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Irving Fiske

Irving Fiske
Irving Louis Fishman

(1908-03-05)March 5, 1908
DiedApril 25, 1990(1990-04-25) (aged 82)
Monroe Regional Medical Center
Ocala, Florida
Other names"The Forest Wizard"
"The Socrates of Ocala Forest"
Alma materCornell University, 1928
Occupationplaywright, writer, and public speaker
Known forQuarry Hill Creative Center
Spouse(s)Barbara Fiske Calhoun (m. 1946 – div. 1976)
ChildrenIsabella Fiske (b. 1950)
William Fiske (1954-2008)
Family(brothers): Milton and Robert
(sister) Miriam

Irving L. Fiske (born Irving Louis Fishman; March 5, 1908 – April 25, 1990) was an American playwright, writer, and public speaker.He worked for the Federal Writer's Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the 1930s, where he was a writer and rewrite man on The WPA Guide to New York City, in print today. He corresponded with George Bernard Shaw, wrote an article now considered a classic, "Bernard Shaw's Debt to William Blake," and translated Shakespeare's Hamlet into Modern English.[1] He and his wife Barbara Fiske Calhoun co-founded the artist's retreat and "hippie commune" Quarry Hill Creative Center, on the Fiske family property, in Rochester, Vermont.


Fiske was born in Brooklyn, New York, to an immigrant Jewish family from Georgia, Russia, and Romania. He graduated from Cornell University in 1928.[1] He had two brothers, Milton and Robert, and a sister, Miriam.[1] Milton was a Bohemian, like Irving, and a classical composer, like his hero, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, with whom he shared a birthday.[citation needed]

Fiske wrote for H. L. Mencken's American Mercury.

On January 8, 1946, Fiske married Barbara Fiske Calhoun. In 1946, he and his wife, both wildly unconventional bohemian intellectuals, used wedding money to buy the farm in Rochester[2] that later became Quarry Hill Creative Center, in Rochester, Vermont.[1][3]

Fiske joined Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky in a First Amendment-based defense of the Beat Generation coffee houses along Second Avenue in the East Village; certain business owners there objected to the use of "obscenity" in the Beat poetry being read there by poets like Ginsberg and many others. Ginsberg, Orlovsky, Fiske, and others won the case, and the right for poets to use any language they considered a part of their art.

In the mid-1960s, Barbara opened a storefront, The Gallery Gwen, in New York's East Village. There Barbara showed her paintings, along with those of others, and Irving began to give public talks on Tantra, Zen, Sufism, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, and atheism, among many other things. Irving became well-known around the Village, and was soon speaking to standing-room-only audiences. Many associated him with R. Crumb's character Mr. Natural.[4] Irving spoke out in favor of people finding their own creative path in life, enjoying themselves, being free of guilt and shame, and children's rights. He wrote letters for young men who were conscientious objectors to the Vietnam War. Irving was known in the Village as "The Forest Wizard," (someone had given him a card on the street one day and he made it a part of his persona);[citation needed] and in Florida, where he had a cabin on a lake, he was known as "The Socrates of the Ocala National Forest."[5] Fiske would also speak in colleges and churches on the East Coast, such as Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont.

Hundreds of young people, including many who became well-known, such as Art Spiegelman (who dated Fiske's daughter Isabella)[6] and Stephen Huneck, began to visit Quarry Hill Creative Center. Many stayed to build houses; Quarry Hill is now the oldest and largest alternative lifestyle group in Vermont, and one of the largest in New England.[7]

A controversial figure, in the 1970s, when his cabin in the Ocala Forest was burnt by arsonists, and the authorities did not give him a permit to rebuild, he launched a legal and media battle, claiming that the authorities were prejudiced against the young people he brought there as his friends, most of whom had long hair. He eventually got the permit and rebuilt the cabin.

Fiske and his wife divorced in 1976. After a period of some tension, he and Barbara reached a state of friendliness and mutual support, with the shared desire to see Quarry Hill continue. With the assistance of her son, William, and others, Barbara created a corporation to own the land.

Fiske — who went on with all the activities that entertained him and promoted a more sane future for humanity for as long as he lived — became well known in the counterculture both in the United States and elsewhere. He died of a stroke in Ocala, Florida, on April 25, 1990.[1] Irving Fiske's centennial was celebrated in Vermont and in Florida in 2008.[citation needed]

Hamlet in Modern English

Fiske's translation of Hamlet into modern English was never published, but was performed in public a number of times.[citation needed]

In 1947, Fiske filed a lawsuit against Cary Grant and Alfred Hitchcock for infringing upon Hamlet in Modern English. In 1945, Hitchcock had announced plans to make a modern-language version of Hamlet. Although the project was dropped, Fiske claimed Hitchcock and Grant had plagiarized Fiske's concept, and sought damages of $1.25 million (later reduced to $750,000).

The case was eventually heard in October 1954 by New York Federal Court Judge William Bondy. After 11 days of testimony, Judge Bondy halted the trial and directed the jury to find the case "not proven." Fiske was later ordered to pay $5,000 towards Hitchcock's legal costs.[citation needed]

Fiske's translation of Hamlet was considered controversial. In the 1960s, John Ciardi, who did not approve of the translation, reprinted excerpts in the Saturday Review.[8] Most Saturday Review readers wrote in favor of the translation;[citation needed] as did such notable figures as William Saroyan, Orson Welles, Henry Miller, Upton Sinclair, Aldous Huxley, and George Bernard Shaw.[9]


  • "Pecos Bill, Cyclone Buster," American Mercury (Dec. 1939), pp. 403–407.
  • "Where Does Television Belong?" Harper's Magazine (February 1940).
  • "Bernard Shaw's Debt to William Blake." [19-page pamphlet] (London: The Shaw Society, 1951). Reprinted in G. B. Shaw: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. R. J. Kaufmann (Englewood Cliffs,. N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1965).
  • "Letters to the Editor: Not a 'Hippy'," Ocala Star-Banner (May 25, 1971).
  • (with Allen Sherman -not the song writer) Brighter than the Sun (1987) [play][10] — produced in Vermont



  1. ^ a b c d e “Irving L. Fiske, 82: Created Community for Workers in Arts,” The New York Times (May 1, 1990)
  2. ^ "Notable deaths last week," Daily Herald (May 3, 2014).
  3. ^ Sherman, Michael, Gene Sessions, and P. Jeffrey Potash. Freedom and Unity: A History of Vermont (Montpelier, VT: Vermont Historical Society, 2003). ISBN 978-0934720489. Sherman, a respected historian and teacher at Vermont College, credits Quarry Hill and The North Hollow School with being a model for the many alternative schools that sprang up in Vermont in the 1970s and onward.
  4. ^ Spiegelman, Art. MetaMaus (New York: Pantheon, 2011), pp. 24–25: " hippie girlfriend's father, Irving Fiske — the Mr. Natural of the commune I was involved with..."
  5. ^ Stacy, Mitch. "Author Irving Fiske, 'Socrates of Ocala Forest,' dies at 82," The Gainesville Sun (April 1990).
  6. ^ Spiegelman, Art (2011). MetaMaus. New York: Random House. pp. 24–25.
  7. ^ Hartmann, Thom. The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight (New York: Three Rivers Press / Random House, 2004), pp. 309-11, 315 — calls Quarry Hill "The oldest "intentional community in Vermont"
  8. ^ Ciardi, John. "Translating 'Hamlet,' " Saturday Review (August 3, 1963).
  9. ^ Dotson, Kevin. "Irving Fiske, noted for essays, modern version of Hamlet; at 82," The Boston Sunday Globe (April 29, 1990).
  10. ^ "Quarry Hill Players stage play written by Vermonters," The Burlington (Vt.) Free Press, (October 14, 1987).



  • Allen, Monica. The Rutland Herald (April 29, 1990).
  • "Communal Living Pioneer Irving Fiske dead at 82," The Burlington (Vt.) Free Press (April 30, 1990).
  • The International Herald Tribune (May 1990).
  • "Quarry Hill Founder Dead at 82," The Herald of Randolph (Vt.) (May 3, 1990).

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