Gallatin native John Selby was a very successful journalist, art critic, and editor. He also wrote 12 books and had a syndicated book column, the widely circulated “Literary Guidepost.” Ten of Selby’s books were published, and six of these have parts about Gallatin, MO. The names were changed, but, like television’s “Peyton Place,” just changing names didn’t prevent Gallatin citizens from recognizing themselves …and objecting to what was written.
John Allen Selby was born in Gallatin on Feb. 7, 1897, when Gallatin was a busy college town (Grand River College). He became a prize winning author with his first book; “Sam” was the American winner in the All Nations Prize Novel Competition of 1939.
John was the oldest son of Jonathan Selby, a prominent lawyer at Gallatin. John was a member of the GHS Class of 1914, and went on to school at Park College and at the University of Missouri. After school, he worked as a journalist and music critic for the Kansas City Star from 1918 to 1929. While working as a reporter, Selby covered a wide variety of subjects except for spectator sports, in which he expressed little interest.
Selby lived in France three years when many American artists took residence there (1929-32). In 1932, he became the New York music and arts editor for the Associated Press. While working in New York, he made his home in Connecticut with his wife, Esther (Baxter), originally from Pittsburg, KS.
In 1944 Selby left the Associated Press to become associate editor and publicity director for Rinehart & Company Inc., a book publisher on Madison Avenue. He was promoted to Editor-in-Chief the following year, and served in that capacity until his retirement in 1958.
While in retirement, Selby lectured at Columbia University, New York, and elsewhere. He was both a student and teacher at Columbia University, teaching courses in short-story writing. In 1965 he moved to Taormino, Sicily, where he died at age 83 on May 7, 1980, following a brief illness. During his retirement, he returned to Gallatin, MO, for a few months in 1972.
Selby’s first book was the prize winner “Sam” published in 1939. It is a novel about a newspaper owner in Kansas City in the early stockyard years.
His second book, “Island in the Corn” (1944) is a novel about the Trace-Starbuck family that came to Gallatin about 1900 after big business losses at other places.
His next book, “Starbuck” (1943) is about the only son of the Trace-Starbuck family, who was raised in Gallatin and became a world famous musician. Selby ended the story with Starbuck back at the old Trace family home after World War II.
Selby’s fourth book, “Elegant Journey” (1944), is about the earlier history of the Trace family. The novel covered the family story from roughly 1840 to 1880.
The next book, “The Man Who Never Changed” (1954), is a novel about the success of character Dennis Sandzen as he developed into a reknowned professional conductor.
His sixth book, “Time Was” (1956), is about a Gallatin family during the times of 1910. There is much that seems very familiar to readers residing in Gallatin, including a story about Gallatin’s first car, which was homemade.
The next book, “The Days Dividing” (1958), is about Henry Thorne and Harrison Adrian, two friends from California that came to live on East Grand Street after their contact with the famous Sara Wnichester, who was haunted by the ghosts of all things killed by the Winchester rifle.
Book number eight is “A Few Short Blocks Between” (1959), telling the story of Marian Byrd from Gallatin. Byrd became governor of the state in 1900. The few short blocks was the distance between the governor’s house and the state prison. This is the last published book that relates to anything about Gallatin.
Selby’s ninth novel, “Madame” (1961), is about the last few days of the life of a syndicated columnist who wrote on women’s issues. The story starts at Park College and goes on toward New York, traveling by car.
Selby’s last published book is “Beyond Civil Rights” (1966). This is a non-fiction history of the Karamn Project in Cleveland, OH. Much of it is about training black artists.
These 10 published books are available at the Daviess County Library in Gallatin. Janet Selby, Gallatin, holds her uncle’s last two unpublished manuscripts. They are entitled “The Andalusian Fury” and “What Came After Bertha.”
John Selby did what most good writers should do, that is, write about things they know. There is much of the flavor of Gallatin at the turn of the century when reading some of John Selby’s books, as well as his apparant love and interest in classical music and the arts.
Written by David Stark, Gallatin; August, 1997