Sobel Weber Associates, Inc.
- by Eddie Bunker
Stark is a rat and a con-artist. Nobody’s friend. The kind of guy Eddie Bunker met in San Quentin. Stark thinks he can beat the suckers and outsmart the cops. When a big score comes his way, he’s lucky to escape with his life. Four others are not so lucky.
STARK was Eddie Bunker’s first novel, and it was never published during his life time.
Jennifer Steele, Bunker’s widow, has written an Epilogue to STARK. The novel is as tough as Eddie, himself, was at the time.
From the Afterword to STARK by Jennifer Steele:
I was completely taken aback when Nat Sobel, Eddie’s book agent asked me to write this brief background to Eddie’s last (and first) novel. I protested that he should write it. After all, wasn’t he (like a modern times Maxwell Perkins) the one who resurrected it? Calling me to see what unfinished work remained, locating the manuscript in a publisher’s office outside of London, stitching it together, finding a new publisher? He disagreed. And after thinking about it, I suppose he’s right in that, perhaps, I am the only one that could know the details surrounding STARK.
My relationship with Eddie spanned thirty years. Prison, half way house counselor, wife for 20 years, mother of his son, and always his close friend. It would be safe to say that I heard all of his “stories.” As he wrote in a letter to me in 1996, “My beloved—and best friend… if my life is adjudged a plus, it is because I have my private angel to give me a haven and at least enough peace to work.” I write this, then, as the “beloved and best friend” of the not-so distant past; and as the mother of his son. It’s really an honor--to once again, assist in whatever way, so that his work can be brought to life again.
Imagine someone with a seventh-grade education wanting to be a serious writer? He had no guidance. He had to teach himself everything. The prison psychologist said it was another “manifestation of infantile fantasy.” His gift was an above average I.Q.; and from the age of seven, he was a voracious reader. He discovered that he could see the world through endless different eyes and minds, could experience life in Ancient Egypt, modern India, the Middle Ages. He thought most Americans didn’t value books. He thought that in America, only money mattered; and that although money was necessary for everything, to read widely is to have more of Life itself.
His parents divorced when he was four, and he was made a ward of the court at seven years of age. A child abandoned to the wilderness adopts its ways. Read his third novel, LITTLE BOY BLUE, for more on that. His childhood was a war with the world, and he burned through reform schools, escaping at every chance. He’d been adopted for a short period by Louise Fazenda Wallis, his benefactress, when he was 14 or 15 years old. At 17, he was the youngest inmate to ever enter San Quentin. It was 1950 (one year before I was born). For a brief time he had back to back cells with Caryl Chessman (Chessman was on death row, on the opposite side, Eddie was not). They spoke through the ventilator pipes about literature. One day a convict surreptitiously brought him a folded magazine under a hand towel and handed it to him through the bars. He opened it up. It was a copy of “Argosy” magazine. On the cover, the lead piece was “Cell 2455, Death Row by Caryl Chessman.” A light bulb exploded. He couldn’t believe it! Writers went to Harvard or Yale or Princeton. Chessman had also been raised by the State. If Chessman could write a bestseller, then why couldn’t he? The idea was so sudden and intense that he couldn’t sleep. He wrote his benefactress, and she sent him a typewriter—a secondhand, Royal Aristocrat, and a subscription to the Sunday New York Times Book Review. The reviews talked about Thomas Wolfe, John Dos Passos, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Hemingway, Dreiser, Jack London, Dostoevsky, William Styron and others. He studied The Elements of Style, by EB White; and culled his memory for all the tales and crime stories he’d seen from his unique perspective. His research was his life as he lived it.
This brings us to STARK. By this time, he’s around 33 years of age. The year is 1963. He’s a four-time loser. His typewriter had, by then, bit the dust. No matter. He had access to typewriters and paper. He wrote in long hand first, with a pencil. He had two prison jobs. The first was as the head Lieutenant’s secretary. He was responsible for writing and typing all reports on “incidents” within the prison, so that they could be sent to Sacramento as required. His other job was in the prison library. It was there that he educated himself about the law. Every convict with a legal question would come to him. It got so he couldn’t go out on the yard, because he’d get “mobbed.” He’d also gotten to know lawyers who could take his pages out, though he had to sell his blood in prison to pay the postage for sending them to publishers. He still had his dreams, but he wondered if they would really ever see the light of day. He described STARK as a story about a con man. Eddie didn’t think much of con-men, because, as a rule, they preyed upon people weaker than themselves. But he understood them. He thought it was worth telling a story from such a character’s point of view. He once told our son “we are what we have been taught to be by many influences. No more, no less. Remember that because it will instill humility instead of arrogant self-righteousness.”
He had a chance to look at the underbelly of life from a unique position. He never tried to impose a preconception, or ignore or twist a fact to make any position more persuasive. He was obsessed with the “Truth,” and with finding it. He always said he was as dedicated to the Truth as a prelate to the Church. It was ironic: he was an atheist, but aspired to the Transcendent. “If there is a rule we should follow, it is to seek truth as best we can, via whatever paths we can find.” What he most wanted was a chance to last, a lotus to grow from the mud.