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H L Humes


In 1963, Time Magazine published a recommended reading list of American novelists whose first work has appeared within the last few years. This list included Walker Percy, David Stacton, Joseph Heller, Richard Condon, John Knowles, John Updike (“Except for Rabbit, Run Updike has risked little”), Philip Roth, H. L. Humes, Ralph Ellison and Bernard Malamud. Six years later, Julian Smith, writing about Condon, commented on the list, saying that only two of the novelists were neglected by the people who get indexed in PMLA – Condon and Humes “whoever he is”. Julian Smith, whoever he is, was writing about Condon, so clearly would know who Condon is. It is strange that he had not only not heard of Humes but did not make the effort to find out who he was. Now, many years later, Condon may be remembered for The Manchurian Candidate. I must confess that I had never heard of David Stacton. And poor Harold Humes is long since forgotten, despite having written the best World War II novel.

H(arold) L(ouis) Humes was born in 1926 in Douglas, Arizona. After going to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), he went to Paris, where he studied at the Sorbonne and ran an English-language newspaper. After meeting Peter Matthiessen, they jointly founded the Paris Review. Only later did Humes find out that Matthiessen was a CIA agent and was using the magazine as his cover, which led to his breaking up with Matthiessen and Paris Review editor George Plimpton. Humes wrote his two novels, the first of which, The Underground City, is the best World War II novel and far superior to Mailer‘s The Naked and the Dead. Soon after this, he started suffering mental problems and never wrote anything else. He was seen hanging around New York as well as at the colleges his daughters (he had four) attended. In the late Sixties, he famously gave away 100 dollar bills that he had got from his father’s inheritance. It was at this time that he met Paul Auster, a student at Columbia. He died of cancer in 1992, his books both long out of print.

Other websites

Harold L. Humes
H. L. Humes
The Doc Humes Institute
Life, Death and the Need to Explain (obituary)
The Burgeoning Rebirth of a Bygone Literary Star
Doc Illuminates NYC Literary Legend
Paris Review co-founder Harold L. Humes’s novels resurface


1957 The Underground City
1959 Men Die