Clarke (History/Jacksonville Univ.; Alliance of Colored People, 2011) presents a biography of his grandfather Protestant fundraiser Dr. J. Calvitt Clarke.
The elder Clarke was born in 1887 in Brooklyn, New York. He enjoyed the amusements of Coney Island in his youth, dropped out of public school at age 14, and learned from working as an office boy “how the lack of money can be inconvenient.” He later attended various schools, worked on freighters in the Great Lakes, and eventually became an ordained minister. In this position, he revealed himself as someone who could both entertain and persuade. In 1914, he took to the pulpit at the Christian Church in Indiana, Pennsylvania, and his sermons drew praise in the Indiana Evening Gazette. In time, he would use his strength as an orator to help raise money for charitable causes, such as Armenians in peril during World War I. He later turned to fundraising full-time and founded a Christian organization devoted to helping children abroad. The book explores the elder Clarke’s fundraising in depth; however, the story is most intriguing when examining his “second life of great merit”: his vocation as a writer. He published a number of novels under pseudonyms—many of them racy romances, such as Tenement Girl and Boarding House Blonde. In a novel titled The Slaves of Ishtar, the author says, “Clarke married debauchery with mysticism and demonic human sacrifice.” The fact that a respected Christian fundraiser had a side job writing about “demonic human sacrifice” is an astounding revelation that makes this biography a worthwhile read. Indeed, further exploration of the novels would have been revealing and welcome. However, the author leaves things vague about how aware the elder Clarke’s colleagues were of his writings; it’s also not made clear how the fundraiser managed to write so prolifically while engaged in his other activities. The author adroitly describes his subject’s charity work, but it won’t strike readers’ imaginations the way that the unpublished futuristic novel Doctor Time does, with its assortment of utopian oddities.
A biography that somewhat illuminates a multifaceted figure, although key questions remain unanswered.