In July 1944, Orson Welles wrapped up one of his WWII radio broadcasts with a brief, emotional reading of one of the country's favorite authors, John Steinbeck. "With Your Wings" was an inspirational story about a black pilot that Steinbeck wrote for Welles' program, and it seemed to disappear almost as soon as it was aired. There are no records of "With Your Wings" appearing in book or magazine form, and even some Steinbeck experts know little about it. But 70 years after Welles' reading, "With Your Wings" is getting a second release. Andrew F. Gulli, managing editor of the Strand Magazine, an Alabama-based quarterly, came upon the transcript recently while looking through archives at the University of Texas at Austin. It's featured in the Strand's holiday issue, out tomorrow.
"It doesn't ring a bell at all," said James Dourgarian, who specializes in selling first editions of Steinbeck's work. "And that's saying something if I haven't heard of it. It's also surprising because you would think that anything Steinbeck was involved with would be printed someplace." Steinbeck, who died in 1968, wrote often about social injustice and on occasion featured black characters, notably Crooks in his classic novella "Of Mice and Men." "[Steinbeck] saw America as this wonderful land with so much to offer, but on the flip side, he could see inequality, he could see greed and excess destroying the working classes," Gulli writes. "This story strikes me as an effort to show middle America that African Americans were carrying on a huge burden in defending the United States and the allies during the war."