G. P. Solomos was born in Detroit in 1925, the youngest of five children of Greek-born parents.
The Solomos family were descendants of tobacco tycoon Count Nicolas Solomonee from Venice. They were olive oil producers who settled in Greece before the end of the Greek War of Independence (1821–1829). They were relatives of the Greek poet Dionysios Solomos who had lived on the Greek island Zante (Zakynthos) most of his adult life; his most famous poem "Hymn to Liberty" is the Greek National Anthem.
His father had left Sparta because of a family tragedy when he was still a teenager. Having been educated in the English language he decided to make his way to the USA. His mother - also from Sparta - was taken to the States by her two older brothers for similar tragic reasons as his father. His parents were introduced on landing in New York about 1910, and decided to marry and stay in the USA for a while.
George was born and raised in Detroit; a French - American city which became known as Motor City - the centre of the US car industry - as well as a wellspring of much great popular music; from soul to heavy metal and techno. Prior to Motown, jazz had moved from up from the clubs of Chicago to Detroit in the 1920s, and George spent much of his teenage years in jazz clubs. His father ran a large Mediterranean delicatessen and general food store on Vermont and Henry Street, right near to Michigan Avenue.
George Solomos with Asa Benveniste
George Solomos joined the USAF at the age of 17 after changing his birth certificate with his father's permission. After a short period of training, he was almost immediately shipped to Britain, where he became a radio operator in an American B-17 Flying Fortress bomber based in an airfield in East Anglia. After his plane was shot down on his eleventh bombing mission to Germany; the crew bailed out of the burning bomber and George ended up landing tangled in the branches of an apple tree in North East France, near to the Belgian / Dutch border. He was rescued by a French grand-mother and her grand-daughter. After a night in the farmhouse he was passed to the French Resistance. He was taken on a journey of over 200 miles to a little village north of Paris called Evereux. He stayed in the village with the caretaker of Château de Beaufresne, which had belonged to the famous impressionist painter, Mary Cassatt. The chateau was being used as a residence for German officers. At this point he was given a new - fake - ID card with a swastika stamp. George Solomos was then passed to other members of the Resistance who helped the young airman cross Occupied France and eventually enter Spain, from where he was sent to Gibraltar, and then back to his airbase near Ipswich.
From 1948 to 1958 George Solomos used the pen-name Themistocles Hoetis. A relative had warned him that he could bring shame to the family with his outspoken political views, which had developed in response to both the war and the de-programming that he received back in the USA - a standard "treatment" for all servicemen who had been in close contact with Communists. Under this name he and Asa Benveniste ublished and edited a magazine called ZERO; A Review of Literature and Art. The first issue contained the famous attack on Richard Wright by James Baldwin, followed by a short story by Wright. Among the prominent writers featured in the magazine were Samuel Beckett, Paul Bowles, Christopher Isherwood, Kenneth Patchen, and Thomas Mann's eldest son, Klaus Mann. Zero Press from 1956 also published novels and a collection of stories by Gore Vidal. The magazine Zero ran from 1949 to 1956. Its first two issues were published in Paris in 1949, the rest in Tangiers, Mexico City and in New York. A first anthology of Zero was published in 1956, another without his involvement in 1974 by the New York Times. An additional number was issued in Philadelphia in 1980. It reported on the very violent action taken by the Philadelphia Police Department against the black revolutionary commune MOVE.
The expatriate Left Bank scene in Paris in which George quickly established himself as a "social lion", in the words of one friend, included his co-editor Asa Benveniste and the American writers Herbert Gold, Richard Wright and James Baldwin. Also present was a young Norwegian woman, Gidske Anderson, who was known among their circle as Baldwin's "fiancee" but eventually tied the knot with George instead, despite the fact that both men were predominantly homosexual.
He married Gidske Anderson in London in 1952. She had been with the wartime resistance in Norway. She met Solomos in Paris after the War. They both shared a love of jazz and, as a neighbour, she had asked to loan some of his records. She was then working for the Norwegian newspaper Arbeiderbladet and later became deputy chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. She died in 1993.
Having published his novel The Man Who Went Away in 1952, George received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation in 1953 to live and write in Mexico City, where he completed his still unpublished book Thermopylae, a novel about war and the ideals of ancient Sparta.
In 1958 at Detroit Town Hall George legally changed the name he had used for the last ten years while publishing ZERO - Themistocles Hoetis - back to his birth name of George Paul Solomos.
From 1958 to 1960, George was asked by Dr. Bascilius (Head of Humanities) at Wayne State University, where he had completed a one-year course after the war ended in 1945 - which was his entitlement as a US veteran - to propose and edit work for publication by the Wayne State University Press (WSU Press). The first book he designed for the WSU Press was The Poems of William Blake, which won the award of Best Poetry Anthology of the year 1958 from the Poetry Society of America. The next year, 1959, he had prepared a version of the anti-nuclear tract by Bertrand Russell, Common Sense and Nuclear Warfare which the WSU Press had already proofed and printed. It was withdrawn under threat from large industrial sponsors who threatened to withhold funding. Solomos left the USA soon after this and returned to Europe.
George Solomos died at Forest Hills home in London on November 8, 2010.
His second book is currently being translated into Spanish for publication in the next year. It is called Villa Alba, and is a novel based on some time he spent in Franco's Spain in the 1950s.
A Historical Guide to James Baldwin (Historical Guides to American Authors) by Douglas Field
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; First Edition edition (September 24, 2009)
Amazon: A Historical Guide to James Baldwin
With contributions from major scholars of African American literature, history, and cultural studies, A Historical Guide to James Baldwin focuses on the four tumultous decades that defined the great author's life and art. Providing a comprehensive examination of Baldwin's varied body of work that includes short stories, novels, and polemical essays, this collection reflects the major events that left an indelible imprint on the iconic writer: civil rights, black nationalism and the struggle for gay rights in the pre- and post-Stonewall eras. The essays also highlight Baldwin's under-studied role as a trans-Atlantic writer, his lifelong struggle with faith, and his use of music, especially the blues, as a key to unlock the mysteries of his identity as an exile, an artist, and a black American in a racially hostile era.
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