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Erica Harth’s first work of fiction, her mystery novel Red Hill Blues, is set in Croton-on-Hudson, New York in the 1950s. Harth herself grew up Croton, and was an adolescent during the turbulent 1950s. Croton was home to a sizable number of leftists and members of the Communist Party, so Harth saw first-hand the effects of FBI surveillance, blacklisting, and the atmosphere of fear and paranoia that had set in across the country. Her own family was not directly affected, since her parents had left the Communist Party, but politics seemed to be the dominant subject of conversation in her home. She herself was uninterested in politics until the 1960s, when she allied with the New Left and then retained leftist politics for the rest of her life. Yet being a “red diaper baby” was always a significant part of her life, starting with her name. (She was named after the first American relief ship sent to the Spanish Loyalists during the Spanish Civil War.)
Harth’s other publications include several books and numerous articles on early modern France, her scholarly area of expertise. She taught at Brandeis University for a number of years, ending her career there as a Professor of Humanities and Women’s Studies when she retired in 2006. In 2001 she published a collection of original essays, Last Witnesses, which she commissioned and edited, on the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. She also contributed the Introduction and a personal essay to that volume. As a child, Harth had lived at Manzanar, California, one of the concentration camps for Japanese Americans scattered across the country, where she went to first grade. She has written several other personal essays on this experience. Since she ceased her scholarly writing, Harth has said, she feels, with her work on the Japanese American camps and with Red Hill Blues, as if she’s been tracing what happened in the larger world during her lifetime.
In October 2014 Harth gave a talk on Red Hill Blues to an enthusiastic reception at the Croton Free Library. She retains a deep attachment to and interest in Croton-on-Hudson.
It is 1953, and the United States government is running amok with the likes of J. Edgar Hoover and Joe McCarthy. In the little village of Croton-on-Hudson, New York, a small group of leftist intellectuals, writers and artists feels under siege. After the suspicious deaths of two Crotonites, one a prominent anti-Communist newspaper publisher, the… [Read More]
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