Biography of American Writer Joe Gould Part 1

About the famous American writer Joe Gould, history and biography of Professor Sea Gull, professed author of the longest book ever written.


Joe Gould (1889-1957)

He called himself Professor Sea Gull, Hot Shot Poet from Poetville, and Chairman of the Board of Weal and Woe, and claimed to be the author of the longest book ever written, An Oral History of Our Time, which became a minor literary classic even though it may never have existed. His real genius may have been in an oral genre, the anecdote, for he was a dazzling raconteur who remained the most colorful bohemian personality in New York's Greenwich Village for the 40 years before his death. He inspired a fine poem by E.E. Cummings, a superb New Yorker profile by Joseph Mitchell, drawings by Don Freeman, and intense admiration of William Saroyan, who called him "one of the few genuine and original American writers."

Joseph Ferdinand Gould was a Yankee blue blood, scion of the New England Goulds, who are related to the Lowells and the Lawrences. He graduated from Harvard, class of 1911, and retained his Harvard accent through years of bohemian poverty. Standing 5 ft. 4 in. and weighing less than 100 lb., Gould insisted that the manuscript of his Oral History was taller and heavier than himself. Bald-pated with long frizzily hair and a bushy cinnamon-colored beard, Gould wore cast-off clothes with great flair, and sported a beret or a yachting cap, a cummerbund, and an ivory cigarette holder. Greenwich Village bartenders multiplied his nicknames, calling him such things as Professor Bloomingdale and the Mongoose. He was an authentic American original, a blithe free spirit who claimed to be the last of the bohemians: "All the others fell by the wayside. Some are in the grave, some are in the loony bin, and some are in the advertising business."

Gould's family assumed he would become a physician, but instead he finished his education with a bachelor's degree and announced his intention "to stroll and ponder." He meandered around Canada for a couple of years, returned to Boston, and then in 1915 did field work for the Eugenics Record Office in Cold Spring Harbor, work that led the Carnegie Institute to send him to North Dakota to measure the heads of Chippewas and Mandans. It is not known whether this work revolutionized theories of the cephalic index, but it did teach Joe Gould to ride, to dance, and to whoop. He returned to Massachusetts convinced that the Indians should run the country and the whites be put on reservations, a notion that may have seemed shocking to his WASP relations.

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