Howard Fast

Howard Fast
Born Howard Melvin Fast
November 11, 1914
New York City, New York, United States
Died March 12, 2003(2003-03-12) (aged 88)
Greenwich, Connecticut, United States
Pen name E. V. Cunningham
Walter Ericson
Occupation Novelist
Nationality American
Period 20th century
Genre Historical fiction
Notable works The Last Frontier, Spartacus, April Morning
Spouse Bette Cohen (1937–1994; her death; 2 children)
Mercedes O'Connor (1999–2003; his death)

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Howard Melvin Fast (November 11, 1914 March 12, 2003) was an American novelist and television writer. Fast also wrote under the pen names E. V. Cunningham and Walter Ericson.

Early life

Fast was born in New York City. His mother, Ida (née Miller), was a British immigrant, and his father, Barney Fast, was a Ukrainian immigrant whose name was shortened from Fastovsky upon his arrival in America. When his mother died in 1923 and his father became unemployed, Howard's youngest brother, Julius, went to live with relatives, while he and his older brother Jerome worked by selling newspapers. He credited his early voracious reading to his part-time job in the New York Public Library.

Fast began writing at an early age. While hitchhiking and riding railroads around the country to find odd jobs, he wrote his first novel, Two Valleys, published in 1933 when he was 18. His first popular work was Citizen Tom Paine, a fictional account of the life of Thomas Paine. Always interested in American history, Fast also wrote The Last Frontier about the Cheyenne Indians' attempt to return to their native land, which inspired the 1964 movie Cheyenne Autumn[1] and Freedom Road, about the lives of former slaves during Reconstruction.

The novel Freedom Road is based on a true story and was made into a 1979 film starring Muhammad Ali, who, in a rare acting role, played Gideon Jackson, an ex-slave in 1870s Virginia who is elected to the U.S. Senate and battles other former slaves and white sharecroppers to keep the land that they tended all their lives.

Contribution to constitutionalism

Fast is the author of the prominent "Why the Fifth Amendment?"[2] essay. This essay explains in detail the purpose of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. Fast effectively uses the context of the Red Scare to illustrate the purpose of the "Fifth."


Fast spent World War II working with the United States Office of War Information, writing for Voice of America. In 1943, he joined the Communist Party USA and in 1950, he was called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities; in his testimony, he refused to disclose the names of contributors to a fund for a home for orphans of American veterans of the Spanish Civil War (one of the contributors was Eleanor Roosevelt), and he was given a three-month prison sentence for contempt of Congress.[3]

It was while he was at Mill Point Federal Prison that Fast began writing his most famous work, Spartacus, a novel about an uprising among Roman slaves.[3] Blacklisted by major publishing houses following his release from prison, Fast was forced to publish the novel himself. By the standards of a selfpublished book, it was a great success, going through seven printings in the first four months of publication. (According to Fast in his memoir, 50,000 copies were printed, of which 48,000 were sold.)

He subsequently established the Blue Heron Press, which allowed him to continue publishing under his own name throughout the period of his blacklisting. Just as the production of the film version of Spartacus (released in 1960) is considered a milestone in the breaking of the Hollywood blacklist, the reissue of Fast's novel by Crown Publishers in 1958 effectively ended his own blacklisting within the American publishing industry.

In 1952, Fast ran for Congress on the American Labor Party ticket. During the 1950s he also worked for the Communist newspaper, the Daily Worker. In 1953, he was awarded the Stalin Peace Prize. Later that decade, Fast broke with the Party over issues of conditions in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

In the mid-1950s, Fast moved with his family to Teaneck, New Jersey.[4] In 1974, Fast and his family moved to California, where he wrote television scripts, including such television programs as How the West Was Won. In 1977, he published The Immigrants, the first of a six-part series of novels.

Personal life

He married his first wife, Bette Cohen, on June 6, 1937. Their children were Jonathan and Rachel. Bette died in 1994. In 1999, he married Mercedes O'Connor, who already had three sons. He died in Old Greenwich, Connecticut.

Fast's son Jonathan Fast, himself a novelist, was married to novelist Erica Jong; their daughter is the novelist Molly Jong-Fast.

The writer Julius Fast was his younger brother.





The Masao Masuto Mysteries (as E.V. Cunningham)

Short story collections

Essays and articles



  1. Fast, Being Red (1990) pp.162-3.
  2. Why the Fifth Amendment?
  3. 1 2 Burnsworth, Jodi (March 9, 2012). "The Forgotten Prison on Kennison Mountain - Part 3 of 4". The Inter-Mountain. Elkins, West Virginia. Archived from the original on September 15, 2014. Retrieved September 15, 2014.
  4. Und Spartakus, Berliner Zeitung, 15 March 2003. Article in German relating the decision to move to Teaneck.
  5. Google Books

External links

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