Title: Ironweed



Photographer: Margaret Bourke-White
Author: William Kennedy
Publisher: Penguin
Designer: Neil Stuart

 

Image Title: Tupelo, Mississippi
Photo Genre: Documentry
Book Genre: Novel
Notes:

One would assume that the shabby, tough, proud-looking individual on the cover of William Kennedy's 'Ironweed' represents Francis Phelan, former baseball player turned vagabond, and the novels main character. 'Ironweed' is the third book in Kennedy's 'Albany' trilogy, and the story takes place in that city. As if to drive the point home, the Phelan image may also be found, less prominently, on the cover of Kennedy's non-fiction work, 'O Albany' (see 'Point of Interest' image at right).
In fact, the cover image is a screened and flipped (horizontally from the original) version of a photograph from 'You Have Seen Their Faces", the 1937 text and image collaboration between Margaret Bourke-White and Erskine Caldwell. The title under Bourke-White's photo is 'Tupelo, Mississippi', and it is followed by the quotation:

"There were plenty of people who couldn't get a living out of a farm long before the Government heard about it".

The quote was made, presumably, by the picture's subject, but one never knows with Bourke-White and Caldwell, who had a tendency toward poetic license.
Be that as it may, it is our inclination as humans to put a face to a name; for those who have, for example, only seen the film version of 'Ironweed', Francis Phelan may forever have the face of Jack Nicholson. For readers of this popular Penguin edition, he is Bourke-White's anonymous Mississippi farmer. KB