At the beginning of “The Rejected American”, Fred Beauford presents his good faith and his resentments. “I started a new career, he declares, I am now a novelist. So far it’s not such a bad idea. I can’t get fired. I cannot be reduced. No one else can take credit for my work. And there’s no such thing as an “ex-novelist.” He goes on to state in this book which he describes as “a motley collection of rejected essays, unanswered love letters, ignored job applications, rejected offers of friendship and unpublished letters to the ‘publisher’, and he ends this rant later with a bold decision to publish his own work. “I have the last laugh,” he wrote, “and give a right finger to those who tried to contain my genius.”
Those who knew Fred in any capacity will recognize this element of his personality and literary aspirations. I recently learned from a colleague, Robert Fleming, that Fred passed away last October. It was rather ironic that someone so obsessed with self-promotion didn’t receive even a modicum of recognition, not even an obit from any of the publications for which he wrote, published or edited. But that wouldn’t matter to Fred, in many ways he wrote his own obituary, his own autobiography in several of his self-published books.
Part of his early years can be found in “The Rejected American,” and one of his earliest rejections occurred as he came of age in various foster homes with his brothers. “My two brothers and I lived with Mrs. Thompson for almost seven years. I was six years old when we moved into his big house in Buffalo’s Coldsprings neighborhood,” he recalls in a chapter titled “Personal History.” “Mrs. Thompson was a cruel taskmaster, who cleverly used terror tactics to keep us in line.
Fred was 11 when his mother saved him and his brothers from terror and took them with her to the Bronx. This leg of his journey, which probably began in 1940 in Asbury Park, New Jersey, proved to be the longest and most rewarding leg of the journey. His teenage years were a volatile mix of gang membership, living in projects and experiencing, as he put it, remnants of “The West Side Story”, with all the drama and violence associated with ethnic rivalry.
This stage of his life is interrupted in the book, and then comes the flood of rejections he foresaw at the beginning of the collection. Here and there are bits and pieces of his endeavor to become a writer, the influence of John Oliver Killens, attending workshops at Columbia University, but his story continues most significantly in his memoirs in the Neworld Review, the ultimate online publication and the most successful adventure in the world of journalism. One of the most compelling memories he conjured up there centered on his tenure in the U.S. Army where he met Elvis Presley. After briefly recounting how he first met Elvis, who was a sergeant who waved at him one day, Fred noted that Elvis slept “three bunks away from me, asked for no special favor that I, or anyone else knew, although they obviously existed. , because he became a sergeant in just two years, which was unheard of in peacetime, and he eventually married the girl of the captain.
“But as far as we were concerned,” Fred continued, “he was a ‘good old boy’ and did the same things as the rest of us, and got down in the trenches like the rest of us. ‘between us, which made him very popular and truly beloved among humble grunts. This chance encounter with Elvis, as Fred noted in several essays and reflections, would occur on various occasions, especially in the many halls of middle school class where he taught and lectured.
Almost 20 years before I met Fred in person in the late 80s, I picked up a copy of his first Black Creation magazine, and found it extremely insightful and savored each copy, although it didn’t last that long. Fred and I discussed this moment after he hired me to write for him during his eight years as editor of The Crisis magazine, the internal organ of the NAACP. This began my close collaboration with him and learning about his dream of being the great American author, and his eventual dive into creating his own publishing company which he did with his brother Robert Morton. In his chapter on Elvis in his memoirs he explains how he became a Beauford and not a Morton like his brother. Those interested in this story can go online, where issues of Neworld Review are archived.
Despite the attention and acclaim he received with the publication of Neworld, Fred still pursued employment in other, more prestigious magazines and new outlets. After reading an ad for a publisher at new times in Los Angeles, he applied: “Because of my work at Neworld,” he wrote, “I can honestly say that I have the broadest mind map of anyone I have met in this town. I would be interested in the position you are offering and I would bring many assets to the position as you can see on my CV.
It was another rejection, and it revealed that he was still unhappy with his accomplishments, including “The Hard Luck Novel”, “The Year Jerry Garcia Died”, and others published by Morton Books. I don’t know what else was on Fred’s resume, but a definitive resume shouldn’t ignore the many writers he provided opportunities he didn’t get. And that alone is a reason why he shouldn’t be a rejected American.