Partner James Merrill, Marc Harrington
58 Barrow St, New York, NY 10014
Harvard University, 2 Kirkland St, Cambridge, MA 02138
35 E 65th St, New York, NY 10065
Pawlet, VT 05761
Claude Mathews Fredericks (October 14, 1923 – January 11, 2013) was an American poet, playwright, printer, writer, and teacher. Fredericks was a professor of literature at Bennington College in Vermont for more than 30 years, from 1961 to 1992. Fredericks took several trips abroad as an adult. He visited Europe in 1950–52 with James Merrill and Japan in 1966. The American poet James Merrill and his lover Claude Fredericks visited Alice B. Toklas in the 1950s. Merrill later said of the occasion: ‘Alice and Gertrude had always kept a special fondness for male couples, if literary so much the better, and Alice’s welcome, when she joined us, was the warmer for decades of practice.’ Fredericks lived in Rome in 1983–84. He had a romantic relationship in the early 1950s with James Merrill and they remained lifelong friends. Merrill wrote about the relationship in his 1993 memoir A Different Person. Marc Harrington began living with Fredericks in 1995. The last 15,000 pages of The Journal of Claude Fredericks is a detailed depiction of their intimate life together. They married in 2010. Harrington is the director of the Claude Fredericks Foundation.
Claude Mathews Fredericks was born in Missouri Valley, Iowa, on October 14, 1923, and grew up in Springfield, Missouri. A precocious and lonely child, he began keeping a diary when he was eight years old. His mother took him to weekly Sunday afternoon picture shows and he listened to broadcasts of plays and symphony concerts on the radio. She took him on trips to New York, the Caribbean, Mexico, and Europe in the 1930s. In the 1940s he lived in New York City and worked for the Brick Now Brook Shop at 55 5th Avenue. In 1941, at seventeen, he entered Harvard College, where he studied Greek with John Huston Finley Jr., Sanskrit with Walter Eugene Clark, and Oriental Art with Langdon Warner. His friends included May Sarton, John Simon, John Berryman, Delmore Schwartz, Alan Rich, Paul Doguereau, and Fanny Peabody Mason. He left college after a year and a half. In 1944, he moved to New York, settled into a large, empty room at 35 East 65th Street, and began to study on his own. He continued to maintain his journal and wrote stories and poems. To these he added several radio plays and a short novel, The Wedding.
In the late 1940s Fredericks founded Banyan Press, which for decades issued hand-set limited editions by writers such as Gertrude Stein, John Berryman, and James Merrill. The first several thousand pages of The Journal of Claude Fredericks, a personal diary that is unprecedented in its length, continuity, detail, and candor, has been published in several volumes. More than 50,000 manuscript pages are held by the Getty Center in Los Angeles, California. The Banyan Press catalog is far-ranging and consists largely of unpublished works, printed by hand in limited editions, by well-known writers such as Gertrude Stein, Wallace Stevens, Richard Eberhart, Stephen Spender, Osbert Sitwell, André Gide, Florine Stettheimer, James Merrill, Robert Duncan, John Berryman, Thomas Merton, Bernard Malamud, Charles Simic, as well as works by John Donne, Thomas Traherne, William Blake, Meister Eckhart, Francis of Assisi, and other writers from earlier centuries.
After moving to a beautiful Greek Revival farmhouse in Pawlet, Vermont, in 1948 Fredericks began to write plays, more than a dozen over the next thirty years. Many received New York productions; several others were left unfinished. His three most successful plays were performed off-Broadway in the 1950s and 1960s. Julian Beck and Judith Malina at The Living Theatre produced Fredericks' The Idiot King in 1954, and the Artists Theatre, directed by Herbert Machiz and John Bernard Myers, produced On Circe's Island and A Summer Ghost in 1961. In 1965, A Summer Ghost appeared in the first volume of New American Plays, edited by Robert Corrigan, and The Bennington Review included On Circe’s Island in its issue for the winter of 1969. The Idiot King was not published until 2012, when it appeared alongside A Summer Ghost and On Circe’s Island in a volume entitled Three Plays. In 1959, the Living Theater presented Luigi Pirandello's Tonight We Improvise in a translation by Fredericks. In 1962, writing in the New York Times, Arthur Gelb panned a production of On Circe's Island and The Summer Ghost, presented together under the title Charlatans: "the two plays talk themselves into a kind of numbing dullness." He called them "the longest short plays to visit Off Broadway in many a balmy April."
In 1961 Fredericks began to teach at Bennington College, famous for the non-traditional, even radical, liberal-arts education it offered its students. He could read many of the works he taught in their original languages: Latin, Greek, and Japanese. His courses there—among them Homer, Virgil & Dante; Poetic Idiom; Shakespeare; Japanese Novels; Theatrical Idiom; and Religious Experience—were, notably at the time, taught not in a classroom, but usually in a living room in one of the old white clapboard student houses scattered about the Common. Fredericks also taught students in tutorials usually held in his second-floor corner office in Commons Building at Bennington. He left Bennington in 1992. Fredericks's students at Bennington included the novelist Donna Tartt, who modeled a character on Fredericks in The Secret History (1992) and dedicated The Goldfinch (2013), winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize, to him. Other students included: novelist Bret Easton Ellis, poets Anne Waldman and Kathleen Norris, Roger Kimball, editor and publisher of The New Criterion, Thomas Matthews, editor of The Wine Spectator, activist Andrea Dworkin, and philanthropist Yasmin Aga Khan. Colleagues of Fredericks at Bennington included: novelists Bernard Malamud, Arturo Vivante, and Shirley Jackson, poet Howard Nemerov, literary critics Stanley Edgar Hyman, Kenneth Burke, and Camille Paglia, art critic Lawrence Alloway, composers Marc Blitzstein, Henry Brant, and Peter Golub, painters Kenneth Noland and Jules Olitski, and sculptor Anthony Caro.
Fredericks' personal diary is notable for its length and continuity. He began keeping a journal in 1932 when he was eight years old and wrote for more than eighty years, with his last entries dated a week before his death; it fills some 65,000 pages. In the 1960s, when Robert Giroux proposed publication, Fredericks declined because he had written candidly about so many people still living. When he changed his mind years later, Giroux thought it too late to interest the reading public in figures no longer current: "The moment's passed. Now who knows who Carl Van Vechten is?" Yale scholar Langdon Hammer describes it as "a project of self-knowledge tirelessly pursued". The manuscript, then unfinished and consisting of more than 30 million words was purchased by the Getty Research Institute at the Getty Center in Los Angeles in 1988. In anticipation of publication, The Stinehour Press produced a prospectus in 1997. In 1995 Fredericks, with the collaboration of Marc Harrington, his former student at Bennington, began editing the journal for publication. Before his death, Fredericks had participated in editing his journals as far as 1944. Fredericks, who had written thousands of poems, published a small collection of 141 of them in Selected Poems in 2005, drawing on his journals where he had recorded his drafts and revisions. In 2010, the Claude Fredericks Foundation was incorporated with the two-fold purpose of publishing the entire Journal and other of Fredericks's writings as well as preserving—as a museum, library, and retreat center—the writer’s house and land in Pawlet, Vermont.
Fredericks died at home in Pawlet, Vermont, on January 11, 2013.
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