John Theodore Herrmann was born in Lansing, Michigan on November 9, 1900. He lived in Paris in the 1920s, as part of its famous expatriate American writers’ circle, and was friends with figures such as Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein.
The son of a wealthy Lansing family that produced men’s suits through the mid-1960s, Hermann would receive fall and spring suits from his father every year. He would often pass on older suites to Ernest Hemingway. In fact Hemingway thanked Herrmann for a suit in one 1930 letter. “It is a damned handsome suit,” Hemingway wrote. “…That’s as fine a suit as I ever saw.”
Herrmann’s first novel, What Happens, a coming of age story, was original published in Paris by Robert McAlmon’s Contact Editions press. Copies were seized by U.S. Customs upon their arrival in the United States on the charge of violating the 1922 Tariff Act, which banned the import of obscene materials from foreign countries. Herrmann fought the charge in a jury trial in New York City in October 1927 but ultimately lost. Despite supporters such as Genevieve Taggard, H.L. Mencken, and Katharine Anne Porter, the jury responded with a negative verdict and the judge ordered the seized copies destroyed.
In 1932, Herrmann’s short novel, “The Big Short Trip,” tied with Thomas Wolfe for the Scribner’s Magazine short novel prize.
Hermann’s leftist connections were investigated in the late 1940s by the House Un-American Activities Committee, and Herrmann was placed under surveillance and questioned many times in Mexico by the FBI. He died near the Pacific Ocean in April 1959, at the Hotel Navidad, in Barra de Navidad, Jalisco, Mexico from a heart attack.
Judy Putnam, “Revival of forgotten Lansing novelist”, Lansing State Journal, June 10, 2015.