Oprah Winfrey has discovered that "through an error," her book list was carrying The Education of Little Tree. She promptly deleted it, which proves that in these sorry times political correctness will always trump literature.
The book, which tells a touching story of a boy raised by his Cherokee grandfather, sold a million copies when it first came out and was praised lavishly by liberal critics, including Ms. Winfrey. After all, it featured two of the favorite things of liberals — a sympathetic portrait of the Native American and a love of nature.
I read the book and liked it, but I was greatly amused by its success and the warm praise for its author, Forrest Carter. He also wrote two other excellent short novels, Gone to Texas and The Vengeance Trail of Josey Wales. The first of those was the basis of Clint Eastwood’s classic Western movie, The Outlaw Josey Wales.
I was amused to the point of laughing out loud, because I had met the author when he was known as Ace Carter, and Ace was about as far away from being a liberal as you can get. In the 1960s, I worked for an advertising agency that several times lent me out as a speechwriter to various Republican candidates.
When I worked for a Republican congressional candidate in Mississippi, Ace Carter was managing the campaign for one of the Democrats and also cutting radio spots advertising a fundraiser for some Klansmen who were accused of burning a black man to death. Both of our candidates lost, and I don’t know how the fundraiser fared, but at any rate, that was the last I saw of Carter until the Little Tree book came out. Despite the change of name, I recognized him and had a great laugh over the gullibility of the liberal critics.
The truth about the author eventually came out, though with no help from me (why spoil such a great joke?), and they all began to choke on their previous words of praise. In their little minds, it’s impossible for a man they now called a white supremacist and a Klansman to write anything worthwhile, even if it did sell a million copies and is still selling.
I don’t know if Carter was a white supremacist or a Klansman. I only met him in passing during the congressional campaign. But most people are not as simple as most liberals seem to think. Carter had a brilliant mind, and his literary work speaks for itself. I recommend all of his books. You will find three good stories and no racism. He was part Cherokee. He died in 1979. He may even have died laughing.
The thing to remember is that The Education of Little Tree is precisely the exact same book the people who now shun it once praised to the high heavens. I’ve never cared a lot about the lives of authors, because a person’s work is what counts. William Faulkner was a surly drunk, but that doesn’t detract from his literary talent. Neither does Ace’s background detract from his literary work. A lot of artists accomplish great things despite their shortcomings. Ace was an orphan with no formal education and did all kinds of odd jobs to keep bread on the table. He had definitely rejected the politically correct and conventional political views. But so what? The man wrote good stories, and a good story is all anyone has a right to expect from a writer.
Our culture, if you can call it that, is in sad shape today because so many people seem to think they must conform to the prevailing prejudices. So many of them run around sticking labels on people and things, they miss life altogether. As the Buddhists say, such people are born drunk and die dreaming.
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.