In January 1940 John Fante was involved in a horrific car accident which left him weak for months thereafter. His editor, Pascal Covici, sent him $300 so that he could pay off his debts related to the incident. On May 29, 1940, Viking Press extended a contract offer for a collection of short stories and three novels. They offered a general advance of $500 dollars, enclosing a check of $200. Before receiving that letter, Fante, who was notoriously bad with money, had mentioned to Viking his desire to ask for another advance. Below, Fante accepts Viking’s offer and gives instructions on the short story collection’s future, suggesting the title of Dago Red before elaborating on the best order for the short stories.
2904 Manhattan Ave,
Manhattan Beach, Calif.
June 3, 1940
Needless to say, I’m terribly happy at your decision. Enough said. My deepest thanks for your faith and enthusiasm. You can depend on me to deliver for you. I’ll write you the best goddamn novel you ever published. I mean that. I’ll write a book that will make any of Steinbeck appear like small peanuts. You keep this letter. You wait. You reread this letter in two years. You’ll see…
Look Pat I got a new title, a honey a smashing good title. DAGO RED. That’s it Pat. Dago Red. Bang. Odyssey of a Wop sounds too much like christ carrying a cross up a hill. Dago Red has flash and enthusiasm. Dago Red. Bang.
The acceptance of this book spurs me like a swift kick in the ass. Right away everything got clear. Real soon I’ll send you the outline of the novel and wow, what a book, it came to me like something jumping out of the ground. I got the whole thing at my fingertips. You wait you see you’ll like it it’s good…
Here are some more stories. The Wrath of God and Hail Mary simply must be included. They are the measure of my faith and they belong…
Here is the arrangement I like:
A Wife For Dino Rossi
Home Sweet Home
Jakie Shaler’s Mother
The Odyssey Of A Wop
My Mother’s Goofy Song
The Road To Hell
Bricklayer In The Snow
One Of Us
The Wrath Of God
(A Night in Venice)
I know you don’t have A Night In Venice, and I don’t think you have Big Leaguer. Just for the hell of it, I am sending you The Postman Rings and Rings, which was published in The Mercury. I think it’s only a fair piece of work, but if you need material it might be included. A Night In Venice is pretty long (about 6500 words), and it was a pretty thoroughly revised chapter in Ask The Dust. I can let you have it if you want it. The only two I insist must be included are Hail Mary and The Wrath Of God…
Best Regards from me and Joyce,
From John Fante: Selected Letters, 1932-1981. Edited by Seamus Cooney. New York: Ecco, 2002. pp. 166-7.
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Read Goodbye Bunker Hill, a piece published in the LA Times in June 1940.
Watch A Sad Flower in the Sand, a documentary featuring Fante.
Read about Bukowski’s involvement in putting forward Fante’s literature.