntington, West Virginia, U.S.
Alma mater Marshall University
Literary movement Modernism, Realism
Spouse
Janet Smith Kromer
(m. 1936;died 1960)
Signature
Signature of Tom Kromer.svg

Thomas Michael Kromer (October 20, 1906 – January 10, 1969) was an American writer, mostly known for his Waiting for Nothing (1935), a semi-autobiographical novel of vagrant or hobo life during the Great Depression. [1]

Contents

Biography

Kromer was born and raised in Huntington, West Virginia, the oldest of five brothers, and he had at least two sisters. [2] His mother was Grace Thornburg, and his father was Michael Albert Kromer, an immigrant from Russia [2] who worked as a coal miner and glass blower. He attended Marshall University for periods in 1925-1929 and did not graduate. [3]

He wrote his novel after five years of living as a hobo, riding trains and traveling across the United States. He spent 15 months in CCC camp in California, [2] but was mostly living as a vagabond. Kromer spent time at Camp Skull Creek, Camp Murpheys, Fort MacArther, and Camp Halls Flat. [1] He also published short stories in Pacific Weekly, founded and edited by Lincoln Steffens, and an unfinished novel about coal mining and glass blowing, Michael Kohler, a section of which he adapted as a short story for the American Spectator . Kromer's literary agent was Maxim Lieber, [4] recommended to him by Lincoln Steffens who was the first literary figure to read and praise the manuscript for Waiting for Nothing. [2]

He married Jeannette (Janet) Smith in 1936 while he was being treated for tuberculosis and she for rheumatic heart disease in Albuquerque. [2] They restored an adobe house in Albuquerque, and it is on the National Register of Historic Places. [5] He stopped writing in the 1940s, became a recluse, [5] and lived as an invalid in Albuquerque. After his wife died in 1960, his family returned him to Huntington, West Virginia, where his sisters and mother cared for him. He died there in 1969 [6] and was buried at Spring Hill Cemetery [7] in Huntington in a family plot. [8]

Waiting for Nothing

Dedicated "to Jolene, who turned off the gas," the work is a realistic account of life as a homeless man during the Great Depression. There is no overarching theme to the novel, which is a collection of anecdotes. Except for a few stories, Kromer said the incidents in the novel were autobiographical. [1]

Straightforward, declarative sentences in the tough-guy argot of the time ("I admire that stiff. He has got the guts. He does not like parting with his dough") are characteristic of Kromer, as are spare descriptions of grim scenes ("When I look at these stiffs by the fire, I am looking at a graveyard. There is hardly room to move between the tombstones. . . . The epitaphs are chiseled in sunken shadows on their cheeks"). The settings include rescue missions, flop houses, abandoned buildings and the sidewalk outside a nice restaurant. In one chapter, the narrator slowly comes to realize that the pitch-black boxcar he is riding in contains another rider, who is quietly, slowly, stalking him. [1]

Waiting for Nothing was first published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1935, reissued by Hill & Wang in 1968, and, in a definitive edition with most of his other writings, edited by Arthur D. Casciato and James L.W. West III, reprinted as Waiting for Nothing and Other Writings by the University of Georgia Press in 1986. In edition, Waiting for Nothing was published in England in 1935 by Constable & Co. with a chapter being omitted for "contents of the chapter were too strong for any publisher to risk in these days of active censorship." [9]

Reception

Reviews praised the book when it was first published. It was reviewed by the New York Times in 1935 [10] and 1968. [11] It has been the subject of poetry [12] and has been studied in scholarly journals in 1988, [13] 1990, [14] 1995, [15] [16] 1998 [17] and 2019, [18] among others. Echoes of Kromer's work can be found in succeeding authors, Breece D'J Pancake in particular. This connection seems appropriate considering Pancake grew up in Milton, West Virginia, less than 30 miles from Kromer's hometown of Huntington. Hemingway-like storytelling, the pair share similarities in their approach to literature. Trilobites, Hollow, and The Honored Dead, members of The Collected Breece D'J Pancake: Stories, Fragments, Letters do not necessarily have a clear intention or theme, but rather explore the mind of a central character, giving a sort of psychological breakdown. Structurally, streaks of Kromer's Waiting for Nothing are evident in the short stories of Pancake. Another author who draws inspiration from his predecessors is Pinckney Benedict, the trio creating an author genealogy in a sense. An accomplished Appalachian writer, Benedict displays his Kromer/Pancake roots in his story-telling. It is evident Kromer's work was received with high regard by his successors, influencing their writing. While having a less direct correlation, the intricacies of "stiffs" and the impoverished in "Waiting for Nothing" appear with a similar depiction in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath , both comparing those in poverty to "ghosts in a graveyard." [13]

Michael Kohler

In the words of Kromer himself, his unfinished novel Michael Kohler is 'a working class novel dealing with working-class people.' [4] Taking place in the era of the Haymarket affair, Michael Kohler touches on the idea of workers having influence on the value of their labor, essentially being non-existent. The unfinished novel depicts the structural economic flaws of the Mine Wars, which occurred in West Virginia from 1912 to 1921. After a few introductory chapters, the reader is introduced to Michael Kohler, son of Michael Kohler senior, and effectively becomes the protagonist. Through the lens of Michael, one can see the critiques Kromer is highlighting, being the disparity in wealth and greed of higher-ups. During a period where movements such as the Mine Wars gained traction, it becomes clear what message Kromer is portraying, albeit an unfinished project. Michael Kohler can be read and interpreted as a socialist novel through themes of labor and working class struggles.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hobo</span> Migratory worker or homeless vagabond

A hobo is a migrant worker in the United States. Hoboes, tramps, and bums are generally regarded as related, but distinct: a hobo travels and is willing to work; a tramp travels, but avoids work if possible; a bum neither travels nor works.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cabell County, West Virginia</span> County in West Virginia, United States

Cabell County is located in the U.S. state of West Virginia. As of the 2020 census, the population was 94,350, making it West Virginia's fourth most-populous county. Its county seat is Huntington. The county was organized in 1809 and named for William H. Cabell, the Governor of Virginia from 1805 to 1808. Cabell County is part of the Huntington–Ashland, WV–KY–OH Metropolitan Statistical Area.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Milton, West Virginia</span> Town in West Virginia, United States

Milton is a town in Cabell County, West Virginia, United States. The population was 2,831 at the 2020 census. It is part of the Huntington–Ashland metropolitan area.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">W. R. Burnett</span> American novelist

William Riley Burnett was an American novelist and screenwriter. He is best known for the crime novel Little Caesar, the film adaptation of which is considered the first of the classic American gangster movies.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Breece D'J Pancake</span> American short story writer

Breece Dexter John Pancake was an American short story writer. He is said to be "one of the greatest authors you've never heard of" according to an article on his work in Study Breaks. Pancake was a native of West Virginia. Several of his short stories were published in The Atlantic Monthly and other periodicals during his lifetime.

Sam Pancake is an American actor, improviser, writer, and comedian. He began his career with small roles in TV and film, such as Wings in 1990 and Pizza Man in 1991.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Casey (novelist)</span> American novelist and translator

John D. Casey is an American novelist and translator. He won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction in 1989 for Spartina.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Daniel Mendelsohn</span> American writer (born 1960)

Daniel Adam Mendelsohn is an American author, essayist, critic, columnist, and translator. He is currently the Charles Ranlett Flint Professor of Humanities at Bard College, the Editor at Large of the New York Review of Books, and the Director of the Robert B. Silvers Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to supporting writers of nonfiction.

Chet Pancake is an American filmmaker and musician. He is a co-founder of the Red Room Collective, the High Zero Foundation, the Charm City Kitty Club and the Transmodern Festival. He is currently an assistant professor in the Film and Media Arts Program at Temple University and director of the Black Oak House Gallery. His documentary film Black Diamonds (2006), an examination of mountaintop removal mining, has received a number of awards.

Ann Pancake is an American fiction writer and essayist. She has published a novel, short stories and essays describing the people and atmosphere of Appalachia, often from the first-person perspective of those living there. While fictional, her short stories contribute to an understanding of poverty in the 20th century, and well as the historical roots of American and rural poverty. Much of Pancake's writing also focuses on the destruction caused by natural resource extraction, particularly in Appalachia, and the lives of the people affected.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Maurice G. Burnside</span> American politician

Maurice Gwinn Burnside was a professor, tobacco warehouse manager, and U.S. Representative from Huntington, West Virginia.

<i>The Hobo</i> 1917 film

The Hobo is a 1917 American silent comedy film featuring Billy West and Oliver Hardy.

The Farmington Country Club is a country club in Charlottesville, Virginia, United States. The octagonal east wing of the clubhouse, constructed in 1802 near the University of Virginia as an addition to a pre-1780 structure, was designed by Thomas Jefferson. Membership is by invitation only.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mike L. Fry</span> American entrepreneur

Michael L. "Mike" Fry was an American serial entrepreneur, entertainer, trainer and marketing expert. He was the original Happy the Hobo on the children's television series Happy's Place, and the creative mind behind and owner of Fancy Fortune Cookies.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Michael A. Rogers</span>

Michael A. Rogers is an author, futurist, and columnist for MSNBC.com. He has also worked with companies including FedEx, Boeing and NBC Universal to Prudential, Dow Corning, American Express and Genentech.

"New Timer" is a song by Bruce Springsteen from his 1995 album The Ghost of Tom Joad. Springsteen performs the song solo on the album, with only guitar accompaniment.

Mark Spragg is an American writer. He is the author of three novels and one book of nonfiction, mostly set in Wyoming, where he grew up.

Casey Cep is an American author and journalist. Cep is a staff writer at The New Yorker, and her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Paris Review, The New Republic, and other publications. Cep's debut non-fiction book, published by Knopf, Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee (2019), tells the story of how Harper Lee worked on, but ultimately failed to publish, an account of a murder trial that happened in Alabama in 1977.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Breece Hall</span> American football player (born 2001)

Breece Maelik Hall is an American football running back for the New York Jets of the National Football League (NFL). He played college football at Iowa State, where he was a two-time All-American and Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year. Hall was selected by the Jets in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

<i>The Moth</i> (novel)

The Moth is a novel by James M. Cain published in 1948 by Alfred A. Knopf. The work is the last of Cain’s four novels to feature opera as a central element of the story; the others are Serenade (1937), Mildred Pierce (1941) and Career in C Major (1943) At over three-hundred pages, The Moth is Cain’s “most personal, most ambitious and longest book” in his oeuvre, attempting to convey a “broad, social landscape” of America in the 1930s.

References

  1. 1 2 3 4 "A Young Hobo; Waiting for Nothing. By Tom Kromer. 188 pp. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. $2". The New York Times. March 17, 1935. Retrieved July 4, 2017.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 "Who was Tom Kromer? On the author of Waiting for Nothing – The Neglected Books Page". Neglected Books. 2020-10-05. Retrieved 2021-05-30.
  3. Douglass, Thomas (2015-12-07). "Tom Kromer". www.wvencyclopedia.org. Retrieved 2021-05-30.
  4. 1 2 Kromer, Tom (1935). Waiting for Nothing and Other Writings. Knopf (University of Georgia Press). p. 268. ISBN   9780820323688 . Retrieved 4 August 2014.
  5. 1 2 Department of the Interior. National Park Service. (1983). "New Mexico MPS Kromer House". National Archives. National Register of Historic Places and National Historic Landmarks Program Records: New Mexico. Retrieved 2021-05-30.
  6. West Virginia, Deaths Index, 1853-1973
  7. "Kromer - Search Spring Hill - Greater Huntington Park & Recreation District". ghprd.org. Retrieved 2022-04-10.
  8. "Thomas Michael Kromer (1906-1969) - Find a Grave..." Find A Grave. Retrieved 2022-04-04.
  9. “CENSORSHIP IN ENGLAND.” The Minneapolis Tribune, 15 Sept. 1935, p. 11.
  10. F.f.k (1935-03-17). "A Young Hobo; WAITING FOR NOTHING. By Tom Kromer. 188 pp. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. $2". The New York Times. ISSN   0362-4331 . Retrieved 2021-05-28.
  11. Rexroth, Kenneth (1968-04-21). "Stiffs on the Road". The New York Times. ISSN   0362-4331 . Retrieved 2021-05-28.
  12. Runciman, Lex (1985). "Waiting for Nothing: Tom Kromer, American Century Series". Minnesota Review. 25 (1): 18. ISSN   2157-4189.
  13. 1 2 Ditsky, John. "The Depression's "Graveyard Ghosts": A Shared 1990 Motif in Waiting for Nothing and The Grapes of Wrath". Studies in American Fiction via Johns Hopkins University.
  14. Crawford, Hugh (1990). "On the Fritz: Tom Kromer's Imaging of the Machine" . South Atlantic Review. 55 (2): 101–116. doi:10.2307/3200263. ISSN   0277-335X. JSTOR   3200263.
  15. Annas, Pam (1995). "Literature as Window, Literature as Mirror: Working-Class Students Meet Their Own Tradition - ProQuest". Radical Teacher.
  16. Obropta, Mary (1995-01-01). "Kromer's Waiting for Nothing" . The Explicator. 53 (2): 111–114. doi:10.1080/00144940.1995.9937244. ISSN   0014-4940.
  17. FREEMAN, ANGELA B. (1998). "The Origins and Fortunes of Negativity: The West Virginia Worlds of Kromer, Pancake, and Benedict". Appalachian Journal. 25 (3): 244–269. ISSN   0090-3779. JSTOR   40933899.
  18. Parker, Robert Dale (2019-03-01). "How to Make a Queer: The Erotics of Begging; or, Down and Out in the Great Depression" . American Literature. 91 (1): 91–119. doi:10.1215/00029831-7335361. ISSN   0002-9831. S2CID   166925100.