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From Lillian Eugenia Smith

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Author: Smith, Lillian Eugenia

Date: August 14, 1958

Location: Clayton, Ga.

Genre: Letter


Smith praises King’s book and indicates that she had just sent a review to the Saturday Review.1 On 23 January 1959 King thanked Smith: “Of all the reviews that I have read on Stride Toward Freedom, I still consider yours the best. I will keep it among my most cherished possessions.”

Dear Mr. King:

It was good to hear from you. I read your book long ago and was told by Harpers that they are using a blurb from me on the dust cover. I am also reviewing the book for Saturday Review andmy review went off on Monday of this week.

Of course I like the book very much indeed. I gave it a very enthusiastic review in the Saturdav Review and triedto make it sound so interesting that the intelligent reader would feel that he had to read it. The big thing to do in a review, is, from my point of view as an author the is “take the results” of these reviews, to make the reader want to read it. I praised your book highly; I also praised you highly; but I tried, also, to give the reader a feeling about the book, to excite his curiosity and his good impulses. I led off by saying, “This is the most interesting book that has come out of the current racial situation.” (etc.) I also told something of your intellectual lifeinterests. I did a 750 word review and I hope they won’t cut it or mangle it in any way. They asked me for from 600 to 800 words.

Under these circumstances, since I am doing the review for a national magagzine, I do not think it would perhaps be the wise thing to ask the Los Angeles Times to let me do it. Also, I am working day and night on my novel trying to meet my October deadline and am very afraid that I cannot, at present, save by word of mouth, do more.2 If I can think of an important national editor who will listen to me instead of to the “moderates” (whom you were a bit too easy on, don’t you think?) I shall drop him a note and tell him your book is a very important one. For readers, it is important that the New York Times give it a good review and in an important place in the paper.3 But an author cannot urge a book editor to do this: it only irritates. But I can—as a reader who knows her way around in this racial complex. And if I can do it where it will help, I shall certainly drop a word in as tactful a way as possible. I think, from my notes exchanged with Harpers, that they are going to try to push your book quite a bit—more than they had at first expected to. I certainly hope they will.

I will drop your {promotion} editor a note and tell him that small ads ought to bring in fine results from such magazines as The Progressive, The Christian Century, The New Leader, The New Republic and the F.O.R. magazine. These small ads will bring the book to the attention of a group of readers who will want to read your book but who may not, otherwise, hear of it.

With every wish for your book’s success and for yours and your wife’s welfare and happiness—and do come to see me on the mountain, won’t you?

Sincerely yours,
[signed] Lillian Smith

1. In her review Smith wrote that Stride Toward Freedom would “become a classic story—as has Gandhi’s salt march—of man demanding justice and discovering that justice first begins in his own heart” (“And Suddenly Something Happened,” Saturday Review 41 [20 September 1958]: 21).

2. Smith’s novel One Hour was published in 1959.

3. In his New York Times review, Abel Plenn wrote that Stride “constitutes a document of far-reaching importance for present and future chroniclings of the struggle for civil rights in this country” (“The Cradle Was Rocked,” New York Times, 12 October 1958).

Source: MLKP-MBU. Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University, Boston, Mass.

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