At the beginning of “The Rejected American,” Fred Beauford presents his bona fides and his resentments. “I have started a new career,” he declared, “I am now a novelist. So far this is not such a bad idea. I can’t get fired. I can’t get downsized. No one else can take credit for my work. And there is no such thing as an ‘ex-novelist.’” He goes on to state in this book he describes as “a motley collection of rejected essays, unanswered love letters, ignored job applications, spurned offers of friendship and unpublished letters to the editor,” and he ends this rant later with a bold decision to publish his own work. “I have the last laugh,” he wrote, “and I give a righteous finger to those who tried to contain my genius.”
Those who knew Fred, in any capacity, will recognize this element of his personality and his literary aspirations. I learned recently from a colleague, Robert Fleming, that Fred had died last October. It was rather ironic that someone so consumed with self-promotion has not received even a modicum of recognition, not even an obit from any of the publications he wrote for, published, or edited. But that would be of no consequence to Fred, in many respects he wrote his own obituary, his own autobiography in many of his self-published books.
A portion of his early years can be found in “The Rejected American,” and one of his first rejections occurred as a child coming of age in various foster homes with his brothers. “My two brothers and I lived with Mrs. Thompson for almost seven years. I was six years old when we moved into her large house in the Coldsprings section of Buffalo,” he recalled in a chapter entitled “Personal History.” “Mrs. Thompson was a cruel taskmaster, who cleverly used terror tactics to keep us in line.”
Fred was 11 when his mother rescued him and his brothers from the terror and moved them with her to the Bronx. This stop on his journey that began probably in 1940 in Asbury Park, New Jersey, proved the longest and most rewarding station along the way. His teen years were a volatile mixture of gang membership, living in the projects, and experiencing, as he put it, remnants of “The West Side Story,” with all the drama and violence associated with ethnic rivalry.
This stage of his life is interrupted in the book, and then comes the flood of rejections he forecast at the beginning of the collection. Here and there are bits and pieces of his venture to become a writer, the influence of John Oliver Killens, attendance to workshops at Columbia University, but his story continues most significantly in his memoir that appeared in the Neworld Review, the online publication and final and most successful venture into the world of journalism. One of the most compelling recollections he posited there centered on his tenure in the U.S. Army where he met Elvis Presley. After briefly recounting how he first encountered Elvis, who was a sergeant who waved to him one day, Fred noted that Elvis was sleeping “three bunks down from me, asked no special favors that I, or anyone else knew of, although they obviously existed, because he made sergeant in only two years, which was unheard of in peacetime, and he ultimately married the captain’s daughter.
“But as far as we were concerned,” Fred continued, “he was a ‘good ole boy,’ and did the same things that the rest of us did, and got down and dirty in the trenches like the rest of us, which made him very popular and genuinely well liked among the lowly grunts.” This chance meeting with Elvis, as Fred noted in several essays and reflections, would crop up at various occasions, particularly in the several college classrooms where he taught and lectured.
Almost 20 years before I met Fred in person in the late ’80s, I picked up a copy of his first magazine Black Creation, and found it extremely insightful and relished each copy, though it didn’t last that long. Fred and I discussed this moment after he hired me to write for him during his eight years as editor of The Crisis magazine, the house organ for the NAACP. That began my close working association with him and learning of his dream to be the great American author, and his eventual dive into starting his own publishing company that he did with his brother Robert Morton. In his chapter on Elvis in his memoir he explains how he became Beauford and not a Morton like his brother. Those interested in that story can go online, where issues of Neworld Review are archived.
Despite the attention and some acclaim he received with the publication of Neworld, Fred was still pursuing a job at other more prestigious magazines and new outlets. After reading an ad for an editor at the New Times in Los Angeles, he applied, “Because of my work at Neworld,” he wrote, “I can honestly say that I have the broadest mental map of anyone I have encountered in this town. I would be interested in the position that you are offering and would bring many assets to the job as you can see from my resume.”
It was another rejection, and it revealed that he was still not satisfied with his accomplishments that included, “The Hard Luck Novel,” “The Year Jerry Garcia Died,” and others published by Morton Books. I am not sure what else was on Fred’s resume but a definitive one should not ignore the many writers he provided opportunities he didn’t get. And that alone is a reason he should not be a rejected American.