Robert B. Wyatt's Story Till Now
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About Jam & the Box | New York Village of Highkill | Casting About for Characters
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Hikill, NYHighkill, NY, the principal setting for Jam  & The Box, has no more bearing on reality than Grover’s Corners, West Egg, or Yoknapatawpha County. 

You may search all the atlases the world over or similarly explore Google, but the only citation would be found in a 1958 novel, Heroes and Orators, by Robert Phelps.

Now in the manner of Brigadoon, Highkill reappears in Jam & The Box and The Fluffys & The Box fifty-one years after Phelps placed it in our literary atlas as the principal setting for his novel.

Visitors to Woodstock, NY, might recognize elements of the Catskill town in the Highkill of Heroes and Orators. Mr. Phelps spent time in Ulster County and Manhattan, and the spirit of the little mountain town inspired the rural setting of his fiction as it does again in Jam & The Box.  Both employ deliberate disguises because nothing upsets the good townsfolk of Woodstock more than the publication of novels—and there is a lot of Woodstock fiction—that inaccurately describe the town. Freer reign is given the novelist when he can brazenly use the town mantra of  “in a town like this. . .”

Mr. Phelps’s own story is interesting and has been given new attention in recent times. Before publication of Heroes and Orators, he had founded Grove Press in 1949 with a partner. At Grove Press he began his distinguished career as a clever anthologist and book editor with a handful of titles, including his Selected Writings of the Ingenius Mrs. Aprha Behn.  Two years after its founding, Grove was sold to Barney Rosset for an alleged $3000, and Mr. Phelps pursued a career that included lecturing at the New School, his introduction to English language readers of the works of Collette, particularly in his Earthly Paradise: Colette’s Autobiography Drawn From Her Lifetime Writings, editions of writings by Jean Cocteau, Glenway Westcott, Father James Flye, and Ned Rorem, among others; as well as a cherished collection of literary material, The Literary Life: A Scrapbook Almanac of the Anglo-American Literary Scene from 1900 to 1950; Comprising Pictures, Gossip, Homage, Warnings, and Clues—Together with Laurels, Letters, Lists, and Whispered Asides—the Whole Reverently Garnered and Arranged by William Phelps and Peter Deane.

A year or so before the publication of  Heroes and Orators, Mr. Phelps helped his publishers, David McDowell and Yvonne Oblensky, prepare publication of James Agee’s unfinished work, A Death in the Family, arranging a work previously published in Partisan Review as prologue. It is one of the most beautiful evocations ever placed in a novel and also the text for another work of considerable beauty:  Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” for soprano and orchestra.

Heroes and Orators When HEROES AND ORATORS was published, Mr. Phelps declared he was writing “an epistolary novel, in the manner of HUMPHREY CLINKER, about sports-car racing.” Such a work (or any other novel by Mr. Phelps) has not been seen in Woodstock or Highkill, NY.

Recently, copies of HEROES AND ORATORS were available from internet booksellers ranging from “good” at $30 to slightly stained “near fine” from at $80.

Recent appreciations of Mr. Phelps’s work:

Michael Dirda
John MacIntyre
Derek Alger



One wonders if Highkill will appear again in fifty years. And if so, what it will be like in that incarnation.

 

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