Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Robert Leeson, a man of his word: (brief personal memoir and Guardian obituary)

In the 1970's in London, the feminist-Marxist writer and translator, Cathy Porter, author of the definitive biography of Alexandra Kollontai, put me on to Robert Leeson, who was then serving as the Features Editor of Morning Star, the daily Communist newspaper of Great Britain. Although I was not of that political persuasion, Mr. Leeson offered me the post of poetry reviewer. He said he would never change a word of what I submitted and that he would never ask me to review any book I preferred not to. After I had written on George Oppen's Selected Poems, published by Stuart Montgomery's Fulcrum Press, Iain Sinclair's ground breaking "Lud Heat", Linton Kwesi Johnson's first book, "Dread Beat and Blood", Farida Majid's translations of poets of Bangaldesh, "Take Me Home, Rickshaw" published by her Salamander press, and other innovative works ignored by the British establishment, and usually printed in limited editions by small presses, Bob Leeson was put under in-house pressure to get rid of me due to complaints by Communist poets that their books were not being reviewed. But Mr. Leeson was a man of his word and never asked me to change my brief essays or to write reviews in praise of the usual suspects. I respected and admired his integrity and "grace under pressure" enormously, and although I did not know him well, I was saddened to read of his passing.

> Colin Chambers
> Wednesday 20 November 2013
> The Guardian
> http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/nov/20/robert-leeson-obituary
> ----
> My friend and former colleague Robert Leeson, who has
> died aged 85, was a powerful force for change in
> children's books in the 1970s and 80s, as a critic,
> campaigner and creator. The author of more than 70 titles,
> he championed robust storytelling free of the scars of
> class, gender and race bias that bedevilled conventional
> children's literature at the time.Born in
> Barnton, Cheshire, the youngest of four children, Bob joined
> his local paper on leaving school before national service
> took him into the army and to Egypt, where he edited a
> clandestine Nissen hut newspaper. It was not surprising
> that, as a communist whose passion was writing, he continued
> as a journalist, post-army, on the Daily Worker and its
> successor the Morning Star, for which he served as a
> broad-minded and knowledgable literary editor, as well as a
> witty feature writer.He achieved his ambition of
> becoming a full-time writer when he was in his 40s.
> Alongside fascinating studies in trade union history, he
> crafted an impressive array of adventures for younger
> audiences, criss-crossing genres and historical periods,
> from a splendid trilogy set in the late 16th/17th centuries
> to sci-fi tales and The Third-Class Genie (1975), in which the
> eponymous hero lives in a beer can and ends up pursued as an
> illegal immigrant.Bob's fertile output included
> five novels inspired by the characters in the BBC TV series
> Grange Hill, beginning with Grange Hill Rules, OK? (1980). His imaginative
> creation of different milieus was fed by countless visits he
> made to schools, aimed at fostering in his youthful
> listeners the same love of writing and reading that drove
> him.As chair of the Writers'
> Guild's books committee in the early 1980s, he
> played a vital part in negotiating minimum terms agreements
> with leading British publishers and in 1985 he was elected
> chair of the guild itself. Also in 1985, he won the Eleanor Farjeon award for distinguished service
> to the world of British children's books.Bob had
> a marvellous and wicked sense of humour (which he used like
> a harpoon to prick pomposity) and the densely detailed
> erudition common among autodidacts. He kept writing until
> the end, self-publishing regular volumes of poems
> illustrated by his Norwegian wife, Gunvor, whom he met in
> Budapest in 1952 and married two years later in
> Oslo.He is survived by Gunvor and their two children,
> Fred and Christine.